In 2019, Egyptian, Cairo-based prolific guitarist-composer-bandleader Maurice Louca founded a 12-piece pan-European-Middle-Eastern ensemble that recorded Elephantine in Stockholm (released by Sub Rosa/Northern Spy). Moonshine, with a 9-piece ensemble of musicians most of whom played on Elephantine, expands the inclusive spirit of Louce and suggests a free abstraction of cosmic-psychedelic jazz, African and Yemeni music and other transcendental modal traditions. The album was recorded at Morphine Raum in Berlin in November 2021.
South African drummer Asher Gamedze wrote a short essay on Moonshine, «Not by its Own Light», and imagined its seductive spirit to an «additional level of consciousness that a drinking session seems to open up once it enters the early hours». The album offers the three-movement title suite plus two other pieces, all relying on intoxicating grooves that sound like taking Sun Ra Arkestra’s festive journeys to a never-ending Middle Eastern wedding. The music stretches from the hard-grooving sensual hypnosis to powerful moments of free jazz. When Louca recorded Elephantine it was the first time he had met and played with all the other musicians. Now, after touring with this ensemble and solidifying the strong, organic rapport of the musicians it feels like a close family of like-minded, genre-defying musicians who think of our planet as a small and friendly global village.
The trio The Dwarves of East Agouza – bassist-alto sax player-vocalist Alan Bishop, a founding member of avant-garde trio Sun City Girls (and founder of the Sublime Frequencies record label), Louca, who plays here on keyboards and drum machine, and Egyptian-Canadian guitarist Sam Shalabi – was born in 2012 when the three were living in the same apartment building in Cairo’s Agouza district. High Tide In The Lowlands is the sixth album of the trio and was recorded live at Les Ateliers Claus in Brussels in September 2017.
High Tide In The Lowlands offers two extended, intense and improvised pieces that blend Louca’s cosmic-psychedelic brew now propelled into North African, Gnawa-like spiritual music, with Shalabi’s West African-tinged free jazz guitar and Bishop’s driving Krautrock-style acoustic bass. The first piece, «Baka of the Future», was also the opening piece on the debut album of the trio, Bes (Nawa Recordings, 2016), but now it receives a trance-like, energetic arrangement. The second piece, «The Sprouting of the 7th Entertainment», features Bishop’s alto sax and wordless vocals and is even more experimental in its spirit and shape shifts constantly from one strange idea into another weird one but still flirts with Arabic and West African music and post-rock. The Dwarves of East Agouza suggest a brilliant description of this captivating experience: «This is earth interrogating the sky, the sky rejoining the earth, an unknown and unwritten cosmogony».
Rosa Brunello (double bass), Tommaso Cappellato (drums), Özün Usta (drums), Piero Bittolo Bon (alto saxophone, electronics), Rasmus Svale Kjærgård Lund (tuba), Els Vandeweyer (vibraphone), Daniel Gahrton (baritone saxophone), Isak Hedtjärn (clarinet), Maurice Louca (guitar, lap steel, synthesizer, keyboards, drum machine), Alan Bishop (double bass, vocals, alto saxophone), Sam Shalabi (electric guitar)