Kalthoum is a celebration of women who changed the course of history and whose artistic influence still has an impact on our daily lives. I therefore chose Oum Kalthoum, an iconic figure, a true monument in the history of the Arab people, and furthermore the voice I have been listening to the most since my early childhood. Ibrahim Maalouf

With the release of Kalthoum on Universal Music France/Impulse in September 2015 last, the Lebanese-born and France-based trumpet player pays a vibrant homage to the fondly remembered “Star of the East”. A testament to the talent and lasting influence of the Egyptian diva (1898 – 1975), Ibrahim Maalouf (trumpet) and his New-York-based quartet – Frank Woeste (piano), Clarence Penn (drums), Larry Grenadier (double bass) and Mark Turner (saxophone) – transpose one of Oum Kalthoum’s songs into the jazz idiom to stunning effect.

Ibrahim Maalouf - Kalthoum (2015)
Ibrahim Maalouf – Kalthoum (2015)

Broken down into an introduction, Overture I & II and four movements, Kalthoum is a reinterpretation of Alf Leila Wa Leila (One Thousand and One Nights), a song by Morsi Gamil Aziz set to music by Baligh Hamdi originally recorded by Oum Kalthoum in 1969.

Like most of Oum Kalthoum’s repertoire, the original “Alf Leila Wa Leila” is a long suite of verses interspersed with orchestral music and whose length would vary from one concert to the next. Tantamount to a live jazz performance and as captured on her many records, it is the emotive intensity of the lyrics, the performer’s mood for improvisation and the level of interaction with the audience that influence the tempo, length and overall rendition of the song. Ibrahim Maalouf was not born yet when the singer passed away in 1975, but Oum Kalthoum’s cult status meant that her records were still widely listened to in Arab-speaking families around the world and that the musician was exposed to the songs from an early age.

Ibrahim wanted to pay her homage, not by strict imitation of her work, but by offering his own interpretation of its spirit. His goal is to express both a personal experience and the universal reach of Oum Kalthoum’s music through his unique musical language, an entwining of New-York Jazz and Middle-Eastern lyricism. Jean-Philippe Allard – cover notes

The challenge on this particular record for his New-York quartet was of course to fall in with Ibrahim Maalouf’s quarter-tone trumpet, an instrument devised by his own father Nassim in the 1960s to play the oriental repertoire and which has become intrinsically associated with his music. Mimicking an oriental singer, Ibrahim Maalouf beautifully channels the micro-tonal subtleties of the melismatic variations on the trumpet, a western instrument in its original facture, but manages to merge both sensibilities in a seamless fashion.

There are a lot of similarities between the Arab culture and the American jazz culture. Both are rooted in Africa, and from there many things sound alike, in particular the way musicians improvise. There is a similar approach which involves starting a phrase and trying to develop and repeat it while adding to it – it is a form of trance, a perpetual quest. Then for me, the fundamental common characteristic between both cultures – which also explains why have been working on this for so many years – is the blue note, the quarter tone, the maqam. Jazz, historic blues and the old negro-spirituals were originally songs which included African maqams, the same maqams you find in Arabic music. When you listen to negro-spirituals, you hear quarter tones […] This is an African heritage, and when you play Arabic music, quarter tones are everywhere. When you transpose Oum Kalthoum’s music to jazz, it all becomes quite clear, it’s self-evident. Ibrahim Maalouf introducing KalthoumArte Concert

A prolific composer and performer, Ibrahim Maalouf’s tribute to the Egyptian singer coincided with the release of Red & Black Light on the same day. Including eight new compositions, the record features a more contemporary and electro-pop sound as well as a reprise of Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)”.

The cover artwork is part of the “Divine Nudes” series by French photographer Ronald Martinez.