A new Todd Marcus recording is always a treat, not only for his prowess as a restlessly creative bass clarinetist but also for his original compositions that often explore the fertile ties between jazz and Egyptian music. His latest follows up 2015’s Blues for Tahrir and was inspired by Egypt’s Arab Spring and a more recent visit to Cairo. For this one Marcus has assembled a group of primarily Baltimore-based improvisers who breathe life into a half-dozen new pieces.
Pianist Xavier Davis begins with a solo intro in a stark, mysterious mode that sets up “Horus,” a romp in 6/8 featuring a ferocious bass clarinet solo and some scorching hard-bop trumpet by Alex Norris, punctuated by Eric Kennedy’s multi-dimensional drumming.
The twofer of “The Hive” and “Cairo Street Ride” expresses the chaotic pulse of the capital city. The former offers Alan Ferber opportunities to elevate the proceedings on trombone; the latter features Kennedy’s whip-smart accompaniment and Jeff Reed’s darting, dancing basslines mixed with cacophonous passages from the horns. Indeed, the creative workouts by saxophonists Greg Tardy, Russell Kirk, and Brent Birckhead throughout the album are worth your attention. The title track—the longest piece, clocking in at 10 minutes—is marked by slowly gathering melodic and harmonic forces and a bit of circular breathing.
Todd Marcus is not the first to establish the connection between jazz and Egyptian music; intrepid collectors will want to search for recordings by Salah Ragab, Yehya Khalil, and Fathy Salama. But Marcus will surely take his place alongside those who’ve already made compelling cross-cultural statements.