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Trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf at Barbès //

byAnuja Madar

maaloufBodies were everywhere—in chairs, against the wall, on the floor—overlapped like ice cubes in a glass. There was no room to move, let alone breathe, but for those who managed to squeeze into the back room of Barbès in Park Slope, Brooklyn, it didn’t matter—it was all about the music.

Those who journeyed out on the cold January night were set to listen to Lebanese-born, Paris-based composer and trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, who had performed just two nights earlier at the NYC Winter Jazz Festival. But, what started as a solo performance (only his second—ever—in New York) grew as Maalouf met with old friends and made new ones, and the one-man show ended up a septet, including Sam Kulik (trombone), Kinan Azmeh (clarinet), Rez Abbasi (guitar), Matt Kilmer (drums), Ned Rothenberg (bass clarinet), and Pablo Vergara (piano). It was the first time the seven of them played with each other, were in the same room, or (for some) even met, but that was part of the appeal, both for them and the audience.

Maalouf explained his desire to create an evening far different than that of his jazz festival performance, a free-form show where the sounds were inspired by word suggestions from the audience. The night started on a humorous note with “Food,” where what sounded like belches, burps, and the yearnings of an empty stomach slowly followed food’s path through the body. “Warm War” sounded like a scene from HBO’s “Rome,” with the gathering of troops in their regal splendor riding off to defend their leader. “Old Rude Trees” opened with soft notes interrupted by intermittent honks from the trombone, while “Camel Kiss,” the evening’s last “song,” journeyed through courtship’s suspense and climax, ending with the tender caresses that come only after time.

No one musician took center stage, not even Maalouf himself (with the exception of a brief solo at the night’s start), perhaps signaling the evening’s lack of structure. However, for those who stood happily, packed shoulder to shoulder, that was the beauty of it.

Check out our Six Questions with Ibrahim Maalouf >>


About the Author: Anuja Madar is an editor at Frommer’s travel guides, where she specializes in the Middle East and Africa, and is constantly plotting ways to fill her passport’s pages and/or move to Morocco.

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