Marcel Khalife,
(Nagam, 2004)

Marcel Khalife is a one-man musical institution. National Public Radio referred to him as the "Bob Dylan of the Middle East" when he toured in the U.S. in 2004. The man is a master of the oud, the Arabic lute; he is a performer, composer, teacher, conductor and peace ambassador for UNESCO.

Born among fishermen and peasants in a small village north of Beirut, Lebanon, his first teacher was a retired military man who encouraged Khalife's parents to allow the boy to study music. In 1972, he formed a group in his native village dedicated to reviving the Arabic musical heritage. He has risked his life in performances during wartime and faced criminal prosecution for one song in which he was accused of insulting religious values because he quoted from a verse of the Qu'ran.

Caress brings together elements of both the Arabic tradition and Western influences. The title track features his virtuoso skill on the oud, while others showcase the piano, bass and violin in more familiar jazz veins. He's joined on this album by jazz bassist Peter Herbert and Khalife's sons, Rami on piano and Bachar on percussion. Violinist Omar Guey is featured on "Chaza."

"With All the Love" is a bit disconcerting because it sounds like a piano-bar rendition of "Happy Birthday." But the redemption is in marvelous tracks like "Caress," "Chaza" and especially "Samai Bayati." This last is Khalife at his best.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
John R. Lindermuth

7 June 2008

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