Egyptian guitarist Maurice Louca is a singular artist, a prolific and innovative performer whose work has found him recontextualizing contemporary Arabic music through an experimental, psychedelic lens. But he doesn’t necessarily have a solitary sound—whether through atmospheric jazz on 2019’s Elephantine or his free-folk ensemble The Dwarfs of East Agouza, featuring Sun City Girls’ Alvarius B., his target is always shifting and the concept always evolving. While his hypnotic acoustic guitar playing style is the one constant, the anchor that grounds his disparate works, each record he’s released under his own name follows a disparate path, including his latest, the remarkable Saet El Hazz.
“El Fazza’ah (The Slip and Slide)” begins Saet El Hazz (The Luck Hour) in the midst of chaos, scraping metal and ominous drones escalating toward something dangerous and discordant. This doesn’t feel like the cinematic jazz journeys of Elephantine, but rather something approaching noise or industrial, a showcase of Louca’s most experimental instincts, only gradually opening up into a gorgeously evolving Arabic-gamelan fusion. It sounds like dying machines breaking down and leaving only a gentle analog warmth where rust and steel once stood.
Louca recorded Saet El Hazz with Lebanese group “A” Trio, whose own improvisational and unconventional approach provides a thrilling complement to his own microtonal melodies, created using a guitar specially adapted by an Istanbul Luthier to play maqam scales. And though it’s a work of purpose and of deliberate direction, it often feels unpredictable and serendipitous in its results, like in how the sound of an Indonesian Serang provides a strangely hypnotic and beautiful counterpoint to the sound of crackling wood on “Yara’ (Fire Flies)”, or in how the ensemble intertwines free-jazz dissonance with celebratory rhythms on “El Gullashah (Foul Tongue)”.
Though Saet El Hazz is not by any strict definition a jazz album, what this avant garde folk album with occasional noise or ambient diversions shares with jazz is a tendency toward music that isn’t meant to be perfectly replicated. It’s a common complaint that “experimental” music is a misnomer, since the artists making it are both familiar with and in command of the methods they employ. Louca and his collaborators, likewise, are master musicians, artists whose abilities and vision offer something much deeper and enduring than sheer spontaneity. Yet that there’s a sense of treading uncharted paths that speaks to how thrilling this music is—perhaps not an experiment entirely, but a willingness to make the journey without taking the most direct route.
Label: Northern Spy
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.