Shusmo Mumtastic as reviewed in Phantom TollboothA fantastic whatchamacallit of Eastward-looking jazz with Latin edges.

Label: Independent (
        Time: 13 Tracks / 73 minutes

Tareq Abboushi must have had plenty of people ask him what his music sounds like, which is probably why he has called his quintet Shusmo (an Arabic word that roughly means ‘Whatchamacallit’) and his second album Mumtastic. Its mix of ‘Mumtaz,’ which means ‘excellent’ in Arabic, and ‘fantastic’ reflects both the global style of his music and the quality of the playing.

If he can’t describe it any more accurately, then what chance have I? But here goes.

The first four tracks give a clue as to the influences and variety on offer here. “Longa Nakreez” is based on a classical Turkish form, but to Western ears it’s a mid-tempo blues-funk jam set in Palestine.

“The Time it Takes” instantly sounds like classical dance music and what the band has done to it reminds me of Jethro Tull’s re-working of “Bourée” – although Lefteris Bournias does things in the middle with a clarinet that I have never heard Tull come anywhere near.

Apart from its percussion break, the third track “Georgina + 2” sounds very Greek, like a bouzouki dance piece, and it doesn’t take much to deduce a link between that instrument and Abboushi’s buzuq, a long-necked lute with moveable frets.

That leaves the ten-minute “Travelling” (or is this really “Georgina + 2” as there are two reprises of the piece later on?). This one is based on a simple ascending five-note riff, but it also has a couple of other themes backing it up. Given that it takes an improvisational feel like a jazz session, this means that it can go virtually anywhere – and it does. It is an ideal peg for bassist Dave Phillips to hang some fretless forays on as well as a solo, which – not least because of the background buzuq harmonics – reminds me every time of Jon Camp’s Rickenbacker bass solo in Renaissance’s live “Ashes are Burning.” But this is only one quiet spell. Bournias also gets to make his clarinet produce a shelf-full of haunting sounds, using notes as bent as a U-tube. This solo is probably the most astounding part of the whole disc.

Other than a particularly Latin samba with riotous rhythm and percussion in “Samba for Maha,” the rest is largely a remix of these ingredients, except for “The Wall,” a seven-minute core of what Abboushi hopes to make into a multi-media presentation about the huge concrete scar that Israel is building, which separates Palestinians from their neighbours, their schools and even their sunset. Occasionally discordant, but more often threading together a bundle of themes, it tries to express the conflicting emotions brought about by the wall. He gives as an example the feeling that bursts up when watching a laughing child enjoy a slide – except that it is made of a roof from their home, demolished to make way for the wall.

It is not until the sixth track that Western ears might feel a little foreign. Otherwise, there is plenty here to remind the listener that Abboushi lives in New York and was raised hearing a lot of Western classical music and classic rock. Although he does not touch it here, he also studied jazz piano performance in the States. All of this boils down to a disc on which British and American ears have nothing to fear and plenty to enjoy.

Basically, this whatchamacallit is pretty fantaz.