Malika Zarra has negotiated the world of her heritage (Morocco) and the world she has found herself in (Europe, the USA) and emerged with a strong musical identity that combines the structures of jazz with songs that come from her North African heart. She brought the music of her latest release "Berber Taxi" on Motema Records to the intimate New York club, the Jazz Standard, and from my standing perch on a bar stool, above the audience -- and the waiters delivering slabs of barbecue -- I caught the title track on video.
Zarra has a warm and caressing presence, and she introduced this traditional song that she learned from her mother by telling of how in remote villages, sometimes one hopes that a taxi will come from far away, bringing love. But the song also operates as a metaphor for Zarra's own inner journey through Morocco, France and New York City. She grew up listening to traditional music in her home, but was introduced to jazz after the family moved to France, where her formal musical studies began. Throughout the evening, the cadences of Arabic and Berber dialects sat easily within the sophisticated arrangements, as did the modalities of the melodies. By the end of her set, the audience was thoroughly entranced.
Musicians in the top-notch band that night were Jean-Christophe Maillard on guitar, Etienne Stadwijk on piano, Mamadou Ba on bass, Harvey Wirht on drums, and Brahim Fribgane on oud and percussion.
I also liked the room. The Jazz Standard has a welcoming feel, and I found myself chatting with a very interesting couple who live on a boat, and make it a point to come to the club whenever they are in town. But when the music began, cell phones were turned off, and ears were turned on, giving complete attention to the music.
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