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Sample Track 1:
"Will Soon Be A Woman" from Diagnostic
Sample Track 2:
"Beirut" from Diagnostic
Layer 2
Ibrahim Maalouf, Diagnostic (Mi'ster Productions) Only the Beautiful Things:
Ibrahim Maalouf Takes a Hard-Hitting, Musically Exquisite Cure on Diagnostic and Live in NYC, June 2012

Composer and masterful trumpet player Ibrahim Maalouf was in the mountains of Lebanon, in his backyard. “I was taking sticks and hitting these big metal things that were in the garden, left there for ages,” Maalouf explains. “And suddenly, it appeared to me that I needed strong drums. Stronger than samples, or a regular drum set.”

So, in Paris, he recruited Zalindê, a 17-member, all-female, Brazilian-style batucada ensemble to blast out potent rhythm tracks.

This intense, ingenious creativity—balanced with a well-honed, open-minded musicality—guides Diagnostic (Harmonia Mundi/M’ster), the third album in a striking triptych that reveals the Lebanese-born, French-based musician in all his wild glory. Maalouf can swing into a Latin beat, whip up a microtonal Balkan brass procession, effortlessly reimagine microtonal Arab melodies, or kick out the jams in a cleverly crafted shout-out to metal or Michael Jackson.

The vivid expressiveness all serves to get to the heart of Maalouf’s life, loves, and past, in an unflinching exploration of connections, change, and music’s therapeutic insights. The results are strikingly catchy, intriguing, and emotional.

“Since it’s my music, I choose what I think is beautiful. For example, I love Balkan trumpets, and I really love Brazilian batucadas, and when you put a Brazilian rhythm under trumpets playing an Arab melody with a Balkan feel, I think it sounds really good. So I did it.”

Maalouf will be performing on June 21, 2012 at Drom and as part of Make Music New York at the French Embassy cultural services.

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“For Diagnostic,I wanted to take the minimum of things, only things that were the most important for me,” Maalouf notes, explaining how he constructed his pieces, composing and playing most of the parts in studio. “Even each track is dedicated and inspired by somebody very close to me: My sisters, daughter, mother, and father. And of course Beirut, my hometown.”

Torn by war from his native home at age nine, living an isolated youth in suburban Paris with his loving but complicated family, Maalouf struggled. Those struggles came to a head and burst into vivid song, as he began to dig into what had happened, what had gone wrong.

“As I grew up, I understood that most of my problems came from the fact that I didn’t have the opportunity to express and develop my own personality,” muses Maalouf. “After some time, I started interviewing people around me, family and music friends. I asked family members things about myself, my childhood, the war, my father. I decided to express all these feeling through music to make it sound better. And my music was kind of a huge therapy for me.”

Music had long been entwined with Maalouf’s family life, growing up surrounded by noted artists, musicians, and intellectuals. He meditates on his daughter Lily’s arrival and growth as the album opens, with spare but moving piano melodies and lyrical, good-humored brass and strings. He honors the joy and vibrant mixed Franco-Arab-Chilean heritage of his sister with the dazzling “Maeva in the Wonderland,” and his mother’s healing kindness and fortitude with “Douce,” featuring a sensual, thoughtful spoken word contribution by French-Malian MC Oxmo Puccino. He goes wild, with the Balkan-inflected bluesy rumble of “Never Serious,” a tune for his sister Layla that turns an accelerated trumpet line into a wacky, expressive voice.

Maalouf also grapples with the fraught role of his father, Nassim, for whom Ibrahim wrote “Your Soul,” a lullaby he sang to his father as he battled illness, and the intense, pensive “Everything or Nothing.” A respected trumpet player, Nassim introduced his son to the beauties of the four-valve quartertone trumpet, an instrument that could play everything from Albinoni to Arab classical music.

“Right from the beginning, he put in my hands a quartertone trumpet. But he wanted me first of all to learn classical music, and he wanted me to study in the same conservatory he had. So the first steps in microtonal music I had to try alone. I tried to copy him, but very quickly, I started to play differently. In my room, I used to take the trumpet and play very softly. I’d play Arab scales like my father did, but in my own way.”

Swiftly mastering repertoire, Maalouf, an aspiring scientist, so wowed audiences in France with his performance of some of the most challenging trumpet material in Western classical music, Bach’s Second Brandenburg Concerto, that he was encouraged to become a professional musician. While studying at the conservatory, he also dedicated himself to jazz, as well as his Arab music roots. He went onto play with everyone from Lebanese oud legend Marcel Khalife to Sting.

But Maalouf doesn’t consider himself a classical performer or a jazzman. Or a trumpet player, for that matter.

“For twenty years, I played classical trumpet at a very high level, and it would be a big waste of time not to use this instrument that I know so well,” Maalouf explains. “But trumpet isn’t the principal actor in my albums; there’s no principal actor, anyway. It’s a mix of many instruments, many colors and styles. And this mix comes from all that is around me.”

What lies around Maalouf is the myriad cultures and deep histories of traditional cosmopolitan capitals, like Paris and New York and Beirut, where the gold mine of Arab, Eastern European, South American, and Western classical and pop traditions can be encountered and heard. “I really try my maximum to make people discover my mother culture, while arranging it in a different way. And this traditional music can’t be hidden,” he says.

“Beirut,” the track that most closely echoes Maalouf’s live sound, came to him as a young man, wandering through the devastated city listening to Zeppelin on his walkman. “I live between France and Lebanon, and of course, Lebanon’s sufferings have inspired me,” says Maalouf. “But I mostly prefer to use the beautiful things that are around me to inspire me.”

Some of these beautiful things include samples of family parties, the roar of metal-friendly guitars, strident choruses of voices, all woven together with Maalouf’s malleable trumpet, piano, bass, and electronics. “I’m trying to make my trumpet sound like it’s speaking. I’m trying to say things without words,” he reflects. “It’s all the things I needed to say, that I couldn’t explain and that my music helped me say.”