Rabih Abou-Khalil/Joachim Kühn

Journey to the Centre of an Egg
Enja/JustinTime JENJ-3324-2

Despite appearances, this is not one of those World Music love fests. Instead Journey to the Centre of an Egg tries for something rarer. Its eight tracks find common musical ground between Beirut-born oudist Rabih Abou-Khalil and Leipzig-born pianist Joachim Kühn.

The reason why much of the CD works is because the sound-view of both men has been informed by more influences beyond the obvious. In the Lebanese lute player’s case, it’s notated European and improvised music; for the German pianist, it’s traditional classical music and variations of jazz from acoustic mainstream to fusion. Luckily the last doesn’t appear here, although there are times Kühn’s flashing octaves coupled with drum work from Jarrod Cagwin emphasize rock-like beats a bit too much.

“Natwashe and Kadwasheh”, the CD’s almost 13½-minute centrepiece – which adds second drummer Wolfgang Reisinger – is most illustrative of the rapprochement. Built on rasgueado fills from the chordal instruments and ratamacues from the percussionists, the combination starts to resemble “Spoonful”, Willie Dixon’s stop-time blues, before the individuals solo. Kühn circulates exaggerated arpeggio runs and Abou-Khalil finger-picking snaps. Despite a section where the pianist introduces breathy, double-tongued alto saxophone fills, the tune rights itself to a satisfactory finale with the oud lines encompassing finger picking and near funk bass accents.

Many other places Kühn’s contrapuntal chording and Abou-Khalil’s guitar-like slurred fingering make frequent organic connections. These are reminders that the pianist’s Bill-Evans-out-of-J.S.-Bach formalism and the oud player’s mixture of flamenco-and-Arabic chords have a common bridge through Andalusia and the Maghreb. Un-clichéd, this is how improv-world fusion music should sound.

— Ken Waxman