A rather difficult to find 7″ by the Algerian composer of Chaabi and pianist Mustapha Skandrani likely from the early 1960s.
‘Salam El Habib’ starts as a rather upbeat song, sounding like a not-too-distant cousin of flamenco, but manages to shift tempo three times. The interlude midway through the piece is what really caught my ear. Here Skandrani’s improvisational skill on the piano is most apparent, and strongly prefigures what might be the only work of his familiar to most of our readers – Istikhbars and Improvisations, reissued in 2012 on the ever prolific Em Records. While his compositional mode may not be wholly unique within contemporary jazz (though it’s use of what I believe is a double harmonic scale lends it a character unfamiliar to most Western listeners at the time), he takes the minimal instrumentation of a basic rhythm section normally backing a soloist to a different place. The percussion is cut out entirely and instead the string section holds a single note for the nearly minute and a half long piano solo. Though not completely foreign to modal jazz (only a few years old at the time), the result is nonetheless aesthetically stunning and strikingly modern.
The stuttering rhythm of Skandrani’s arrangement of ‘Touchia Ghrib’ seems to forever take a moment to catch up to. It builds in a cyclical exploration of modal harmonic structures with increasing flourish before a fast and catchy rhythmic resolution. It will certainly reward multiple listens.
‘Touchia Ghrib’ itself seems to be an Algerian folk standard. Here is one interpretation on the oud:
Another one of Skandrani’s later interpretations of the same mode on the piano:
One of my favourite random finds of the year – get it here.