So it was with some excitement that I discovered that Maalouf had recently released an album with a pretty stellar jazz cast: Mark Turner, Clarence Penn, and Larry Grenadier. I hadn't heard of the pianist, Frank Woeste, but listening to the recording is sounds to me like the music is very much a collaboration between him and Maalouf. A lot of the record has the sort of dark, brooding quality often associated with ECM records, but with a more overt intensity. A handful of tracks break out of this mold with more rhythmic intensity and adventurousness: the aptly-named "Excitement", as well as "Sensuality", "Issues" and "Mystery". "Issues" has a virtuosic bass solo by Grenadier, and "Excitement" has some great playing by Turner.
A minor thing, but I would have liked to Mark Turner out front a bit more on the record; one of the greatest soloists alive on the saxophone (in my opinion), he seemed a bit under-utilized. Many of the tracks could have been played by any saxophonist, and to me it seemed like a missed opportunity. But I understand that Maalouf had a particular vision for the album and sometimes it's not about the soloist. A different listener may well come to the opposite conclusion; this isn't so much a criticism but a personal preference (and may have something to do with the fact that Turner hasn't put out an album as a leader in years--c'mon Mark!).
Maalouf's playing is great throughout, with a lot variety in tonal shading and a good balance between his jazz, classical and Arab roots. Regardless, anyone interested in the current state of jazz and Arabic music should check it out. Incidentally, the packaging is beautiful, exceptionally well done.