Quadro Nuevo and Cairo Steps: Flying Carpet
Two world music powerhouses unite influences and traditions for their first collaborative album.
Hailing from Germany, Quadro Nuevo has built a career assimilating musical influences from around the globe. While it's not unjustified to call them a jazz group, they've elevated their sound exploring the worlds of Argentinian tango, Austrian classical traditions, Indian raga, and Romanian folk customs, among others. The term “world music" may be a bit diluted and vague after years of being thrown about by record labels and PR firms (besides, isn't all music of our world?), but Quadro Nuevo has unquestionably earned the title considering their passport-friendly approach to composition and improvisation over the past 20 years.
With Flying Carpet they've collaborated with Cairo Steps, a relatively new collective by way of Egypt spearheaded by pianist Matthias Frey and oud virtuoso Basem Darwisch. Based on their first collaboration from back in January 2017, Flying Carpet features Quadro Nuevo and Cairo Steps building their unified sound augmented by the inclusion of flute, string quartet, and notable Sufi singers Ali El Helwabi and Sheikh Ehab Younis. The album features a tasteful blending of instruments and musical elements of widely divergent cultures, albeit while still exploring familiar ground for Quadro Nuevo.
The Cairo Steps flex their musical influence right away in open track “Shams". A darbuka and duduk (Arabic percussion and wind instruments, respectively) open the tune with an exotic soundscape, later built up by Bollywood-inspired strings. Darwisch, Quadro's sax player Mulo Francel, and Cairo's duduk player Rageed William shine as they toss around the melody and trade solos, accentuating the drama without indulging in improvisational cliches. Title track “Flying Carpet" is more reserved, built upon a slow, alluring groove with ample space and ambiance.
Inevitably, most of the tracks on the album fall within the same structure of trading melodies and solos around the group, giving everyone a chance to shine. It's the path Quadro Nuevo tends to take (and Cairo Steps readily adapts) of blending global influences into song and improvisation structures at home in jazz. Despite treading on familiar territory, this variety of musical influences keep Flying Carpet feeling fresh and energized. The songs themselves may sound traditional, but it's the uniting of colors between European and Arabic instruments on tracks like “Tiepolo" and “Ikarus' Dream" gives the album depth.
Inevitably, both Quadro Nuevo and Cairo Steps risk exploiting their diverse character as style over substance. It's intriguing to hear the blending of different musical cultures, but groups that embrace the “world music" tag for commercial purposes, inevitably, tend to sound stale. Notably, much of Flying Carpet works as both groups use the album to explore their sounds and test interactions. The Egypt-meets-Vienna waltz of “Café Cairo" thrives on its cross-cultural character, while the driving “Nilade" shines through the subtle yet colorful harp work of Evelyn Huber.
The closing track, a reading of Erik Satie's “Gnossienne No. 1" recorded live, best sums up the spirit of Flying Carpet. The French composer's work becomes source material primarily for improvisation, specifically from Cairo Steps who use their musical language to explore how Arabic elements fit within the Western classical tradition. While the recording does not break any new musical ground, it stands as a fine release for both groups, and a testament to how music can unite cultures under the same structures.