Rabih Abou-Khalil ‘Hungry people’ (World Village) 4/5

Lebanese oud player Rabih Abou-Khalil has built up a body of work over the last twenty or so years that stands comparison with the best and his collaborations with jazz musicians have been especially sought after. The memorable 1992 CD ‘Blue Camel’ featuring Charlie Mariano and Kenny Wheeler was one such example. Trained at the Beirut Conservatory and equally adept on flute and oud initially, Abou-Khalil on this new album must surely be a prime contender for the year’s quirkiest album titles! Stylistically, the album oscillates between Balkanesque uplifting brass numbers and more reflective oud plus rhythm section pieces which are this writer’s preferred terrain for the oud. Sporano saxophone and oud combine beautifully on ‘When Frankie shot Lara’ and this is repeated on the hypnotic piece ‘Dreams of a dying city’ which inlcudes pared down instrumentation and is all the better for it. A staccato rhythm on ‘Hats and cravats’ has oud and accordion combining to good effect while on the joyous ‘Banker’s banquet’ a tuba solo is prominent, intensifying the Balkan folk feel, and the uplifting piece is augmented by some throat vocal scatting which needs to be heard to be believed. Above all, with any Abou-Khalil recording one is aware of a musical East meets West interweaving of cultures and one where there is both a mutual respect and a profound knowledge of the respective idioms. This merely reflects the leader’s own wide-ranging appreciation of the entire history of jazz that takes in Monk and Ella, as well as jazz-fusion material by Frank Zappa. Jazz purists would do well to follow in Rabih Abou-Khalil’s footsteps.

Tim Stenhouse