Recorded 8-10 October 1990 at Bauer Studios, Ludwigsburg, Germany.
Rabih Abou-Khalil, among the rare Arabic musicians who have recorded and played extensively with jazz musicians, successfully navigates the middle ground between traditional North African sounds and hard bop. Besides the leader's oud and flute, alto saxophonist Sonny Fortune provides the blues bite; bassist Glen Moore, the rhythmic connection, and percussionists Ramesh Shotham and Nabil Khaiat, provide the African seasoning.
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
Folk and art musics being dynamically related to society and clearly reflecting the variety and level of a given culture, familiarizing oneself with the music of a foreign people is a rewarding approach to an unconscious, intuitive understanding of its culture. This recording, Al-Jadida ("The New One", its title alluding to the music), will certainly awaken some interest in the historical background of this innovative musical form.
Sung poetry played a major role in the cultural life of early Arabia. Lyrics were an agreeable means of "archiving" history, wisdom, pride, and the tender emotions. The harmonious recital provided rich pleasures for the listener-connoisseur. The same applied to the simple people who, while understanding only fractions of the incredibly rich language, showed great respect. After Islamization, almost anything that did not serve religion or survival was at first considered of little or no use. Particularly the visual arts and music were regarded as mere distractions from essential matters and therefore avoided, an attitude that is still maintained in some territories and in deeply religious families.
Less developed cultures are usually influenced by contact with more advanced ones. This applied also to the Arabs who, having invaded Persia, assimilated the then flourishing Persian music (which had itself been enriched by Indian music) and mixed it with their own. When, at the end of the seventh century, music gained in importance with increased prosperity and a more sophisticated lifestyle, the players were mostly of Persian, Byzantine or black African descent. The "new" music which now evolved spread rapidly to the Persian Gulf, even as far as the Caucasus and the Atlantic coast. Regional styles and fashions were identified by dialects, accents or minor differences in the manufacturing of musical instruments but common to all was the high Arabic language and poetry . The ideal musician had to be a highly talented composer and experienced instrumentalist - most often on the short-necked Arab lute (oud) - and had to possess both a convincing voice and a large repertory. Improvisational abilities were mandatory.
The first musical centre was the town of Medina, in particular the house of the woman artist Azza Al-Mayla (ca. 700 A.D.), a meeting place for the literary and musical elite. During the reign of the Umayyads, the cultural centre shifted to Damascus. Where hitherto most famous singers and musicians had been slaves, their social status now changed with the caliphs' patronage and appreciation.
At the end of the 8th century, the Abbasids made Bagdad the Arab capital. Here, Arabic music reached its pinnacle in the course of the following centuries. Once the practical side of music had attained a level of perfection, music theory began to evolve. Al-Kindi and other musicologists explored the ethical and cosmological aspects of music, taking into account its mathematical and acoustic bases. Great musicians were now in favour with the leading stratum, and the study of music was a part of general education. Books on the art of making music were written for educational purposes. Soon the first great Arab musicians and celebrated singers such as Basbas, Ubayda, Shariyya, Dananir and Mahbuba emerged.
Islamic Spain soon had its own musical culture, founded by Ziriab, a student of Al-Mawsili, a famous musician at the Bagdad court. As a potential rival, Ziriab had to leave his country and arrived in Spain in the year 820. Influenced by West Gothic, Berber and refined Umayyad traditions, he laid the foundation for new musical forms and a particular style which, after the fall of Granada in 1492, was exported to many North African regions.
After the Mongolian invasion (1258), which led to the decline of the caliphate, the empire disintegrated into many independent provinces. The subsequent decentralization of the musical world resulted in two noticeable tendencies: on the one hand, rediscovery and further development of existing traditions and on the other the influence of Western music. Turkish and European occupation forces introduced the military band. Cairo became the centre of Arabic music; there were, of course, other centres such as Aleppo, Bagdad, Beirut or Tunis but, in order to be accepted throughout the Arab world, an artist first had to make his mark in Cairo. The possibilities of sound recording had a decisive influence on the popularity of the musicians and helped to spread their work in the entire Arab world. The first "Arab" record was made by singer Ahmad Hasanayn as early as 1904! (It wasn't until 1917 that the first jazz record followed, significantly by the "white" Original Dixieland Jass Band.) Unfortunately, the three-and-a-half minutes of playing time provided by the old shellac 78s were hardly sufficient to do justice to Arabic music which needs time to establish its sense of drama. Recording artists circumnavigated this limitation by shortening musical forms or by means of unexpected improvisations at the end of apiece. The most famous singer of the pre-shellac era, Munira Al-Mahadiyya, was so disappointed by the result of her first recording session that she immediately resigned from the music scene and stopped performing in public. The first singers who made a substantial name for themselves were Yussef Al-Manyalawi (1847-1911), Salama El-Ghazi (1852-1917), and, foremost, Sayyed Darwish (1892-1923) who was also a composer of Arabic operettas. The singers were accompanied, according to the classical tradition, by small instrumental groups, consisting mainly of oud (lute), nay (bamboo flute), kamandjah (violin), qanun (zither), duff and tabla (percussion instruments) and often a choir. New composers such as Farid El-Attache who triggered an instrumental revolution by his virtuoso oud playing, and Mohammed Abdel Wahab, also one of the greatest Arab singers, made the. Western influences (tango, waltz, etc.) fashionable. The film music of the 1950's and a host of less gifted composers further contributed to the dilution of the old traditions. Nevertheless, there were still glorious exceptions, among them the outstanding Lebanese singer and oud player Wadih Al-Safi, the master of improvisation, and the singer Fairuz who charms audiences all over the world with a voice of delicate purity.
