The island of Ibiza means different things to different people; to some it is the drug-fuelled, alcohol-soaked isle of excess, to others it’s an exclusive retreat, playground of the have alls. For Joachim Kühn it is home, an extension of Andalusia’s mountains where Africa and Europe collide and the inspiration behind Kalimba.
The record opens with the gentle ‘A Live Experience’ written by Kühn after an afternoon on the beach. Moved by his own composition he called Majd Bekkas and demanded “We need some lyrics for this! You have to sing this!” Bekkas, who was waiting for his luggage at Casablanca airport, listened patiently and agreed immediately. Their relationship is based on moments of wild inspiration such as this.
The pair first met in 2003 and appeared together the following year at the Festival du Jazz aux Oudayas; they have forged a strong partnership ever since. On Kalimba they are joined by percussionist Ramon Lopez who blends non-Western sounds with those of more traditional jazz drumming. Experienced in flamenco and Indian music he integrates the tabla and cajon into the album’s backdrop. Kühn plays piano and alto sax while Bekkas picks up the guembri, oud and kalimba, as well as occasionally singing.
The album is a mixture of European jazz and more worldly sounds. The trio (Kühn, Bekkas and Lopez) hail respectively from East Germany, Morocco and Andalusia — the influence of each is clear. It is undeniably Kühn’s album but it is Bekkas skill on the guembri that adds a magic touch. The bass-like lute is the foundation of Moroccan trance music and Bekkas opts for four-string variety rather than more traditional two. Here it is employed to provide both the driving beats and more delicate melodies.
Album highlights include the breezy ‘Kalimba Cal’ where the piano and kalimba are given equal room to breathe, fusing to an almost haunting affect, and the moody ‘White Widow’ which provides as good a demonstration as any of Kühn’s prowess on piano.
Kühn and Bekkas liken the tone of the album to the experience of playing in a Moroccan jail where, despite the crowd’s hostility, the liberating energy of their playing shine through.
Kalimba is released through the Geramn label ACT.