On Elephantine, Maurice Louca and his 12-piece ensemble bring together the cosmic jazz of Sun Ra and a variety of influences from Louca's own Egypt. The result is something majestic and sublime, anchored by Louca's piano and guitar playing, and occasionally loosed into free jazz ecstasy. Released on Sub Rosa.
Limited Vinyl LP £17.99 SRV474
Orange coloured vinyl LP on Sub Rosa. Edition of 300 copies.
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Only a lazy reviewer would use an album’s name to kick off their review right? It’s a bit heavy handed, a bit lacking in imagination. A reviewer shouldn’t be so easily led. And yet here we are. Maurice Louca has released an album that can be easily described as Elephantine. This is a beast of an album. It’s there, oh it’s definitely there, but it was a quiet dignity that means it avoids being obnoxious.
Elephantine is a beautiful marriage of big band free jazz and the musical influences from Louca’s Egypt. With genuine ease he fits the phrygian key, common in Arab music, into the general shape of a big band. Despite the instrumentation, this is music that is confident in its Arab roots.
Louca opens the album unaccompanied on the guitar. Slowly he’s joined by percussion, and most dramatically, horns. It’s the horns that grant Elephantine its vitality. Baritone sax plays off against tenor against alto. The relationship and conflict between them drives everything forward. They harmonise on ‘Laika’, they explode into free jazz excess on ‘One More for the Gutter’ (along with every other member of the band). After this moment of chaos, Louca reigns the band in with the help of female vocalist Nadah El Shazly whose beautiful singing bring Elephantine the closest it gets to more traditional Egyptian musics.
The album closes with a moment of massive intensity. ‘Al Khawaga’ features Louca’s entire band playing the same riff together, to absolute gut busting effect. Then silence. Then the riff again. Then more silence. The tension in the gaps is unbearable. It’s enormous. It’s elephantine.
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