On its own terms, Lebanese saxophonist Toufic Farroukh's Tootya is largely a success. What it seeks to be is a sophisticatedand at times pretentiousmash-up of Arabic popular and light-classical music with techno beats, Western pop, and a little Latin jazz, presumably targeted at upper middle class listeners in the Middle East and their brothers and sisters in the worldwide diaspora.
It's perhaps more interesting to listen to Tootya as a jazz album, if for no other reason than that Farroukh bursts out in the middle of the rather slick opener, "Systole Diastole," with an angular solo that sounds a shade like Sonny Fortune on Miles Davis' Agharta (CBS, 1975). As a jazz record, the surest reference point for this release is another Miles Davis record with a similar-sounding title: Tutu (Warner Bros., 1986).
With Tutu, Tootya shares lush production values and an unabashedly populist sentiment (this is not the earnest, acoustic Arabic jazz fusion you will hear elsewhere), as well as an '80s-era light funk beat. As with the Davis record, Farroukh's album is saved from descending into tasteful but ultimately hollow easy listening by unexpectedly strong solos (like those of flutist Magic Malik) and an energized mixing of styles. Farroukh's stylistic palette is, if anything, more audaciously broad ranging than even Davis', a fact highlighted by the album's recording locations in both Beirut and Paris.
Especially strong are the gloriously large-scale songs performed by vocalist Rima Khcheich, particularly "Elhob ?!"a tribute to legendary Egyptian vocalist Oum Kalthoum. The number is based on Ehyptian composer Baligh Hamdi's "El Hob Koullo" and features Bruno Caviglia on delightfully loud rock 'n roll guitar.
The fast Arabic funk of "Scarecrow and peacock," in addition to a good oud line and a fine flute solo by Malik, offers a choir singing what sounds uncannily like Ray Charles' "Hit the Road, Jack." (How could it be? Then again, how could it not be?)
Not everything works here: the techno pulse is sometimes wearing, the Latin jazz experiments are less than convincing, the rap by a certain Moe on the last track is a little dubious. Nevertheless, no number goes by without something arrestingfrequently a solo on accordion or ney, or a stirring passage by the Beirut orchestraand many of the tracks will delight fans of unapologetic cross-genre experiments.
Systole diastole; Hanina; Radio city; Ya Nassim Alrouh; Destins et desires; The girl from gypsy moon; Elhob ?!; Cendres; Scarecrow and peacock; Ya Habibi; Long Distance Call (LDC); Only Lonely.
Toufic Farroukh: soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, bouzouk, percussion, compositions, arrangements; Rima Khcheich: lead vocals (2, 7, 10); Jeanne Added: lead vocals (5); Moe: rap (12); Tony Deeb: accordion; Samir Siblini: ney; Charbel Rouhana: oud; Gilbert Yammine: kanoun; Michel Khairalla: violin;
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