A Dark Original Middle Eastern/Brazilian Hybrid

by delarue

Here’s something for people who like brooding, intense, melancholy music: trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf is playing Drom on June 21 at 11 PM, doing some US dates in support of his recent album, Diagnostic. Maalouf’s background as a musician is eclectic to the extreme, encompassing Middle Eastern, western classical and jazz; he’s played with the great Lebanese composer Marcel Khalife, and on the lighter side, with Sting. Although trumpet is still central to the album, Maalouf also plays piano with a raw, plaintive style that often alludes to Erik Satie. For beats, Maalouf enlisted 17-piece Paris-based Brazilian batucada percussion troupe Zalinde to provide boomy, distant thunder. Taken together, the result is absolutely original and usually on the dark side: even a spacious solo piano piece for his young daughter is imbued with dread. Which might have something to do with his experience as a refugee from war in Beirut, growing up alienated in the tough cinderblock banlieu outside Paris, his father an acclaimed trumpeter in his own right.

Maalouf’s approach to the trumpet is the same as how he approaches music in general: nothing is off limits. He might rip into a Balkan tune with Arabic modalities over a Brazilian rhythm, segue out of an epic, cinematic Middle Eastern suite into garish heavy metal (a rare moment that actually doesn’t work very well here) or switch in a split-second from a slinky salsa groove to reggae, all of that over the distant boom of the batucada drums. He also switches up scales without any notice, an effect that he employs very powerfully to amp up the drama or unease factor. He’s the rare player who can solo for what feels like five minutes and at the end, you’re still left wanting more. The most energetic  tracks here are a couple of sirening, careening jajouka rock numbers – one that begins as a guitar boogie and then undergoes a very artful transformation. A pensive, low-key tune dedicated to Maalouf’s mom features a thoughtful, sympathetic interlude from French rapper Oxmo Puccino. Interestingly, the album’s most intense track is not one of the high-powered, crescendoing cinematic ones but the title cut, which juxtaposes wounded, absolutely depleted trumpet against a glittering backdrop of piano and marimba. Since much of the album is a one-man effort – sort of a vastly more moody, trumpet-driven counterpart to Daniel Bernard Roumain’s work – it’ll be interesting to see what kind of combo Maalouf brings to his Drom concert. And ostensibly he’s playing somewhere in Central Park as part of Make Music NY earlier in the day: if you hear pensive Arabic trumpet melodies wafting from behind the trees, it’s probably him.