I feel as if I can write an entire review just around this release’s first track, “O Deserto É Aqui”. In it, Brazilian pianist/composer Benjamin Taubkin takes us on a 10-minute, 38-second tour of different moods that somehow stay anchored in the same harbor the whole time. Farid El Foulahi’s rubato performance on the oud matures into an easy-going loop for the southern hemispheric groove to follow. The track falls quiet when the tempo splits in half. When it does pick up, Taubkin and his ensemble are in the hardest of bop territory. Through it all, his simple melody remains.
The rest of Al Qantara [The Bridge] is subtler than that, not to say that “Deserto É Aqui” is distractingly all over the place. With one foot firmly planted in the swirling exotic sounds of both Brazil and Morocco (Taubkin assembled a trans-Atlantic all-star band for the occasion), the collective feels free to pivot around through different types of jazz. “Berma Sosanbi/Adeus Meu Lírio Verde”, for instance, can really fire up the Cuban while “Hijaz” takes a midnight cab to Manhattan. Al Qantara [The Bridge] can be both stirring and fun if you allow it to be.
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