Rabih Abou-Khalil's ninth Enja release features one of his most expansive lineups to date - 8 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).
RabihAbou-Khalil has asserted himself in the avant-garde as a composer as well as an instrumentalist. This is not just because he is ahead of his time - but because he also questions what others might pursue without further reflection. With his original composing technique, his unconstrained, yet daring approach to classical Arabic music, he has found a musical language entirely of his own.Abou-Khalil's music thrives on creative encounters and not on exoticism. From a combination of diverse cultural elements something very personal and coherent emerges. Thus it would be fruitless to mull over descriptions such as Orient or Occident, jazz, world music or classical.
The musical traditions of the Arabic world are fused with jazz improvisation and European classical techniques by Lebanese-born oud player and composer Rabih Abou-Khalil. The CMJ New Music Report noted that Abou-Khalil has "consistently sought to create common ground between the Arab music mileau of his roots and the more global musical world of today." Down Beat praised Abou-Khalil's music as "a unique hybrid that successfully spans the world of traditional Arabic music and jazz." Although he learned to play the oud, a fretless, Lebanese lute, as a youngster, Abou-Khalil temporarily switched to the classical flute, which he studied at the Academy of Music after moving to Munich, Germany, during the Lebanese Civil War in 1978.
Muna, a single mother in Ramallah, has applied for a visa to the US. When it comes, her son Fadi, an excellent student, convinces her they should go. After an incident at customs begins their exile badly, they join Muna's sister and family in Illinois. Muna needs a job: although she has two degrees and 15 years' experience in banking, she settles for work at White Castle, telling the family her job's at a nearby bank. It's spring, 2003, and the US invades Iraq. While friends come from unlikely places, Fadi meets prejudice at school. How he'll respond to it and to American youth culture and how Muna will sort things out with her family are the rest of the story. Tragedy or hope?
In 2001 Mirabassi joined Rabih Abou-Khalil's group and soon became its foremost soloist who regularly brings the audience into a boiling state. While Rabih's music has an Arabic color, Gabriele's is deeply rooted in the folk music of his native Italy which he presents with great emotional power. Accordionist Luciano Biondini, who has also worked with such as Tony Scott and Enrico Rava, and tuba player Michel Godard, the most versatile exponent of his instrument worldwide, have been working with Mirabassi for quite a while - formerly as a quartet with additional drums or mandolin. All three of them are currently members in Rabih Abou-Khalil's band.