The great Own Kalsoum, star of the East, dazzled the entire region, from Persia to Morocco, with her expressive voice. Whenever she introduced a new song, the enthusiastic audience forced her to repeat each verse so often that, by the end of the concert, they knew the song by heart. From the early stages of her career in the 1920% when she interpreted songs composed by Mohammad Al-Qassabji, via classics such as "Zikrayat" by Riad Al Sonbati to her last work, "Ya Msahharni" (1972), her influence on Arabic art music was so all-encompassing, that, after her death in February 1974, and despite frantic searches, no adequate substitute could be found.
Now, electric and electronic instruments have become the fashion, quantity becoming more important than quality. Compositions have been suffering under the lack of talent, the growth of creativity being stifled by time becoming scarce in a modern society. There are, however, a few culture-conscious groups maintaining the tradition by playing classical Arabic music.
Rabih Abou-Khalil's biography is typical of a new generation of Third World artists who, while living in the Western hemisphere, have contributed significantly to the artistic form of expression in their home countries by demonstrating a new sense of responsibility for their native culture. Abou-Khalil spent his youth in Beirut (Lebanon) in the cosmopolitan climate of the sixties and seventies and started playing the oud at a very early age. In the Arab World, this instrument is as popular as guitar and piano are together in the West. Having decided to become a musician, he studied at the Beirut conservatory under the guidance of oud virtuoso Georges Farah and flute with Josef Severa, first flutist with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. In the company of friends, he listened to rock music and jazz. He owned records by Frank Zappa, Ella Fitzgerald and Thelonious Monk. In 1978, the Lebanese civil war forced him to leave his country. He continued his classical flute studies at the Munich Academy of Music with Professor Walther Theurer, although the oud always remained his main instrument. He has travelled the entire Middle East, refining his technique by taking lessons with the Syrian masters Michel Awad in Damascus and Abdulrahman Jabakji in Aleppo. Especially in his solo performances one becomes witness of a virtuosity that is rare in Arabic music. When working with Arab musicians, Abou-Khalil always chooses the most famous instrumentalists of the Arab music scene (the nay player Selim Kusur, the violinist Yassin El-Achek and the percussionists Setrak Sarkissian and Nabil Khaiat, to name but a few) who find in this context enough room and appreciation for their improvisations.
Compositions have always been a product of the whole spectrum of a composer's experience and are therefore closely linked to his cultural background and musical encounters. In Rabih Abou-Khalil's case, these encounters reach far beyond the range of Arabic and classical music and into the realms of jazz, Japanese and Indian music. This is reflected in his choice of musicians (Ramesh Shotham from Madras, India, for example) and in his compositions. Although complying with the rules of classical Arabic music as regards form, rhythm and mode, they frequently reflect the many different influences.
A conviction that musicians should be as versatile as possible as well as personal contacts to Munich-based musicians such as Benny Bailey, Christian Burchard and Mal Waldron encouraged Abou-Khalil to perform his own Arabic compositions with renowned and experienced jazz musicians. Such a cooperation is only possible if the musicians involved are able to fluently read rhythmically and melodically complex scores and to understand unfamiliar structures. Coming from the contrasting jazz idiom with its differing sound formation and phraseology, the player should be able to spontaneously "personalize" the music without falsifying it. The result has proved itself to be unique and certainly outshines everything as yet tried in terms of fusing jazz (traditionally eager to cross bound-aries) and Eastern musics. It might easily be as stimulating to the jazz world as, for example, South American music which, by virtue of its accessibility, has introduced jazz to a larger audience.
Abou-Khalil's ballads evoke in the listener fantastic memories of the poetic early periods of Arab culture. His virtuoso playing has been recommended by critics as "a lesson for jazz gui-tarists". Never straining after effect, his technical abilities provide a secure ground for the entire group. "His Western collaborators (Sonny Fortune, Glen Moore, Charlie Mariano, Glen Velez, et al) never give the impression of fulfilling a cultural duty, of being ordered off, as it were, to missionary work in the Arabian desert" (Die Weltwoche, Zurich). "The enthusiasm and intensity of their collective playing is infectious and, at the same time makes a lot of musical sense" (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung). Abou-Khalil's amazing knowledge of Arabic and Western musics and their histories help him in building a bridge between East and West, and in consequence he and his work meet with attention and praise in the Arab as well as the Western world. He himself sees his work as a continuation and further development of a musical tradition massively threatened by external influences, in particular the uncritical copying of Western pop music.
- Jerry G. Bauer, 1991