BEIRUT: Music returns to Downtown Beirut later this month with the fourth edition of the Beirut Jazz Festival, whose short four-concert program mingles local and international talent spread over 10 days.
The curtain rises on the festivities next Friday, Sept. 30, with a show by the Rabih Abou Khalil Group.
Born in Beirut in 1957, Abou Khalil is one of the iconic figures of Beirut’s late-20th century fusion scene. He studied oud and Arabic classical music, and flute and western classical music and was also exposed to both rock and jazz influences.
Thanks in part to the Lebanese Civil War, he moved to Munich In 1978 and continued his study of classical flute, his instrument of choice for his first album. Since then, he’s become better known for his oud performances and recordings.
Since then, the composer and oud virtuoso has been credited as one of the early pioneers of oriental jazz, Beirut’s best-known hybrid form, and become one of Lebanon’s most recognized musical exports.
He’s released 22 albums, most of them on ENJA records. He has also recently turned to composing for larger orchestral and contemporary classical ensembles – such as the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Ensemble Moderne.
The day after Abou Khalil’s concert, the Philippe el-Hage Quintet will take to the stage.
Born in Byblos in 1979, Hage took a degree in French Literature from Beirut’s Saint Joseph University in 2000, then moved to Paris to complete his piano studies at the Boulogne Billancourt Conservatory. After continuing his studies for some years, he won several prizes for performance in France.
Further studies in jazz piano prefaced Hage’s career in Lebanon, France and Italy, during which he performed programs of classical and improvisational music.
His 2007 debut album, “Byblos,” reflected diverse influences – from jazz to Western and oriental classical music. Hage’s second album, “Sunday Afternoon,” hit the shelves in 2008. “Flying with Elephants” is his most recent release.
A few days after Hage’s people clear the stage, on Oct. 6 Chucho Valdes and the Afro Cuban Messengers will take the stage.
The son of famed Cuban pianist/composer Ramon “Bebo” Valdes, Jesus “Chucho” Valdes was born in 1941 and grew up in a musical circle that included legends of Cuban jazz. He studied classical technique and learned and played jazz and traditional Cuban music in jam sessions, working in several big bands in the ’60s, and formed his own jazz-oriented quartets and quintets.
In 1973, he assembled the big band Irakere, which blended traditional Cuban music with rock, jazz and funk and included members such as Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval.
International tours, Grammys and fame followed, but tensions between the Castro regime in Cuba and the U.S. government prevented the band from getting the exposure it deserved. D’Rivera and Sandoval defected, but Valdes stayed in Cuba and kept the band going to this day.
After signing with Blue Note records, Valdes has turned his focus toward small ensemble and solo work. In the view of some critics, he has been the patriarch of Cuban jazz for the last quarter of the 20th century.
The Beirut Jazz Festival will close with an Oct. 8 concert featuring American composer and multi-instrumentalist Marcus Miller.
Born in New York City in 1959 Miller’s been playing electric bass since his teens, when he explored the city’s soul scene. His earliest work was with flautist Bobbi Humphrey and the Lenny White group. By 1980, he had recorded for Bob James, Grover Washington Jnr., Roberta Flack, and Aretha Franklin.
He joined Miles Davis’ joint from 1980-82. Then, after a few years producing and playing on several albums for the anodyne sax player David Sanborn he rejoined Davis in 1986 for “Tutu.” Miller worked with him again on his “Music From Siesta ’88” and “Amandlia” albums.