The prey of the WIND: a musical journey to the world of Ibrahim Maalouf

Ibrahim Maalouf Concert @ Bozar

Ibrahim Maalouf reached his zenith with his latest album Wind (his fourth). A homage to Miles Davis and the start of a new music chapter after his three Dia-albums. His sonorous sounds will be taken around Europe in his new Wind tour.

The Paris-based musician is without a doubt a virtuoso. Ibrahim Maalouf creates mystical and audacious sounds with his quarter-toned trumpet and creates a world of his own. Many tried to frame his work as world music, jazz or contemporary Arab music. But when you meet Ibrahim Maalouf in person, you will notice there is no need to categorise his music. It’s a blend of many styles and an inquisitive mind that makes it acceptable to call it Maalouf music. But which inspirational and musical homes did he visit to arrive at his own doorstep?

Ibrahim Maalouf Concert @ Bozar

The Maalouf Heritage

Maalouf’s family tree has Eastern Mediterranean roots and follows a deep tradition in creating important works. Take for example the writer Amine Maalouf (his uncle), the poet Rushdi Maalouf (his grandfather) and the trumpet player Nassim Maalouf (his father) who are some of the many cornerstones in his family. It was his father who decided to leave Beirut and pursue a musical career at the Paris Conservatoire where he became an avid student with the French trumpeter Maurice André. After several years Nassim Maalouf succeeded in mastering the classical trumpet repertoire by playing only major and minor scales. Playing the twelve- tone musical scale made it almost impossible for Nassim Maalouf to play an Arab maqama, which gives acces to the Arabic side of jazz. The quarter tone scale originates in the Middle East and was founded by 19th century music theorist Mikha’il Mishaqah. Nassim himself was inspired to add a fourth valve on his trumpet, allowing him to play these well-known ‘Arabic quartertones’. Like his father, Ibrahim Maalouf was classically trained and continues playing on the magical quartertoned trumpet.

 

Ibrahim Maalouf creates a dialectic venue where he consciously invites people to listen to something more then just patchwork. Or in his own words “I don’t like to create–an oriental trick- by including a lute to play the Arab tones and a contrabass to play the Western tones. I would like to create natural and organical sounds in which all these attributes find their own place. If someone is listening to a music piece of mine and can point out what is Arab and what is not, then I know I did something wrong.” A reference to musicians such as Lhasa de Sela and Anouar Brahem contributes to his understanding of not creating a patchwork. These are all musicians who know how to create a unique way of transforming all possible elements in music and produce an unpredictable elixir of their own material.

DIA

This alchemical symbolism can be found in his first three albums, Diasporas, Diachronism and Diagnostic. These three albums were merged into one Dia album this year. The title refers to the Greek meaning of the word dia, across, a title well thought-out for his ten-year voyage across his own life and personal experiences. “There was never a clear starting or ending point in creating Dia. I continued every time with no expectations at all and with the sole aim of capturing and transferring the content of my mind and heart. I practised my own therapy by accepting every outcome and realising in the end that every album was a product of the same object,’’ he comments with a smile. The smile lingers on in my mind when I try to imagine the astonished face of Freud when realising that the production of such a work is only possible by accepting the conflicts between the conscious and unconscious self without the inevitable result of a mental disturbance. Looking back at Ibrahim Maalouf who is sitting in front of me reassures me that this man is far from being a product of disorder but merely the embodiment of a humane storyteller.

 Ibrahim Maalouf Concert @ Bozar

Wind

And the story continues with an elegant jump into Bozar in Brussels, Belgium, that promoted Ibrahim’s latest album, Wind. The concert served as a homage to Ibrahim’s favourite Miles Davis album, L’Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, (Elevator to the Gallows) recorded in 1958 as a soundtrack for the movie by Louis Malle. His careful love for Miles album created a lifelong wish to one day make a modest tribute to this, as he calls him, genius. That day arrived when Le Cinémathèque française, the French film archive, asked Ibrahim Maalouf to record a film score on the occasion of the restoration of a 1926 René Clair movie, ‘La proie du vent’ (The Prey of the Wind).

The combination of creating a soundtrack with rendering homage to Miles Davis’ masterpiece fulfilled two of Ibrahim Maaloufs dreams. “I left Dia behind me and was caught by the wind to create a new album. This time with a clear starting point and including ‘an ascenseur pour l’échafaud’ with my personality and compositions. Un exercise de style that is in contrast to my earlier work.”

Even though this album is easier to define then the Dia album, it makes you wonder how this album was recorded ‘live’ at a studio in New York City in less than three hours, when Dia took almost ten years to record. This quintet consists of well-known musicians in New York’s jazz culture, including Mark Turner (sax), Clarence Penn (drums) and Ira Coleman (bass). The piano played by Frank Woeste brings the necessary backdrop to the ensemble. Ibrahim offers clarification, stating that “jazz is not in my culture but I found the right musicians, since they could feel and understand my work. Something I am very grateful for as the Arab /quartertone music is not in their culture. So in the end we completed a whole album that is not too complex but dynamic enough to mix in all the necessary emotions and compositions.”

 Ibrahim Maalouf Concert at Bozar

Twelve pieces with an oriental echo

The twelve titles evoke a deep conversation in the listener, a conversation on the edge of a lonely white hill. Titles that represent feelings evoked by the film scenes and at the same time also resemble the creative process of producing an album. Ibrahim Maaloufs own words reflect these stages, “It was such a coincidence that the titles represented exactly the phases I am going through when making an album. It starts with a white page, my doubts, it continues with suspicion about my own work, my excitement about the creation, and ends with waiting and certainty. And the whole creative process ends with a captured mystery.”

Universal audience

Ibrahim’s way of playing for his audience in the Bozar is magnetic and uplifting. The listener is taken like a balloon across many different places, from the Middle-Eastern gates in Beirut to the distant cinemas of the Champs-Élysées. A master in telling musical stories loaded with a layer of humour. The grooves played by the entire quintet expanded in alternating enigmatic solos and ballads. Ibrahim’s solo-improvisations with the quarter-tones brought back that poetic silence so familiar to our ears. It’s at that moment that you know, as an eager listener, that he represents the Miles Davis with the oriental touch, the world of the West and of the East, the roots of Beirut and Paris, and the inescapable necessity of these parallel worlds.

Ibrahim Maalouf’s compositions are caught between the dream of capturing, and the logic of what is captured. There is no doubt his tones are organical and technically clear, while maintaining the mystery needed to continue searching for more.

 Photos concert @ Bozar | © Léonard Pongo

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