Click here to [close]

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Middle-Eastern World Jazz

The Mediterranean has always been a melting pot of cultures and a crossroads of all great civilizations, with the exception of the native American culture. But now jazz gets thrown into the mix, and that has resulted in some worthwhile music, integrating the warm, emotional sounds and rhythms from Persian, Arabian and Ottoman music. There is more than plenty of kitsch to find as well, often westernized music for night-clubs and belly-dancing, or electronics for the current-day mass tourist dancing parties.

I give an overview of some albums and musicians I can recommend because the integration of styles is the result of genuine artistic endeavors with excellent results (and there is of course much more, and suggestions are also more than welcome).


Hafez Modirzadeh - People's Blues - Iranian sax-player who released a staggeringly good jazz CD with People's Blues, with strong influences of Persian classical music as regards scales and rhythmic patterns. The album is dedicated to the Kurdish victims of the first Gulf War. Very strong and deserves more attention. Tracks can be listened to on his site (it takes a while to open, so please be patient).


Ahmed Abdul Malik - Jazz Sahara, Jazz Sounds Of Africa - One of the first musicians who started integrating North-African music and jazz in the early 60s (I know, I know, Ellington and others did this as well, and a little earlier, ...) Abdul Malik plays bass and oud. Listen to Isma'a.

Maurice El Medioni - Café Oran. El Medioni is a jewish Algerian who played piano in the nightclubs of Oran and Algiers in the 60s and 70s. His music brings an odd mix, but fun, and unreal in the authenticity of its entertainment value. Listen to Moel Medio.

Rabih Abou-Khalil - The Cactus Of Knowledge, The Sultan's Picnic, and many other CDs. Lebanese oud-player Rabih Abou-Khalil brings an uncredibly intense kind of jazz, often funny, or deeply emotional, with rhythmic changes which are hard to follow. Almost all his albums are of interest. Listen to Lamentation and watch the video clip below of "Ma Muse s'amuse".

Gilad Atzmon - Exile - Israeli musician with a very strong commitment to the cause of peace in the Middle-East, and he plays jazz with predominantly Arabian influences. Exile is his best album, with astonishingly good pieces (his last record "Musik" is not recommendable, bringing too many styles together in a pathetically pretentious album). Listen to Al Quds.

Anouar Brahem - Thimar - Tunisian oud-player Anouar Brahem is the absolute master of the refined composition, the precise arrangements and technical virtuosity. I prefer his CDs with only traditional instruments, but his more jazz-oriented releases with John Surman or Jan Garbarek are also highly recommended because of the sophistication and emotional depth. Listen to various sound samples.

Sami Moukaddem - The Crest Of A Wave. Young Irish-Lebanese guitar player. Brings a nice integration of jazz and Arabic music, with clear references to Rabih Abou-Khalil. Listen to March Of The Lemmings, although there are songs on the CD with a more personal approach.

Fayçal Salhi - Timgad - French-Algerian guitar and oud player, who makes a wonderful synthesis of cultures on Timgad. Listen to Entre Deux Mondes ("between two worlds").

Wajdi Cherif -Phrygian Istikhbar - Tunesian pianist who knows his jazz classics really well. Listen to Voyage.

The Belgian piano-player Nathalie Loriers also integrates Mediterranean influences in her music. Listen to L'Auberge Des Femmes. You can also read a review of her recent L'Arbre Pleure on this blog.

... and then two more fusion-oriented CDs:

Dhafer Youssef - Malak - Tunesian power-singer and oud-player, brings world fusion, with jazz instruments and at moments also very strong music. Despite his unique powerful voice, his singing is very precise and emotional. I find Malak his best record, with amongst others Markus Stockhausen and Nguyen Le. Listen to A Kind Of Love

Jonas Hellborg - Aram Of The Two Rivers - Swedish super bass player brings acoustic fusion of world jazz with Syrian musicians on violin, ney and percussion. Listen to Salah Al Din.


Kudsi Erguner - Ottomania - Kudsi Erguner is one of the best ney-players in the world, and in the sufi tradition. He usually plays traditional music, but on Ottomania he is accompanied by some European and American top jazz musicians. Listen to Semai.

Okay Temiz - Istanbul da Eylül - Temiz is a master percussionist who played with many European jazz musians, but also with Don Cherry. Istanbul da Eylül is exceptionally good, with Sylvain Kassap and Lennart Aberg on saxes. But there is much more of interest to find in his discography.

Barana & Co - Live At The Music Meeting - Dutch-Turkish ensemble with amongst others Behsat Üvez on vocals, Ernst Reijseger on cello, Steven Kamperman on clarinet. Nice CD. Listen to Halai.

Alain Blesing - Yörük - Great album by this French guitar player with the Senem Diyici quartet.

And of course not to forget Don Cherry himself, with various recordings, including Live In Ankara, where he plays with a Turkish ensemble, transforming traditional Turkish music into his own kind of jazz.


George Mgrdichian - One Man's Passion - Wonderful album by this Armenian oud-virtuoso, with an ensemble including Souren Baronian on sax. Listen to sound sample

David Yengibarjan - Pandoukht - Armenian accordionist who brings some great music here with Frank London on trumpet and Hungarian friends. This music goes already more into Eastern-European styles or balkan music. Listen to Ouverture

Watch a video clip by Rabih Abou-Khalil and band playing "Ma Muse s'Amuse" :


Jean Francois said...

Bonjour Stef,

Lots of interesting things to explore here.

Been listening to Rabih Abou-Khalil's Cactus of Knowledge for quite a few years now. Very nice record.

And I like Anouar Brahem a lot too, especially his Astrakan Café that I recommend to your readers. A nice mix of Maghrebian culture and jazz.

Nice post!

Jean François