While it's easy to categorize the assimilation of diverse musical cultures as world music, the term has become over-utilized and often misrepresented. German-born pianist Joachim Kühn, Moroccan guimbri/oud player Majid Bekkas and Spanish drummer Ramon Lopez intersect on Kalimba, an album that should dispense with oversimplified categorization. Instead, assessed on its own merits as an album that looks to capitalize on the strengths of everyone involved, it carves out its own distinctive musical niche.
This isn't the first time that Kühn has rubbed shoulders with artists from different cultures. The pianist first emerged in the early 1970s as a stylistic free-thinker cut from similar cloth as pianist McCoy Tyner on albums including Man of the Light (MPS, 1977), a lost classic by the late and tragically overlooked Polish violinist, Zbigniew Seifert. Since then he's tackled increasingly ambitious and diverse projects including Allegro Vivace (ACT, 2005), which explores the unexpected nexus where Bach, Mozart, Coltrane and Ornette Coleman meet, and a remarkable cross-cultural collaboration with Lebanese oudist Rabih Abou-Khalil, Journey to the Centre of an Egg (Enja, 2006).
Kühn and Bekkas share the writing duties on Kalimba, collaborating on some tunes, going it alone on others. "A Live Experience, with Bekkas' simple lyrical message, manages to combine a kind of funky, 1970s-era Keith Jarrett with a pedal tone and harmonic sensibility that's subtly redolent of the Maghreb yet becomes aggressively open-ended in a more Western fashion during Kühn's probing solo. Lopez is the glue that binds Kühn's experimental nature with Bakkas' repetitive pattern on the guimbri, or bass lute.
Some tunes speak more strongly of individual background. Bekkas' "Hamdouchi feels ethnically authenticthat is, until the two-minute mark, where Kühn enters and propels the song into more stylistically ambiguity. "Kalimba Cali, featuring Bekkas on the African thumb piano, recalls Collin Walcott-era Oregon if one neglects his trance-inducing vocals.
Kühn's paradoxically named "Good Mood, with its dark textures and hypnotic underpinning from Bekkas, once again looks for a cultural meeting point, while the collaborative composition "Youmala creates its own kind of liberated space that feels like the ideal intersection, with Lopez both propelling the tune with a firm groove and playing improvisational partner with Bekkas and Kühn. Kühn's closer, the fiery "White Widow, is the most wholly Western-sounding piece on the disc, although there's more than a hint of Spain in its idiosyncratic theme, not to mention a taste of European classicism.
The beauty of cross-cultural collaborations is that you'll rarely hear the same result from different collectives. The same, of course, can and should be said about all music, but when one ups the ante by looking for common musical ground between disparate cultures on top of individual musical aesthetics, the results are bound to be more distinctive. That's certainly the case with Kalimba, an album which has plenty of conceptual precedent but sounds like nothing you'll hear anywhere else.
A Live Experience; Hambouchi; Good Mood; Kalimba Call; Youmala; Rabih's Delight; Dahin; Sabbatique; Dounia; White Widow.
Joachim Kuhn: grand piano, alto saxophone; Majid Bekkas: guimbri, oud, kalimba, voice; Ramon Lopez: drums.
All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.
WE NEED YOUR HELP
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.
Ambient / New Age Beyond Jazz Big Band Blues Brazilian Classical Electronica Free Improv / Avant-Garde Fringes of Jazz Funk / Groove Fusion / Progressive Rock Jam Band Modern Jazz R&B / Soul Reggae / Ska Straight-ahead (Bop, Hard bop, Cool)