Album review: Mumtastic by Shusmo
I get mighty suspicious when I hear of jazz being fused with non-Western musical forms. Jazz has become an almost meaningless term, which can refer to the atrocities fed at us through tiny speakers in elevators through to the sublime creativity of Miles Davis – or a million other things. Mostly, when mixed with another, beautiful, deep-rooted form, it kills the other music by adding in meaningless, meandering scale exercises that, of course, remain within Western standard tempered tunings.
So, it’s nice when that doesn’t happen. Shusmo is a five piece band that uses Arab musical instruments but has genuine musical roots both in the Arabic tradition and in Western jazz and funk. Maybe that’s the key – the musicians needs real roots in both soils.
Shusmo’s leader, Tareq Abboushi, is a trained jazz pianist but also plays the buzuq and grew up listening to classical Arabic music.
Shusmo’s new album, Mumtastic, even has a fusion name. The Arabic for ‘excellent’ mumtaz, (ممتاز ) is mixed with the English word ‘fantastic’ to give us Mumtastic.
The album has thirteen tracks, of varying length. The opening tune, Longa Nakreez, based on a classical Turkish form, features Abboushi’s buzuq and some wild clarinet from Greek musician Lefteris Bournias. The clarinet, being a reed instrument, is quite at home playing in Eastern styles as its origins lie in instruments such as the mizmar and the zurna anyway.
The second track, The Time it Takes, initially brings the tempo down and is clearly more Arabic than jazz, before the beats kicks in, featuring the darbuka playing the underlying maqsum rhythm that lies at the heart of so much Arabic music.
The titles of one or two tunes give the game away – Samba for Maha is a samba, Rasty George is in the maqam (musical mode) Rast. Interlude sounds like the kind of open air community music you might hear in the Djemma el Fna of Marrakech and is, indeed, an interlude before a return to the jazz-inflected Middle-Easternism of all the other tunes.
The final ten minute track, Dal’Ona, rounds things off with some Palestinian slang (apparently some wedding banter) leading swiftly into a funky James Brown-esque bassline workout, bringing the album to a satisfactory conclusion.
This album works for me – the jazz element, for once, has not killed the Middle-Eastern elements that I love so much. This is good listening, intricate, well recorded, expertly played, full of emotion and passion, not self-indulgent.
’What I’m working towards is an alternative Arabic music. Now, you’re either sitting listening to classical music or you’re dancing to pop in a club. And there’s too little in between,’ says Tareq Abboushi. ‘We need something that works like Stevie Wonder, that has soul and musicality and that you can also move to.’