For approaching a century and a half in France – across the reigns of Louis XIV, XV and XVI – the Palace of Versailles played host, both indoors and outdoors, for an extraordinary sequence of dramatic musical performances. Un Opéra pour trois rois, conducted by György Vashegyi, represents the legacy of that time, a specially constructed operatic entertainment drawn from works by composers from Lully to Gluck, commissioned – and even, on occasion, performed – by kings, their queens and inamoratas.
Two years after they recorded Friday Night in San Francisco, John McLaughlin, Al di Meola and Paco de Lucía reunited for another set of acoustic guitar trios, Passion, Grace and Fire, If this can be considered a guitar "battle" (some of the playing is ferocious and these speed demons do not let up too often), then the result is a three-way tie. This guitar summit lives up to its title.
Kooper's seventh solo release opens daringly enough, with his own funky version of "This Diamond Ring," which he transforms completely from its Drifters-inspired origins. Most of the album is in a mid-'70s soul-funk vein, with Tower of Power turning up elsewhere and Kooper trying (with considerable success) to sound soulful on songs like "She Don't Ever Lose Her Groove" and "I Forgot to Be Your Lover." The playing throughout is excellent, with guitars by Kooper himself (who also plays sitar, Mellotron, organ, and synthesizer) as well as Little Beaver and Reggie Young, with Joe Walsh sitting in on one song, and horn arrangements by Kooper and veteran soundtrack composer Dominic Frontiere. The real centerpiece is the epic-length "Hollywood Vampire," which can't quite sustain its seven-minute length. The funkier numbers work, but some of the rest, like "In My Own Sweet Way," don't come off so well. This is two-thirds of a pretty fair album, and only lacks consistency.
Ahmad Al-Khatib is among the rising stars of contemporary Arabic music. Born in a Jordanian Palestinian refugee camp in 1974, Al-Khatib went on to study cello and musicology at Yarmuk University (Jordan). Following graduation, he relocated to Ramallah, joining the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in East Jerusalem in 1997, where he taught and later became director of the Oriental Music Studies department. It was during this time that he and other teachers, including Youssef Hbeishe formed the Karloma ensemble, a small chamber orchestra dedicated to performing contemporary Palestinian music. Following Israeli crackdowns in 2002, Al-Khatib's visa was not renewed and since 2004, he has taught Modal Music Composition and Theory at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.