The amount of time that Rabih Abou-Khalil had to wait to receive proper recognition in North America was almost criminal. After amassing ten releases on the German Enja label, the Lebanese oud virtuoso finally penetrated the Western hemisphere through a licensing deal with Montreal's Justin Time and the release of 2004's border-bridging sextet effort, Morton's Foot.
And so expectations are high for this more intimate trio followup, which prominently features German pianist/co-composer Joachim Kühn (who plays alto saxophone on one track) and American percussionist Jarod Cagwin, a specialist in North African and Middle Eastern styles. Wolfgang Reisinger pitches in with trap drums on two tracks, most notably adding a mad, off-kilter swing to "Mango."
Working with Rabih Abou-Khalil is tricky business since he incorporates such a wide range of styles into his music. He doesn't just adapt the oud to a jazz context, he warps and stretches the fabric of improvisation and composition to incorporate a variety of Mediterranean influences. It's surreal to hear these musicians play the blues on the opening "Shrewd Woman," for example, which is based on a shuffling vamp that provides entrances and exits for the oudist's dovetailed minor scales.
Two long pieces at the center of this recording take their time to allow the group to progress, subtly shifting modes from time to time and taking full advantage of the range of colors in Cagwin's kit. "I'm Better Off Without You" moves lightly and elegantly, in contrast to the episodic, at times dizzying "Natwasheh and Kadwasheh." Kühn plays assertively and interactively, introducing jazz references and picking up the alto for a fiery burst toward the end.
Like Morton's Foot, this recording credits sound engineer Walter Quintus along with the musicians, which is a little unusual, but Quintus has a real talent for capturing the immediacy, detail, and color of these pieces. The record sounds unusually warm and crisp, which you can really appreciate when you pay close attentionwhich is generally a good idea anyway, if you want to get the most out of this intelligent, involving multicultural music.
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