Franco-Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf has established himself as a major talent in France and regularly performs at prestigious rock festivals and has been featured extensively on the French media, circumventing both the specialist jazz media (not that he has been absent from them. Far from it) and traditional smaller jazz venues. His unique and highly personalised brand of Oriental-influenced music, drawn from the rich Arabic classical tradition (Egypt being a major influence upon the Levant and Maghreb), coupled with jazz improvisation has resulted in some scintillating music, and Maalouf has diversified further, with acoustic projects, such as interpreting the music of singer Oum Kalthoum, and electronica-jazz recordings.
For this new album, he has once again chosen to focus on the music of an individual artist, in this case Dalida, who is a much loved popular singer and actor in French society as well as elsewhere in the Arabic-speaking world, and Maalouf plays more of a producer role on this occasion, relegating his own trumpet playing to that of a secondary status. It is as a whole a mixed affair, with so many guest singers on board in spite of a consistent soul oriented backing with brass ensemble arrangements. At best, it allows more established singers such as Alain Souchon to reinvigorate the repertoire of Dalida as on the soulful sounding, ‘Bambino’, that opens up the album. An unexpected and extremely pleasant surprise is the contribution of melody Gardot who duets with Maalouf on, ‘J’attendrai’, and this has something of an intimate Caetano Veloso feel about it and an obvious contender for a single.
Younger singers such as Ben l’Oncle Soul, offer up neo-soul in French with a big band brass accompaniment that continued throughout the album on, ‘Come prima’. Less successful is the whispered delivery of Thomas Dutronc on, ‘Les gitans’, who comes across as a Serge Gainsbourg circa 1975 wannabee. New life is breathed into the evergreen Italian classic song from the 1970’s, Paroles, paroles’, with Italian actress Monica Bellucci, now permanently settled in Paris, providing a monologue in her native tongue, while French lyrics are added by singer M and this duo works well. Maalouf only surfaces sporadically, with a solo intro on, ‘Salma ya salama’, with a gentle vocal contribution by Mika over a sparse guitar and Fender Rhodes accompaniment. One instrumental only enables the listener to hear what Maalouf is truly capable of as an instrumentalist and this is, ‘Il venait d’avoir 18 ans’. As a whole, the mood is melancholic. The focus on Ibrahim Maalouf as a producer, and even on occasion as a singer, is at best a mitigated success and his undoubted instrumental virtuosity is placed on the back burner for a release that is aimed fairly and squarely at a mainstream pop audience.