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Maurice Louca: Elephantine (Northern Spy)

A review of the Egyptian guitarist's third album

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Elephantine by Maurice Louca
Cover of Elephantine by Maurice Louca

Cairo native Maurice Louca has seen his country clamp down on live music, but that hasn’t quelled the guitarist’s inquisitive nature. He discovered the music of Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, and the Doors through tapes that were traded on the sly at school. By the time of the Arab Spring protests in 2011, which helped foment a DIY music scene in Egypt, Louca had discovered avant-garde and electronic music as well as modern Arabic music. Elephantine, the third album under his own name, was recorded in Stockholm, with 12 musicians hailing from Italy, Iraq, and Denmark. The album retains elements of his native country’s music, wrapping it in the adventurous spirit of free jazz.

Many of Elephantine’s six tracks are built on repetitive grooves, with various elements dropping in and departing to keep the energy flowing. A flock of wild saxophones join Louca’s guitar line towards the end of “The Leper,” evoking the Sun Ra Arkestra. This approach comes to full bloom in the following “Laika” when Piero Bittolo’s probing baritone solo shapes into a foundation for some more intermittent sax squeals. Things settle down a bit mid-program, with Nadah El Shazly’s vocals adding a subdued touch on “The Palm of a Ghost.” While the title track meanders just a little, “Al Khawaga” serves as a powerful ending with a recurring, somewhat rigid line created by horns and vibes, in between drum, bass clarinet, and alto saxophone solos.

At 38 minutes, the only problem with Elephantine is its brevity. Louca and his ensemble seem like they have more to say, bridging these musical styles in a manner that has nothing to do with hyphenated musical terms.

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Originally Published