REVIEW: Ibrahim Maalouf at the QEH (2014 EFG London Jazz Festival)

Ibrahim Maaalouf. EFG London Jazz Festival 2014
Photo Credit: John L Walters


Ibrahim Maalouf
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, 19th November 2014, EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by John L Walters)

Paris-based Lebanon-born Ibrahim Maalouf is a flamboyant trumpeter-bandleader in a tradition that includes Dizzy Gillespie, Arturo Sandoval and Lester Bowie. Classically trained, he has a formidable technique, and he plays a quarter-tone trumpet with an extra valve that enables him to play between the notes of the chromatic scale. He’s an accomplished composer whose music draws on Arabic pop music, jazz-funk, heavy rock and subtle, Miles-influenced jazz – his acoustic quintet album Wind (which features saxophonist Mark Turner) was one of the best releases of 2013.

His current eight-strong band focuses on the more bombastic Illusions (2013), which includes three additional trumpeters (one of whom also switches to binioù, a Breton bagpipe, for the encore). Maalouf is an accomplished composer, with a gift for catchy riffs and tunes that stick in the brain, and Illusions is a more varied and nuanced work than its live realisation might indicate.

Wednesday’s gig for the London Jazz Festival was more World Music show – albeit with jazz chops – than jazz concert. Maalouf’s musicians play as if they are in a stadium, or a festival, reaching out as if to the furthest corner of a tent-filled field. I understand why they do this, but there are times when Maalouf’s tunes deserve more light and shade. In among excellent tunes such as Conspiracy Generation, Busy and True Sorry we are treated to extended, hard rock guitar solos and a drum solo that overstays its welcome.

Fortunately Maalouf’s own improvisations always hit the spot, and there were plenty of moments of joyful music-making: engaging solos, catchy melodies, virtuosic cadenzas, including a terrific trumpet-drums duet with Stéphane Galland.

Maalouf also creates a warm rapport with the enthusiastic crowd. He asks whether we know Beirut (from his 2011 album Diagnostic). When half of us raise our hands he demands good-humouredly that we all sing its lengthy, serpentine melody a cappella. At another moment he coaxes some tuneful whistling from the stalls.

There’s plenty of showbiz business, but there’s a lot of good music, too. Maalouf has quickly become one of the most convincing and entertaining exponents of world jazz on the scene – he’s on an unstoppable career ascent, and it would be great to hear more of him in London. However to hear Maalouf’s distinctive and original take on the jazz tradition, turn down the lights, close your eyes and listen to Wind.

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