Born in Cairo in 1991, Mohamed Abozekry is a young virtuoso on the oud whose intricate compositions borrow equally from the Arabic Maqam (the traditional system of modes and scales used in oriental music), blues, jazz and world music. Released in February 2015 last on the Jazz Village record label, Ring Road is the musician’s second record with his Heejaz project.
After spending four years between the age of 11 and 15 studying Arabic traditional and classical music in the prestigious Arab Oud House in Cairo with two masters of the instrument – Hazem Shaheen (Egypt) and Naseer Shamma (Iraq) – the young graduate started teaching, experimenting with various styles and touring with several orchestras or formations. On the advice of French Guitar player Guillaume Hogan whom he met in Cairo in 2007, Mohamed Abozekry moved to France in 2009 and settled in Lyon to study music theory. A multicultural environment and the gradual discovery of a new musical universe sowed the seeds for his Heejaz project.
Formed in 2010 with Mohamed Abozekry leading on the Arabic lute, the Heejaz quartet features Guillaume Hogan on guitar, Hugo Reydet on double bass and Anne-Laure Bourget on tabla, darbouka, cajon and daf. Following extensive touring in France, the Middle-East and Latin America, the quartet released their first recording Chaos in 2013. With complex rhythmic and harmonic patterns, the long and meandering compositions lean towards a flamenco jazz repertoire influenced by Andalusian and gypsy music.
The meaning of Ring Road is that you always come back to the same point, says Mohamed Abozekry. I never move backwards but in a circular motion and return to the place I started with more experience.
Two years on, the line-up has expanded with a different set of instruments. Hugo Reydet remains on double bass but the guitar makes way for the saxophone of Benoît Baud. The quartet also converts into a quintet with the introduction of Ludovic Yapoudjian on piano and harmonium while Anne-Laure Bourget still on percussions widens her range with a full drum kit.
If oriental music remains at the core of the project with long solo pieces on the oud, “Messages” hints at Indian music and John Coltrane with its tabla/harmonium introduction and soprano saxophone solo. There are shades of Afro-Cuban rhythms too on “Poisson Rouge” or “Sabir”.
All these changes point to additional arrangements, improvisation and rhythmic diversity for what is now effectively a jazz ensemble including an oud. Six of the swirling sets on Ring Road are over 10 minutes long, allowing each solo instrument plenty of time and space to draw from their respective musical backgrounds and slowly enrapture the listener.