German-born, Jordan-raised New Zealander Mardo El-Noor has turned his gaze to his other adopted homeland for his fifth release. One of the debut releases on the new Dubai-based Lionheard Records, Baghdad Jazz Club sees El-Noor take traditional Iraqi folk tunes and place them in a Western jazz-funk context: a Hammond organ grinds out moody drones and an electric guitar strikes percussive stabs, while a clean and airy piano skirts over the top, striking Arabic melodies.
At its best, the clash of familiar instrumentation with exotic scales recalls the work of Ethiopian vibes player Mulatu Astatke. El-Noor’s arrangements are bare and respectful, but one feels a little more harmonic invention could have been worked in. These folklore melodies are short and repetitive, often backed by little more than a single minor chord vamp, so there’s not really much going on musically. Despite the fictional ‘Jazz Club’ of the title, there are precious few instrumental solos.
One exception, ‘Gatwitak Azzawi’, livened by a perky trumpet workout, may be the highlight. With just three of the album’s ten tunes breaking the four-minute mark, it’s amazing how quickly this record feels repetitive. As an ambient experiment of ethno-funk grooves, it’s all pleasant enough, but there’s not enough to transfix a captive listener past a few spins.