For more than a decade, Lebanese oud master Rabih Abou-Khalil has infused traditional Arabic music of all stripes with elements of modern music from around the world, most notably jazz. Morton’s Foot, Abou-Khalil’s 13th album, doesn’t flavor its Arabic melodies and rhythms with electronic programming. Instead, Abou-Khalil’s fusion is done much in the same way that jazz musicians have embraced Klezmer or Indian music: it uses top-flight musicianship instead of beats and sounds to build the bridges. Here, the leader plays lengthy leads on oud that concentrate on rhythm just as much as melody as a five-piece support cast (drums, accordion, vocals, tuba, clarinet) follows his every twist and turn. Sometimes one leaps ahead to solo on their own, with clarinetist Gabriele Mirabassi and tuba player Michel Godard both doing yeoman’s work. A uniformly strong effort by a truly unique innovator, Morton’s Foot is ideal listening for fans who put free-ranging musicianship and innovation at a premium. – Tad Hendrickson
The band on Morton’s Foot is a truly international ensemble. Composer and master oud player Rabih Abou-Khalil has assembled a cast that includes accordionist Luciano Biondini and clarinetist Gabriele Mirabassi along with Michel Godard on tuba, Jarrod Cagwin on trap and frame drums, and exotic Italian vocalist Gavino Murgia. Abou-Khalil composed all the tracks here. He shares the front line with Biondini and Mirabassi as Godard adds a serious bottom-end punch to the rhythm section. Certainly there are precedents for a group like this: Richard Galliano’s 1980s bands as well as Chris Speed and Brad Shepik’s Pachora, for example. Abou-Khalil’s compositions here, as on his other recordings, involve detailed, complex and labyrinthine melodic structures, though rhythmic invention and harmonic counterpoint add balance and offer tight turns of phrase and dynamic shifts. The title track, “Lobotomie Mi Baba Lu,” and “Hopping Jack” are standout tracks, yet it is the sum of everything here that makes this one of Abou-Khalil’s very best outings. ~ Thom Jurek
Personnel: Rabih Abou-Khalil (oud); Gavino Murgia (vocals); Luciano Biondini (accordion); Gabriele Mirabassi (clarinet); Michel Godard (tuba); Jarrod Cagwin (drum, frame drum).