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Rabih Abou-Khalil: The Cactus of Knowledge

The masterful Lebanese oud player Rabih Abou-Kahlil-now living in Germany, where he is best known-has made it his business to combine elements of his native musical language with jazz, while weaving in rock and other ideas from American musical soil. His ongoing refinement process, not merely a continuation of past ideas, is amply evident on his ambitious new album, The Cactus of Knowledge (Enja). Here, his oud and the indigenous percussion of the rig, played by Nabil Khaiat, frames an ensemble sound made up largely of brass and reed players. In the group are such potent players and enriched soloists as French hornist Tom Varner, euphonium player Dave Bargeron and saxophonists Ellery Eskelin and Antonio Hart, who navigate the metrically complex scores while lending their own idiomatically jazz-aligned improv along the way. The CD package is beautiful, with embossed art and text on the cover, and poetic liner notes by Gamal Ghitany, befitting music at once declarative and mysterious.

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