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Ibrahim Maalouf at Jazzablanca Festival 2014

Mehdi El Mouden By
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Ibrahim Maalouf
Hippodrome Anfa
Jazzablanca Festival
Casablanca, Morocco
March 31, 2014

Before composer and trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf stepped onto the stage, the audience of Jazzablanca Festival was already cheering wildly. There was a general feeling that his concert would be a memorable one, for fans eager to attend this performance. Scheduled on the third day of the festival and subsequent to Joss Stone and Stacey Kent, Maalouf drew crowds. On the eve of the concert, the organizers had to make two hundred extra seats available so as not to turn away spectators.

Maalouf had an exploratory vision in mind about presenting his album Illusions, but confessed that coming to Casablanca for the first time would be an opportunity to play a bit of everything his audience hankered for. Even with a variety of different melodies, Maalouf could make his songs flow into each other. With few pauses, the cinematic effect of the show's orchestral form created the illusion that the concert was a musical voyage with a beginning and an end.

The structure of most songs on Illusion is verse-chorus form. Maalouf had a preference for ostinati to instill a dramatic effect in the beginning, then played melodies which were quickly echoed by his brass band. Maalouf often made another illusion, that songs came to a close through a melancholic trumpet solo. He slowed down the music, reached silence, then restarted full force into heavy rock tunes often driven by guitarist Francois Delporte and followed by the brass band.

Action packed but a bit monotonous, the performance was breathtaking, especially with explosive tunes like "Illusions," "Conspiracy Generation," "Nomade Slang," and "InPRESSI ." Next came a totally revisited take of "Beirut" from the album Diagnostic . With only Delporte on stage, Maalouf played the first verse and asked the audience to follow with humming, then charmed them with melancholic solos, wandering aimlessly in the ruins of a city he visited after the civil war. The solos gained texture bit by bit to lose their sad, oriental flavor at the expense of a heavy rock sound that Delporte carried far, with never ending guitar solos.

The emotion loaded "Beirut' paved the ground for a reflective song from the same album: "Diagnostic." Marked by schizophrenia, the song sought cohabitation between one trumpet player blowing steady and a second trumpeter playing wrong notes. Playing the two parts, Maalouf purposefully showed difficulty blowing his trumpet, until assisted by a trumpeter sitting with the audience. The man in question was Moroccan trumpeter Othman Khelloufi, who stood up and walked to the stage to play a festive duet where both players echoed, challenged and pulled each other. The surprise was highly appreciated and cheered by the audience.

Following a rythmic Latin prelude and a long jam, Maalouf stopped to explain the genesis of the much appreciated song "True Sorry." Based on his puzzling dream of an aged man who shook hands, cheered, and apologized to people, Maalouf contextualized the song to blow dreamy melodies with a sense of regret, yet an air of sophistication.

Maalouf left the stage but quickly returned for an encore, followed by the whole band, with an additional pipe player. Excitement reached its peak during the melodramatic notes of seductively serene trumpet mastery in the context of an upward rock rhythm.

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