Maurice Louca: Saet El-Hazz review – transcendent beauty in an unholy racket

Sub Rosa/Northern Spy Records
The Egyptian musician teams up with an extraordinary Lebanese trio for a colourful tangle of sounds resembling a steampunk synth band

A pivotal figure on Cairo’s experimental music scene, guitarist Maurice Louca is nonetheless more commonly seen performing outside Egypt. Working with bands such as Lekhfa, Orchestra Omar, Alif, Bikya and the Dwarfs of East Agouza, his work encompasses exploratory electronica, psychedelic dub, avant jazz and Egyptian shaabi.

His latest album sees him teaming up with an extraordinary Lebanese outfit called the “A” Trio, who create an unholy racket with acoustic instruments. Mazen Kerbaj plays his trumpet through various tubes and hosepipes, moving kitchen paraphernalia around the bell of his instrument to create unearthly effects. Double bassist Raed Yassin and guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui strike and mute the strings of their instruments with detritus including pegs and paperclips. The trio’s creaks, howls and drones resemble a faulty electric power generator, or a steampunk synth band.

Saet El-Hazz album artwork
Saet El-Hazz album artwork Photograph: Publicity image

Playing an acoustic guitar that has been adapted by an Istanbul luthier to play Arabic maqam scales, Louca cleverly uses the “A” Trio to provide colouristic accompaniment. On the opening track, the trio create sounds that evoke a Tardis taking flight while Louca plays a flamenco-tinged waltz on the guitar; eight minutes later, the musicians have ascended into a heavenly realm, a tangle of oud-like guitar riffs, bells, bowed bass and shimmering cymbals. The hypnotic Higamah (Hirudinea) sees Louca and Sehnaoui playing their guitars like sitars – all bent notes and bottleneck slides – while Yassin’s double bass provides a tanpura-like drone.

Best of all is El-Gullashah (Foul Tongue), where the interplay between Louca’s guitar and Yassin’s double bass resembles that of Bert Jansch and Danny Thompson in Pentangle, completed by a freakout alto sax solo from Devin Brahja Waldman and some slurring cello lines from Anthea Caddy. What could, on paper, be provocatively “difficult” music becomes quite transcendentally beautiful.

Also out this month

The excellent Resonance Lines (Sono Luminus) sees American cellist Hannah Collins performing solo works that unite the ancient and the modern, including a Caroline Shaw piece inspired by a Thomas Tallis motet. Cameron Greider and Jack Petruzzelli are session guitarists who specialise in surf rock and western swing, but Ravel & Bartók (Sono Luminus), their latest album as the High Low Duo, artfully arranges 11 beautiful, impressionistic themes for electric guitar. Richard Stenton and Zach Dawson, AKA Birmingham duo 7Balcony, create otherworldly soundscapes using vintage synthesisers and field recordings. Their eponymous debut (NMC Recordings) is precise and metrical, referencing ancient devotional music and dystopian science fiction.

Contributor

John Lewis

The GuardianTramp

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