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Rabih Abou-Khalil: Morton

Jim Santella By

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Lebanese oud master Rabih Abou-Khalil leads this exciting sextet through a session of his originals. The music, while carrying a distinctive Middle Eastern flavor, can only be called jazz. The group's spontaneity and fresh drive introduce elements that we only find in that portion of the arts where improvisation reigns supreme and swing weaves itself around every phrase.

With the title track, vocalist Gavino Murgia recalls the unique jaw harp drones and guttural emanations that were fostered so well by Dizzy Gillespie. He opens the piece a cappella. And what an exciting singer he proves to be! When the others join him, the piece builds with a cohesive spread. Tuba, accordion, clarinet, and drums turn the heat up considerably. Abou-Khalil's oud then moves in to steer and accompany. Using his voice as an additional instrument, Murgia takes vocalese to the spotlight. The music contains a timeless Arabic element that blends with jazz in much the same way that Gillespie sponsored "Night in Tunisia" and Duke Ellington sponsored "Caravan." It's exotic.

The use of tuba (instead of bass) to provide the ensemble's foundation means that you get a lighter frame of mind with a heavier pulse. There's embedded humor. Like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band's use of sousaphone to create a sound that is both unique and tradition-honored, Abou-Khalil's use of tuba in this Middle Eastern affair creates a group persona like no other.

The leader has made sure that each member of his ensemble can participate equally. At times, clarinet, accordion and tuba make way for a klezmer trip. At other times, oud, tuba and clarinet try the ethnomusicologist's patience with their universal appeal.

Abou-Khalil covers a wide range with his compositional use of threads that cross cultures. He's included blatant comedy, dramatic intensity, and sensual passion in his structures. The ensemble responds with spontaneous interpretations that flow seamlessly. Abou-Khalil's music holds something for everyone.

Track Listing: Ma Muse M'abuse; Morton's Foot; Il Ritorno del Languore; Lobotomie Mi Baba Lu; L'histoire d'un Parapluie; O Papaia Balerina; Dr. Gieler's Wiener Schnitzel; Il Sospiro; Hopping Jack; Waltz for Dubbya; The Return of the Maltese Chicken.

Personnel: Rabih Abou-Khalil- oud; Gabriele Mirabassi- clarinet; Luciano Biondini- accordion; Michel Godard- tuba; Gavino Murgia- vocals; Jarrod Cagwin- drums, frame drums.

Title: Morton | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Justin Time Records

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