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Maurice El Medioni meets Roberto Rodriguez: Descarga Oriental: The New York Sessions

Chris May By

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The less-traveled byways of cross-cultural exploration sometimes reveal the most fascinating new horizons, and this meld of Cuban and Algerian musics does exactly that. For Descarga Oriental, Cuban-born, New York-resident percussionist Roberto Rodriguez meets Marseilles-based Algerian pianist Maurice El Médioni at the grass roots of Andalusian music, and a rainbow-hued romp of a party breaks out.

The liaison isn't, in fact, as strange as it might appear. Southern Spain's Andalucia region contributed some of Cuban music's formative influences, a consequence of colonial history and a subsequent degree of shared ethnicity. Andalucia itself, occupied—some might say civilised—by Moors from North Africa 900 or so years ago, is even today deeply influenced by Maghrebi culture, and some of that DNA went to Cuba along with flamenco, carnival and other Iberian musics.

So Rodriguez and El Médioni each have a foot in the same territory. Maybe one and a half, because, coincidentally, they have both been involved in the music of the Jewish diaspora. El Médioni, an Algerian Jew, has long explored his own native roots in Sephardic culture, maintaining the connection since moving to France in 1962. Rodriguez earned a living on Miami's klezmer and bar mitzvah circuit during his first years in the US. Rodriguez's more recent work with John Zorn, as well as his own Baila! Gitano Baila! ("Dance, gypsy, dance!", Tzadik, 2004), an adventure in Jewish/Cuban/Gypsy musics, have extended those early gigging experiences.

But enough with the family trees. The music is the thing—joyous, hot, beat-driven and wonderfully melodic. Descarga, which literally means "to unload" in Spanish, is used in Cuban music to describe a jam session, and although the music on Descarga Oriental is carefully pre-structured, it has the fire and spirit of a spur-of-the-moment blowing session. El Médioni wrote all nine tunes, each reflecting both Maghrebi and French chanson influences, and Rodriguez arranged them over clave-centered Cuban rhythms—guaracha, conjunto, dengue, bembe and bolero—as a showcase for El Médioni's solo piano (and to a lesser extent, Oscar Onoz's gloriously blowsy trumpet).

Like his written melodies, El Médioni's improvisations move seamlessly between Maghrebi and French harmonic and rhythmic centres—and if that's not rich enough, someone let Alice Coltrane in too. On three tracks, El Médioni overdubs a charmingly anachronistic, Wurlitzer-style organ practically straight out of Coltrane's Hindu-based devotional work (check especially "Oh! Ma Belle").

But rather than obsessing about the myriad influences, just listen to the sound of several cultures happily colliding and rejoice in the sonic delights on this record—a total blast and a heartwarming, mixed-marriage vision of the future.


Track Listing: Oran Oran; Je N'Aime Que Toi; Ana Ouana; Oh! Ma Belle; Tu N'Aurais Jamais Du; Moi Je T'Aime Toujours; Malika; Comme Tu As Change; C'Etait Il Y A Longtemps.

Personnel: Maurice El M

Title: Descarga Oriental: The New York Sessions | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Piranha


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