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“How to add eastern Mediterranean ornamentations to your modal jazz improvisation”

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

In order to add eastern ornamentations to my modal jazz improvisations I transcribed, re-enacted and analysed a solo of the French-Lebanese jazz trumpet player Ibrahim Maalouf, who is a master of adding Arabic embellishments and ornamentation to his jazz solos.

Ibrahim’s Maalouf album “Wind” is a modal jazz album that he created as an homage to Miles Davis modal jazz period. On his engaging solo for his composition “Waiting”, he gives his trumpet a human voice. His influences from Miles Davis are clearly shown on this specific solo. At first sight he stays mostly on a vocal range and he is using the space in such an inventive almost storytelling approach.

Ibrahim Maalouf at his interview for the New York times in (14/9/2016) states that: When I was young, my father used to play at home, I did not like the trumpet because it sounded so loud and so strong and so high. When I grew up and started to have my own way to play, I tried to escape from this style. The way I imagine my sound is something much closer to the human voice. Something that speaks to the ears in a very soft way. Something that does not have to shout.

In terms of dynamics, similar to Miles on "so what", high notes tend to be louder especially when they are in the beginning or end of a phrase and low notes tend to be softer. In addition, he makes a lot of use of ascending and descending horizontal scalar lines that demonstrates the horizontal way of thinking. It is interesting that he uses a lot of two note motifs, scalar patterns that end on a long note as well as repeated patterns with variations and melodic development such as Miles did.

I can clearly say that Ibrahim uses a modal jazz mindset to develop his solo that doesn’t differentiate him from the jazz masters of the past although what makes him unique in his improvisation is the combination of jazz elements with his Arabic roots. Bridging musical cultures comes naturally to him. Important here to say is that Mr. Maalouf plays a trumpet with four valves instead of three, which helps him articulate the quarter tones essential to a range of non-Western music. (The pioneer of this instrument is his father, the revered Lebanese classical trumpeter Nassim Maalouf.)

Ibrahim Maalouf creates mystical and audacious sounds with his quarter-tone trumpet and creates a world of his own.

Conclusion: Ibrahim Maalouf combines tastefully and successfully his jazz knowledge with his experientially knowledge of Arabic ornamentations and colors. There is no doubt that his tones are organic and technically clear. Greek folk music has influences from Byzantine period as well as from Ottoman Arabic and Turkish music. Therefore Ibrahim Maalouf is a great example of inspiration to me about bridging the two musical cultures.

Ibrahim Maalouf-musical devices from his solo on “waiting”.

  • Scoops, glissandi, appoggiaturas

  • Arabic embellishments, ornamentations

  • Repeated patterns

  • Repeated notes

  • Horizontal descending lines/horizontal ascending lines

  • Dynamics-high notes tend to be louder at the beginning or end of a phrase

  • Motivic development

  • Scalar patterns

  • Mostly legato phrasing (a few staccato notes)

  • Space

  • Lyrical solo-stays on vocal range

  • Relaxed feeling-laid back

For the transcription see page 27 on my master thesis at the research Catalogue:

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