Caught in a storm over forests in central Europe, an aviator is forced into landing in the grounds of an isolated château. Shaken and injured, he is cared for by the beautiful Countess – with whom he soon falls in love. But life in the château is not all that it seems; the walls hold secrets set to shatter their romantic idyll…
Originally commissioned by the Cinémathèque Française as a soundtrack to René Clair’s 1927 silent film La Proie du vent, Ibrahim Maalouf’s Wind (Mi’ster Productions, Dec 2012) follows the trajectory of the aviator’s story in an album that will be seductive even if you have little or no interest in jazz.
Dedicated to Miles Davis, it owes much to Davis’s 1958 soundtrack to Louis Malle’s L’Ascenseur pour l’échafaud and also his later Sketches of Spain – yet it can trumpet those influences loudly enough because it wears them so lightly. This is a homage but not a pastiche and Maalouf is singular enough in approach and technique to soar way beyond his influences.
What he takes from Davis is the ability to step back, to leave space, to let stillness and silence flourish when they need to. He’s capable of great delicacy; his pianissimo is effortless. He’s never tricked by insecurity into doing too much.
What he brings to the table himself – on a practical note – is his quarter-tone trumpet. In the photo above you can see the index finger of his left hand on the fourth, extra valve of the trumpet. It’s this valve that allows him to bend notes the way he does, exploring the space between semitones, and colouring the music with non-Western inflections (Maalouf is Franco-Lebanese, born in Beirut and now based in Paris). In the more spacious tunes such as ‘Waiting’ and ‘Certainty’, the quarter-tone sound comes to the fore when Maalouf has the time to linger over it longingly. It’s beautiful and thoughtful playing.
Another thing that makes this album special is, unusually, the titles of the tracks. With names such as ‘Excitement’, ‘Suspicions’ and ‘Doubt’, the track-titles – originally written down as identifiers until Maalouf could come up with proper titles – at first seem banal. But they are Maalouf’s record of both the emotional responses of the characters in the film and his emotional response to the experience of watching the film and, in turn, they – if we want to let them – colour how we respond to the music itself and what visions our imaginations conjure up of a drama we’ll most likely never see. How much better than the convention of writing down a description of the relevant scene – as so often happens with movie soundtracks and as Davis himself had done for L’Ascenseur pour l’échafaud? Maalouf’s titles add a further layer of dialogue between artist and listener and film; a further layer of dialogue for an old silent movie.
Recorded in New York – from where three of the musicians in the quintet hail – the album is not only touched by the city’s potential for noirish mystery but its delight in diversity. There is so much variety to enjoy: the headnodding hip hop repetition that underpins ‘Suspicions’, the Balkan Gypsy swagger that overcomes ‘Excitement’, the slinking Cuban salsa of ‘Sensuality’, the haunted wanderings of album-closer ‘Mystery’. And there is diversity within each tune itself, in genre and in tone, Maalouf’s roving spirit ringing the changes masterfully.
Here’s a 6-minute promo for the album so you can get a taste of it. It features interviews with Clarence Penn (drums) and Mark Turner (saxophone) and the music of ‘Surprises’, one of the standout tracks on the album…
…though, for my money, this session for French cultural weekly Télérama where Maalouf is accompanied by guitarist François Delporte is even better. Though I would say that wouldn’t I? They filmed it in a parking garage!
Last up, a short clip of the chase sequence from René Clair’s original film accompanied by Maalouf’s track ‘Issues’ has been uploaded to youtube in the last few weeks. Revelatory stuff – with a real cliffhanger to finish.