He may have only landed a record deal in his late sixties, but Maurice el Medioni is making up for lost time now. 1996 saw the release of his album Café Oran, now ten years later the follow-up Descarga Oriental carries on where that left off.
Born in the Algerian port of Oran in 1928 to Spanish parents, Maurice's father and uncle ran a cabaret club in the port's Jewish district. Having taught himself to play piano when he was nine years old, he honed his craft playing for US forces in Algeria, from whom he learned different musical styles including boogie-woogie and jazz. Eventually, the family had to move to France in 1962 following civil unrest. Today Maurice lives in the French town of Marseilles.
Descarga Oriental sees him teaming up with New York percussionist Roberto Rodriguez and bringing his distinctive style of jazzy piano to nine tracks. He even gets to sing on a few of them, including album opener Oran Oran and the last track C'etait Il Ya Longtemps – although it's his piano playing, rather than his vocals, which really stand out. Highlights here include the spirited Ana Ouana, Malika and Comme tu as Change, while Tu N'Aurais Jamais Du offer a laid-back change of pace and provides a nice contrast to the more uptempo tracks.
If there's a downside, it's that Maurice's singing, while pleasant, seems a tad unnecessary and adds nothing to tracks that would have worked just as well as instrumentals. Also the whole thing becomes a little over-familiar at points, with several tracks sounding so similar to each other that sometimes it's hard to work out where one ends and another begins. That said, Maurice's piano playing is as faultless as ever and there's some nice work from Rodriguez too. If you were a fan of Café Oran, you'll love this – if you've never heard of Maurice before, this will provide a great introduction to a nigh legendary musician.