As with his predecessor Wind, Maalouf decides to continue to explore away from his trad Arab-jazz music he had developed on his first three “Dia” album (Diaspora, Diagnostics and Diawhatever), and indeed Illusions is yet another totally different departure from his “usual stuff”. If his preceding Wind album was a mix of trad jazz and fusion, Illusions is a much rockier affair, somewhere between JR/F and progressive rock and even nearing metal music at times. Recorded in the greater Paris, with a mix of French and Belgiabn musicians ‘Woeste and Delporte) and a trio of trumpet players to accompany his flugelhorn, Ibrahim chose once more for vintage instruments in the KB department. Released under the same kind of single-disc boxset as Wind had been, with a bunch of photos, lengthy liner bilingual notes that don’t reallt shed much light on the compositions (IMHO, of course) and a “digibook” casing inside (with that foam stud in the middle, one can only wonder at the utility of these extra costly features, despite the excellence of the album.
Opening on an almost Post-rock title-track piece with the usual gradual build-up crescendo, it segues directly in the wild and dramatic 8-mins+ Conspiracy Generation, where the fantastic trumpets add plenty of suspense and intensity behind Delporte’s wild electric rock guitar. You could almost believe this was a modern progressive rock album, with constant tempo changes, tricky time sigs, plenty of moods developed. Breathtaking if you’re a rock fan, probably not nearly as much if you’re a jazz-buff and early Maalouf discography addict. The following InPressi enters a trilogy of tracks where three or four ideas are exploited multiple times, mixed, shredded, torn apart and glued back for utmost excitement (and a few goosebumps along the way): the joyful and exuberant call & response between Maalouf and the trumpet section, the three descending notes, and more.
Nomade (No Man’s Land) Slang reprises the theme and takes it to yet another level of excitement and jubilation, only to end inexpectedly calmly… But despair not, because the following 10-mins+ Busy composition exploits the three descending notes again and hovers solemnly around for a while, slowly crescendoing into the chaotic dissonance halfway through, then reverting to the slow start thing. You can clearly hear Maalouf’s “Arabitude” in his interventions, though the title of “lead trumpet” falls onto Yann Martin’s horn. Woeste’s Rhodes opens the funky fusion piece Be A Woman , but once the horn come back, the fantastic theme is again reprised and accommodated with bass and drums glory moments and other solos, but we’re nearing the overdose and the “déjà-entendu” but the riffs are hugely dramatic and overpowering. Unfaitful is actually fairly faithful to its predecessors and tends to redeploy once more the themes and ideas exploited in the four previous tracks, this time almost overstaying their welcome.
The album ends in a very WTF manner with a late-70’s type of AOR track ala Toto or Foreigner with FM-rock vocals that kind of ruins an otherwise perfect album. The lyrics allude to Be A Woman, but this doesn’t make it a True Story. Maybe if there was a tad more guitars, you could think of a Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart collab in 75 or something of that ilk. Outside that obviously ill-advised inclusion (the track in itself is ok, but just not fitting the rest of the album); Illusions is clearly Maalouf’s best and most consistant album, and definitely of one the best surprise of 2013. But to be honest, just like for Wind, the cardboard “Digibook” format casing would’ve been plenty enough, instead of this luxurious (and ultimately bombastic) package. Let this not ruin my overall appreciation of an amazing oeuvre that should bring Maalouf another public, at the risk of maybe losing his old one.