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Richard Howell
San Francisco Chronicle  

Chicago-born trumpeter Khalil Shaheed and Casablanca-born oud player and vocalist Yassir Chadly -- both longtime Oakland residents and adherents of Islam -- create a seamless, rhythmically riveting fusion of American jazz and funk and traditional Moroccan music on the debut disc by their Mo'Rockin Project. Shaheed's horn lines, which have a clarity and warmth that recall the work of Hugh Masekela, nicely complement Chadly's microtonal Arabic wails and fast-fingered picking on the lute-like oud. The co-leaders are surrounded by a solid ensemble of Bay Area players, including multi-instrumentalist Bouchaib Abdelhadi, saxophonist Richard Howell, pianist Glen Pearson, bassist Ron Belcher and drummer Deszon Claiborne, a former Charles Brown sideman whose complexly syncopated solo on the reprise of the James Brown-spiced title track is breathtaking.

-- Lee Hildebrand

CD Scene
Mo’Rockin Project Bridges Cultures
Mo’Rockin Project: Sahaba
By Julia Park

The new CD out from local band The Mo’Rockin’ Project is like a ride in an old convertible on a summer day. You want to put on your shades and drum your fingers on the door as you bob and weave through traffic. With a sound that is reminiscent in mood to War’s classic “Slippin’ into Darkness” and “The World is a Ghetto,” among others, the Mo’Rockin’ Project gives it all up for the music: unfettered horns, an Afro-Latin sounding beat and a pulse that makes you want to move.
            Don’t be fooled by that pseudo-Latin sound, though. This is Moroccan jazz (get it? Mo’Rockin…), with North African and American musicians playing together, lyrics in the Moroccan tongue as well as English, and a bonhomie that speaks as well for its musicians as for cross-cultural friendships everywhere.
            “This music was handcrafted from traditional Moroccan melodies, and with striking musicianship, salient vision, and immeasurable spirit, celebrates the creative confluence that is Mo’Rockin Project,” according to liner notes. And it’s all good.
The opening song, “Haku Haku” is a great party song, road song, dance song, dishwashing song, BBQ song or beach song. “Mambo Sudani” and “Hani Hani” groove in the same way. “All Praise” is hypnotic, with a tender, dreamy melody that stirs the soul like the call of the muezzin from the minaret. “Kadeem” teases with an affected piano intro, then slides into a horn-driven march with a flamenco-influenced guitar line.
Musicianship is key throughout: Trumpet-flugelhorn player, recording artist, producer, composer, educator, program director and bandleader Khalil Shaheed has taught, played and recorded jazz, funk, R&B and blues for some 40 years. A Chicago native, Shaheed played with Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Miles, Taj Mahal and many other names of note. He’s the founder of the Oaktown Jazz Workshop and continues to perform with three bands, including the Mo’Rockin’ Project.
“Sahaba” means companion or friend, and this CD is all about that. Shaheed works hand in hand with Yassir Chadly, native of Casablanca, Morocco, and here in the USA his home since 1977. Chadley has been performing and recording Moroccan music, with emphasis on traditional Moroccan instruments including the oud, gimbri, karkabas, darbuka, fretless banjo, tarija and bender. In addition to his musical talents he has also performed as a folkloric storyteller,  bringing together Western and Sufi traditions in an  innovative style, and as a speaker he has lectured extensively on Islamic and Sufi subjects promoting understanding and religious tolerance. He is an associate professor at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and at The California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco.

            With all this expertise and good will, the CD can’t help but please. Check it out at www.morockinproject.com.

A Different World
by dave tilton

I am writing these words on September 11, five years after the events which have gained a terrible permanence in the world’s history.  There is no way I can be unaware of these events while writing this music review, as the aftershocks of everything that has happened since the first plane crashed into the tower on that Manhattan morning still resonate in jagged waves on the collective souls of this nation. Music is not a panacea.  Writing about it on this day seems futile.

Still: imagine a day without music.  Still.

No.  One must move forward with life.  There is no choice.  Move forward, do no harm and allow none, step to the rhythms of life and sing along with its melodies.  Hope that every day can follow this pattern and know that it will not.

The serendipitous arrival of Sahaba by the Mo’Rockin Project could not have come at a better time for me.  I have been listening to it during the past week; its musical treasures are an especially welcome balm for me today, just as they have from the first time I listened to this CD.

A brief description of this music, a synthesis of the sounds and instruments of Moroccan music with the sounds and instruments of American jazz, is almost laughably inadequate.  It sounds like so many attempts by decades of music with labels like “fusion,” “exotica,” and “world,” attempts linked by banality, cliche, elitism, and a fast track to becoming The Next Big Thing and its accompanying cash flow by learning a few indigenous licks and working them into indifferent songs.  I have contributed to the racks of used record stores with plenty of those recordings.  Sahaba is not going to be one of them.

There is a strong sense of mutual respect between the players on this recording, respect and awareness of each person’s role in the making of this joyful music.  The CD booklet’s liner notes confirm this sense of sharing: “This music is handcrafted from traditional Moroccan melodies...North African and American musicians (are) exchanging culture and creativity in an effort to dispel inaccurate beliefs and create world community...It should also be noted that on more than one occasion this music has been directly responsible for the end of lower back pain in particular listeners.”

Some of the names of these musicians will be familiar to readers of these pages: Khalil Shaheed on trumpet and flugelhorn, Richard Howell on tenor and soprano saxes, Ron Belcher on bass, Glen Pearson on keyboards.  All of them contributed in a huge way to the excellent music on the UpSurge! CD Chromatology (reviewed in L&BH’s Vol. 3, Issue 25).  And then there are the Moroccan musicians: Yassir Chadly on oud and lead vocals; Bouchaib Abdelhadi on oud, violin, dembek, percussion, lead & background vocals.  Both men combine their talents and years of playing music rooted in a different format, a different WORLD, with the techniques and forms found in America’s musical gumbo pot.  The resulting sounds are a dazzling meld of the above-mentioned styles.
Economy in soloing is a key to this music’s success.  Shaheed’s horn work is, as always, imaginative and well-measured.  His flugelhorn solo in “Mambo Sudani,” the CD’s second song, is a good example of his work on this recording.  It is the type of playing that comes from the heart and not for the Billboard chart.  It is the type of playing that truly deserves a wider audience, as does Howell’s sax work, Chadly’s oud playing.  Really, when was the last time you heard someone playing oud in a jazz format?  For that matter, when was the first time?  And Abdelhadi’s violin work.  Truly wonderful, all of it.

Keeping the music propelled is Deszon Claiborne on drums and a number of percussionists, among them Shaheed, Howell, and Abdelhadi.  This CD is worth hearing for the percussion work alone; repeated listenings reveal deeper aspects of the interplay between the rhythm section, which is essential for any music.  It all begins with the drum.

This CD was produced by Shaheed and co-produced by Howell.  This particular listener wants to thank them and all of the musicians involved for ending some of my own lower back pain.  Especially today.