So far so good.
Aside from the suggestion by one of my peers (Hi Karen, you old fuddy-duddy!) that the music in my headphones is a tad too loud, I’m rocking out my presentations just as I’m rocking out on my tunes today. Part 2 this afternoon, is also something out the ordinary, the ‘Blue Camel‘ album by Rabih Abou-Khalil.
Because, hey, why not rock out to some Arab camel jazz?
Rabih Abou-Khalil is a Lebonese ‘oud’ (a pear-shaped stringed instrument with 11 or 12 strings, similar to a lute) player who grew up in Beirut but moved to Munich, Germany during the civil war in 1978. He now makes his home part-time in Munich and part-time in the South of France with his wife.
Isn’t that nice?
‘Blue Camel’ is largely considered as the pinnacle of Lebanese oud playing, not to mention Abou-Khalil’s achievement as a jazzman. In both mood and scope, it can almost be characterized as a new ‘Kind of Blue‘. Abou-Khalil brings back Charlie Mariano on alto sax and Kenny Wheeler on flügelhorn and trumpet, and they generally alternate solos with Abou-Khalil himself. Rounding out the roster is Steve Swallow on bass, Milton Cardona on congos, Nabil Khaiat on frame drums, and Ramesh Shotham on South Indian drums and percussion. They form a tight ensemble and play comfortably with each other.
The album opens with ‘Sahara‘, which contains both one of Abou-Khalil’s tunes, a mesmerizing melody that could be either Arabic or jazz, and one of Abou-Khalil’s best solos, a well-defined interlude that delightfully features the unique timbre of the oud. ‘Tsarka‘ begins with a fast break on the oud that turns out to be one of the two motifs on which everything is built. After it is elaborated for a few bars, the oud comes back with another building block. Then we get some stunning improvisations, especially from Abou-Khalil.
‘Ziriab‘ opens with a trumpet solo in which Kenny Wheeler tests the compass of his instrument, backed up with some atmospheric sounds from the udu drum; then Abou-Khalil enters with another great tune for everyone to build on. The title track is nothing but fun. Seductive percussion ushers in Wheeler and Mariano playing in unison for a tune that is somewhere between Duke Ellington and the court of Baghdad. As the percussion bubbles along, Milton Cardona’s congos adding a Latin flavor to the proceedings, Abou-Khalil steps up with a very fast and rhythmic, if not very tuneful, solo. Midway through the track, Mariano blisters the paint with a screeching sax workout that bridges the Arabic and the Latin, while remaining all the while pure jazz. Even Steve Swallow gets a chance to feature his bass after which the ensemble brings it together and takes it home. Some of the other tracks are not as good as the ones mentioned above, but they are all listenable and very atmospheric.
The aptly named ‘A Night in the Mountains‘ is a slow, thoughtful walk, perfect for silent contemplation. Currently, my silent contemplation is geared towards reminding adults why it’s beneficial not to be a douchebag.
Sad but true.
The album ends with ‘Beirut‘, named for the Lebanese city torn by civil war from which Abou-Khalil had to flee many years ago. The track begins with a quiet oud solo and then builds to something more chaotic and striving. ‘Blue Camel‘ may not be a perfect album, but seldom is anything ever perfect in Corporate Hell. What it does do successfully though, is demonstrate better than any other that a fusion between jazz and a musical form from another culture is possible and can work to the advantage of both.
Plus, it’s just great listening to annoy the shit out of your co-workers.
Hi again, Karen!