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Descarga Oriental

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Album Review

On first thought, one might be hard-pressed to find a common ground between Algerian raï music and Latin jazz. But for the pianist Maurice el Medioni, an Algerian-born Jew who left his home for France decades ago as an exile, and the Cuban-born, New York-based percussionist Roberto Rodriguez, the link connecting North Africa and Cuba is a direct one — by way of Spanish Andalusia. World music fusion exercises are more common all the time, and cultural distinctions often become so blurred that the sources are obscured rather than accented. Not on Descarga Oriental: The New York Sessions, though: a septuagenarian at the time this was recorded, el Medioni's so-called "PianOriental" keyboard lines find the ideal balance between his raï heritage — the flamenco-influenced pop-folk style originated in Oran, Algeria and was in large part popularized by el Medioni — and the more familiar Afro-Cuban rhythms in which Rodriguez excels. The compositions all emanate from el Medioni, who first played Latin music as a teenager when Puerto Rican soldiers sat in with him in the cafes of Oran. But perhaps because Rodriguez arranged and produced the session, and presumably brought in the supporting musicians, the set tends to tilt more toward the Latin half of the equation than the North African. Instruments native to both Cuba (trés) and North Africa (darbuka) are incorporated into the mix, and elements of Spanish, French, and Jewish idioms all pop in and out. But the album's generous reliance on Latin-style trumpet soloing, Rodriguez's swinging rhythms, and el Medioni's career-long interest in Latin music, anchors the jams and never takes them too far from the island whose music has so influenced these players. It's an invigorating, inspired pairing, for sure, and one that makes even more sense when heard than when presented theoretically on paper.


Born: 18 September 1928 in Oran, Algeria

Genre: World

Years Active: '90s, '00s

b. 18 September 1928, Oran, Algeria. A Jewish pianist, El Medioni first took up the piano aged nine. Following the Allied invasion of Algeria in 1942, he played the hits of the day in bars frequented by American soldiers from whom who he learnt jazz, boogie woogie and Cuban rumba. After the war he worked as a tailor and also played with various western groups based in Algeria. In 1948 he discovered the rai music of Algeria’s Arab community and formed a multi-cultural group with whom he played both...
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Descarga Oriental, Maurice el Medioni
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