Omer Avital’s bass opens Sketch of Tel Aviv unaccompanied. He’s well recorded, and at once his mastery is clear. The quartet with muted trumpet sounds like something quiet and Cuban, but “A Touch of Tahini” breaks out in passionate style, Avishai Cohen a flaming trumpeter and Yonatan Avishai no cocktail pianist. There is more to music than sounding pretty, though the band can do that on appropriate occasions.
The deliberately stilted beginning to the title track takes in Kurt Weill and a touch of Latin and even some funk devices, and probably Klezmer, but all are integrated through an amazing surge somehow involving bass and trumpet. There’s a sense that these guys could play—always brilliantly—a wide range of different musics pretty well contiguous with jazz, and that what they’re about here is a flirtation with rather a large number of them. Havana Naguila?
The flaring trumpet at the start of Cohen’s “Suite African #2” builds some brilliant variations on repetitions of the short rhythmic-melodic figures which are the staple but not exclusive diet for improvisation here. This number and the one which follows—the Jewish-Yemenite traditional theme “Hareshut”, opened by Avital on solo oud—just seem to go on a bit long without any sufficiently deep extension of substance. Every time one of the musicians makes an entrance, the superlative quality of his talent is just there, and he seems on top form. In between, the common practice of tension-building founded on repetition, or rather falling back on repetition, does re-echo feelings that these guys are doing something supremely well, but not the most important of somethings. I keep listening for more than it seems they were trying to do.
The trumpeter’s “S’ai N’wai” lasts some 12 minutes. After an unaccompanied intro he’s joined by the other three in a performance on the verge of going into hard bop, a verge he and Avital cross in duo, and which the quartet cross together after spells of playing something like an oriental or even Japanese folk melody. There’s a piano and bass vamp as the drummer builds up tension. Then they explode, with the trumpet flaming. The next section’s based on a repeated piano phrase, and I could probably do justice to the rest of the performance simply by making a list: a different oriental lick, and yet another, some piano soloing, and all deliberately on the verge of something definite, or something less clever but more deep.
There is a vocal on one track, roughly like Chet Baker in modern Israeli Hebrew. Here there’s development of dramatic dynamic contrasts, and there you’ll find an orchestral piano trio, and all through some brilliant trumpet- (or bass- or piano-) playing; and drumming. “Suzanna (Rock Ballad)” is by Cohen and begins with gospel-ish piano. It’s a slow, meditative piece with demonstration of Cohen’s huge gifts, those one would like to hear deployed on a jazz ballad. After some very simpatico piano, an intense and funny-sounding electronic instrument comes in. A huge electronic equivalent to the kazoo as conceived by technologically complex aliens from Alpha Centauri? Lacks a little finesse? Why Omer Avital’s “Three Four” is subtitled not a jazz tune I shall not speculate on. Actually, it should be one. Maybe it is one?
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