Local group blends a plethora of influences on their debut record
Listening to the debut LP from this Cairo-based sextet is like wandering through the city that birthed them: it’s a complex and exhilarating journey that melds international influences with plenty of home grown flavor.
Not only does the band meld oriental, progressive rock and jazz influences into a virtuosic brew of scales, flourishes and complex rhythms, but on this 11-track album, called “Mouled Sidi El-Latini (The Latin Dervish), they often do so in the space of one song.
A perfect example of this eclectic approach is the track “Titre, which is a six-minute odyssey that boasts more flavors than a Baskin & Robbins ice cream shop.
The track begins with a few bars of ambient, reverb-laden synthesizer, jumps into a fusion-flavored verse where the main melodic theme is carried by the oriental flute and then collapses into full-on jazz freak out mode.
On the other end of the scale are tracks like the shuffling “Duck Tears and the album closer “Morning Chant, which have a mildly 80s progressive rock vibe and are anchored by Amro Salah’s atmospheric synthesizers and Ousso’s high-flying guitar licks.
The rhythm on the latter is particularly shaking and the percussive elements give the track plenty of forward motion, allowing Ousso to kick back and let loose with some flashy guitar noodling.
For my money, the band strikes the right on tracks like “Sabr, which has and an aching melody played by Hany El-Badry’s nay (oriental flute), a percussive, poly-rhythmic interlude and some classy piano chording from founding member Salah.
Also worthy of praise is the Latin/Arabic vibe on “La Belle Algerie, which boasts a guest appearance from Iraqi oud virtuoso Naseer Shamma and dives into a fantastic violin solo, courtesy of Mohamad Medhat.
The tracks are a nice blend and the band keeps everything tasteful and understated.
But stuck in between these two tunes is the metal influenced “Faction, which sticks out like a sore thumb. While the track gives Ousso a chance to explore some jazzy scales and pull off some chromatic string bends, the song is a bit heavy and it interrupts the album’s flow.
In short, if Steely Dan and Steve Vai had been born Egyptian and raised on oriental folk music, this is the sound they might make – with mixed results.
(Indeed, knowing all the tricks in the book isn’t a justification to flaunt them.)
Nonetheless, Eftekasat (which translates roughly as “new inventions ) have made an engaging album filled with a variety of textures and moods, and the record’s production values are slick and polished.
The band traces its roots back to 1992, when keyboardist Salah, looking to meld his oriental and Arab influences with jazz and fusion, started composing tracks. The band didn’t make their live debut until 2002, but since then, they’ve built up a reputation as one of Cairo’s top live acts.
The members are also active participants in the city’s fledgling independent music scene, and guitar player Ousso was instrumental in putting on last fall’s highly successful SOS music festival, which drew thousands of music fans and garnered international attention.
Catch Eftekasat on Jan. 16 at The Cairo Jazz Club, 10:30 pm.