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Aric Ben Kalifa: Mogador

Mark Sabbatini By

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Sometimes inquisitive minds just need to shut up and listen.

There's not a lot of information to be found about bassist Aric Ben Kalifa and his self-published fusion album Mogador. Googling his name results in a modern jaw-dropper: "Your search... did not match any documents." A scattering of details about his quintet exist, such as considerable acclaim for saxophonist Amiram Granot's blending of Jewish and jazz traditions into a modern sound. The album's scant linear notes, in imperfect English, thank maybe a dozen associates and influences, and mention it was recorded at "Topsound Studios" (another empty Google search) in December of 2004.

So there are many unanswered questions—but it's just an album, after all, and the most relevant answers can be found using a CD player, not Internet Explorer.

It's not jaw-dropping, but it's pretty good. The six-song, 38-minute collection consists of contemporary funk/fusion originals without the acid or other atonal touches many modern groups employ in an effort to stand out. The compositions are pleasing as an assembled whole, but under closer scrutiny one begins to wish individual players were used to their full potential.

Kalifa spends most of the album playing a light slap/heavy pluck technique. He doesn't have the intensity or virtuosity of Stanley Clarke, one of his cited influences, but the compositions are more sophisticated than many of his mentor's popular fusion pieces. He plays with speed, if not great complexity during better moments such as the opening "Zricha" and closing "Belev Yam," but can spend too much time merely repeating bass vamps on songs like "Birdy" and "Perek."

Keyboardist Sam Bar-sheshet gets most of the solo time and is an excellent harmonic companion, albeit somewhat conservative, more like Bob James than Chick Corea, if one is going to associate his classic electric tones with a player of the era. Granot, given his reviews, is vastly underutilized. His tenor is no more than a lead line on "Zricha" and "Birdy," and his flute is barely an introductory/concluding accent on "Leshem Shamaim." Drummer Yaron Vaknin sets a nice humanistic pace, but doesn't get the opportunity to do more than fill the background.

There is a light accent of Hebrew music in some of the compositions, but more mainstream flavors predominate. The title track features more of a Latin pace than a Middle Eastern one, "Birdy" feels more like funk than bebop, and "Belev Yam's" rock/fusion overshadows any presence reminiscent of its title.

Mogador landed in the review pile at the same time as a new release by the Rippingtons, and I'd take Kalifa's work almost any day, because it possesses a pleasantly catchy quality the more famous group aims for, but has fallen short of lately. That said, the bassist has some catching up to do to overcome his anonymity in general and as a performer.

Title: Mogador | Year Released: 2005


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