Jazz's New Frontier

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A Beirut-born trumpeter brings Arabic inflections to an American art form with his inspired new album.

The Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf coaxes his horn to emit a haunting sound few others can achieve, an exotic quaver that binds together Arabic music and jazz. Though it sounds as natural as a human voice, it requires a virtuosic command of microtones that fall between the cracks of traditional Western scales. The 35-year-old Maalouf uses an unusual four-valve horn to reach them, and they give his music its unique tinge.

Maalouf was born in Beirut but has spent most of his life in Paris. A star of the European jazz scene, he is also known for his original film scores, including an award-winning Moroccan-inspired soundtrack for 2014’s Yves Saint Laurent. Maalouf has broken through in the United States with a remarkable new album titled Kalthoum. It is a tribute to the late Egyptian singer Oum Kalthoum, an obscure figure in the West but one of the Arab world’s most beloved musical artists. Released in January on Impulse, Kalthoum consists of Maalouf’s nearly hour-long reimagining of her magisterial composition “A Thousand and One Nights” for his quintet, featuring the American tenor saxophonist Mark Turner.

He would like to see more collaboration between Western and Arab artists, a wish that has a special urgency at a time when the bonds between the two worlds seem to be fraying. (Maalouf recently lamented that, days after the Paris attacks in November, he had been detained by police in France on his way to play a concert in England.) “There are so many talented people from all over the Arab world,” Maalouf says. He believes that the future of humanity depends on cultural cross-pollination. As his new album proves, so does the future of jazz.

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