It is testament to bassist/composer Makram Aboul Hosn's tenacity that Transmigration
has seen the light of day at all. Awarded a grant from the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture at the end of 2019, the Lebanese bassist had been all set to record the album in Europe with an international line-up. Then Covid-19 struck, adding to the already extreme political, social and economic chaos plaguing Lebanon. Unbowed, Aboul Hosn rewrote the music and went into the studio on August 7, 2020, just three days after the enormous explosion in Beirut's port that ripped the downtown area apart. Aboul Hosn is nothing if not determined.
A musical polyglot, Aboul Hosn announced himself to the wider jazz world with Parallel
(Self-Produced, 2018), a duo recording with pianist Jeremy Siskind
that juxtaposed familiar standards with free improvisation. It was an elegant, if understated affair. Transmigration
, in contrast, is a vibrant collage of swing, blues, Africana and boppish themes, conveyed with panache by a quintet that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The breadth and depth of the music stems from Aboul Hosn's rich charts, with Beirut old hand Tom Hornig
juggling flute, soprano and alto saxophones, Nidal Abou Samra
handling five saxophones no less, including tenor and baritone, while Christopher Michael
plays drums and vibraphone. The leader's earthy bass and Khaled Yassine
's sprightly percussion lend persistent forward momentum throughout. This core quintet uses all the arms at its disposal on "Betcha Sting," a bold reimagining of Thelonious Monk
's "Beshma Swing" that bristles with a swagger more akin to that of a big band.
Several guest musicians bring additional lustre. Vocalist Sima Itayim shines on the swinging "WWMD," a cleverly barbed social commentary aimed at the morally bankrupt ruling elites think MoeTar doing "Butchers of Baghdad" in the style of Annie Ross's "Twisted." Despite the dystopian imagery, "WWMD" strikes a defiant chord. It's a potent protest song and a rallying cry for the downtrodden and disenfranchised.
Flautist Tarek Amery's beguiling solo lies at the heart of "Modjadji," a Mulatu Astatke
-esque composition underpinned by cantering African rhythms. On the driving, Charles Mingus
-inspired post-bopper "Mine Or Blues," vibraphonist Joe Locke
dazzles briefly, though it is in the trading between Hornig and Abou Samra where the sparks really fly.
There is second-line pep on the upbeat "Papa Bear" and seductive harmonic layers on "Someday My Prince Will Come," but Aboul Hosn's arrangements are at their most compelling when straying from paths well-trodden; on the elegiac "Ever Recurring Song of September," the leader reveals a more introspective side to his musical personality, where spare bass, sotto voce vibraphone and deft percussive accents punctuate the graceful intertwining of saxophones. Rapid seesaw arco, staccato saxophone riffs, and rattling percussion like a runaway typewriter broadly shape "Let Me Finish," though striking shifts in tempo and mood ensure that this jaunty romp eludes facile categorization. Transmigration
is a triumph of the spirt in the face of adversity. Musically, moreover, it is impressive by any yardstick, with fine arrangements framing first-rate playing from all concerned. There is evidence aplenty here to suggest that Aboul Hosn is a musician, composer and leader of whom we are likely to be hearing much more of in the future, regardless of whatever Beirut might throw at him.
Betcha Sting; WWMD; Intro to Modjadji; Modjadji; Ever Recurring Story of September; Papa Bear; Someday My Prince
Will Come; Mine Or Blues; Let Me Finish.
Tom Hornig: flute; soprano saxophone; alto saxophone; Nidal Abou Samra: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor
saxophone, baritone saxophone; Christopher Michael: vibraphone; Joe Locke: vibraphone: (8); Tarek Amery: flute (4);
Sima Itayim: vocals (2).