The Lebanese trumpeter, the only musician who plays a quarter-tone trumpet, will perform at the Abu Dhabi Festival on Friday.
Ibrahim Maalouf blows the horn of plenty for jazz and Arab music
Although jazz might be a music genre distinguished by its technicality, for Ibrahim Maalouf, it is as much an internal conversation as a performance.
The Lebanese trumpeter will give audiences a glimpse of both worlds when he performs as part of the Abu Dhabi Festival tomorrow.
If the "Oriental Jazz Rock Concert" description given by organisers regarding his performance is confusing, Maalouf himself sheds little enough light; he prefers to describe his show by what it is not.
"It is not jazz and it is not world music either," he offers. "I can hardly find a way to describe it other than say it is a big mix of things."
As he is the only musician who plays Arab music on a quarter-tone trumpet, his vagueness is understandable.
Invented by Maalouf's father, Nassim, the quarter-tone trumpet boasts a fourth valve, allowing the instrument the tonal flexibility to play the Arabian modes often restricted within the trumpet's traditional three-valve setting.
In the case of the younger Maalouf, the results are vivid pieces combining traditional jazz with gypsy and Balkan influences, an evocative sound that has made him a highly sought-after performer as well as a hired gun for operas and film soundtracks.
Maalouf's eclectic style is best displayed in his latest album, Diagnostics. Released late last year, the album is a dynamic, hour-long set swinging from quieter ruminative pieces to dramatic compositions, including marching drums, tuba, accordion, harmonica and guitar. Maalouf says years spent on the road were responsible for the album's global sounds.
"You spend a lot of time travelling as a performer and you see and experience different things," he says. "I love to listen to various music from all over the world and I remember visiting places like Turkey, Serbia, Montenegro and Cyprus. I would see these gypsy bands play and I just loved their instinctual way of playing music; they mix the oriental with the classical."
But it is the balance between emotional and musical self-expression that intrigues Maalouf the most.
Diagnostics completes a trilogy of albums exploring his musical influences and relationships with his family. Indeed, some of the title tracks are named after family members.
Maalouf states that Diagnostics was the "conclusion of a long story" and the promise of a new beginning.
"Three albums was almost like personal research for me," he explains. "They spoke about my beginnings, my developments and now my conclusion of what I wanted to say, my essential messages to my parents and family. It was a form of therapy for me and in a way I feel like I finished something important and now I can do something new."
Maalouf's first encounter with music was at the age of four. Growing up in Paris after his family fled Lebanon during the conflict there, Maalouf first experimented with the piano before his trumpet-soloist father's love for the brass instrument infected him, too.
Maalouf excelled with the trumpet, having studied at the Parisian music conservatory CNSM de Paris as well as winning first prize at the Hungarian International Trumpet Competition in 2002.
However, Maalouf credits that first foray with the piano - an instrument he still plays "for fun" - as partly responsible for his success. He says it instilled an adventurous spirit in his work.
"The trumpet can be strict and composed while the piano is total freedom. When I play on it, it allows me to see the music differently. I try to combine these two approaches when I perform," he says.
"Playing is a freedom and the people I play with have that style. So the best way to come to the show is to have no expectations; you will enjoy it much more."
• Ibrahim Maalouf is playing at the Abu Dhabi Theatre, Ras Al Akhdar, tomorrow. Tickets from Dh200. For more information go to www.timeouttickets.com. For information on the Abu Dhabi Festival go to www.abudhabifestival.ae
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