By the standards of orthodox Middle Eastern music, Marcel Khalife quickly established himself as a maverick. The Lebanese virtuoso began by breaking the rules for playing the oud, the Arabian lute, and then turned to fusions with other musical forms. To Western ears, however, stylistic cross-pollination is not the principal appeal of Khalife's latest album, "Caress." The oudist's supple, versatile playing is most evocative when it's grounded in tradition.
This album was recorded with jazz bassist Peter Herbert and Khalife's two sons, pianist Rami and percussionist Bachar. (On one number, violinist Omar Guey is also featured.) While all nine of the compositions are credited to the elder Khalife, several of them spotlight Rami, a skilled but conventional player. The most dubious of these is "With All the Love," which sounds like a piano-bar arrangement of "Happy Birthday." When it supports the oud, as on "Passport," the piano is not too distracting, but Marcel Khalife may well be his own best accompanist. On such pieces as "Samai Bayati," where he fluidly blends Iberian picking and flailing with Arabian drones and note-bending, the oudist displays the range of a small orchestra.
-- Mark Jenkins
Appearing Friday at Lincoln Theatre. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Marcel Khalife, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8111. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)