Rabih Abou-Khalil

The Cactus of Knowledge

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Rabih Abou-Khalil's ninth Enja release features one of his most expansive lineups to date -- 12 pieces in all, including oud, brass, woodwinds, cello, and percussion. It's quite a departure from 1999's austere Yara. Here the tempos are bright, the unison lines darting and difficult, the improv heated, the tonal combinations ever-changing. Heavy-hitting jazzers dominate the band roster, including Dave Ballou and Eddie Allen on trumpets, Tom Varner on French horn, Dave Bargeron on euphonium, Antonio Hart on alto sax, and Ellery Eskelin on tenor sax. Gabriele Mirabassi's clarinet gives the music an almost klezmer-like sound at times (a tantalizing instance of Jewish-Arab reconciliation). The gorgeous booklet includes a prose poem by Gamal Ghitany (printed in English, French, and Arabic), as well as a series of campy band portraits and a full transcription of track number five, "Oum Saïd." Looking over the score, one gets some sense of the rhythmic complexity Abou-Khalil is dealing with (try counting in 6+5+5+3/16, for instance).

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