Koum Tara – Chaâbi, Jazz and Strings (Odradek Records ODRCD700, 2018)
Jazz legend tells us that while the U. S. 369th Infantry Regiment (AKA Harlem Hellfighters) was temporarily integrated into the French 16th Division during the First World War, musicians from Harlem and from North African French colonial possessions bonded, sharing not only performance ideas, but homemade instruments and instrumental techniques, and that what we call “jazz” today came from that specific merging of cultures.
Music aficionados surmise that a listening background in American jazz and blues, marked by slurred and individualistic improvisational phrasing, is a good start for falling in love with World Music, in which the primary vocabulary, for the listener, must be that of music rather than that of any one spoken tongue. Combine the legend and the surmise, and what results is the basis for Koum Tara.
Led by composer/pianist Karim Maurice, this group weaves Châabi, classic string quartet and jazz to create a cerebral music at once lighthearted and capable of exploring sophisticated depth. New release “Chaâbi, Jazz and Strings” does what is supposed to be done with a jazz project; it utilizes a group of respectful, introspective players to examine songs, take them apart and put them back together in just a few, not-long-enough minutes. In common with the most treasured recordings in one’s record collection, Koum Tara’s sound is at the same time superlatively modern and convincingly primitive.
Four musicians, nine songs. To give some idea of thematic range with words, some sample lyric lines, translated into English, include:
“Don’t ever imagine seeing my shadow again”
“My wait is limitless / Like an orphan seeking happiness”
“In this garden, next to a river / The sun is about to fade into dusk”
“An internal ember burns me from inside”
“Accustomed to travel, he always returns to his nest / His plumage soft as silk”
“Be more tender and accept being mine / Beautiful creature, O dove of the city”
“No one can blame me for holding on to my first love”
Is it a record or a rubaiyat? Please access it and decide for yourself. Piano like unexpected, refreshing summer rain. Driving percussion. Intense strings. Vocals guiding one through the human heart, from delight to despond. A sound recipe spanning millennia.