Music

Omer Avital Group: Room to Grow

Vladimir Wormwood

The Omer Avital Group fills the room.


Omer Avital Group

Room to Grow

Label: Smalls
US Release Date: 2007-02-13
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

In the liner notes to the new release from the Omer Avital Group, Room to Grow, co-producer Luke Kaven explains that the title is taken from an article Ben Ratliff wrote about Avital. That article specifically used the term in the context of Avital's place in the record industry. The double meaning is unavoidable in the first tones of Avital's bass. The live recording has the sound of physical space surrounding the instruments. The space is open and blank, the space accentuates the individual voices in quieter moments, the space is often filled to the point of critical mass. The record needs room, uses room and creates room.

From the warm plucking at the beginning of "Kentucky Girl", an Avital original, each track is meticulously built. Initially a single voice, Avital, ventures some subtle ideas. Here he is answered by the alternately sweet and shrill tones of Myron Walden's alto saxophone. These ventures meander and are tied to nothing but are far from noodling as is soon evidenced in the ground of the sextet. There is something like a head here but it plays more like a recurring theme sounding big and lazy, but never clumsy. Each return to form sounds more sluggish as the intensity of the solos builds. It acts as welcome relief and controlled counterpoint.

This first track introduces the versatility of the players. The bass, drums, and four saxophones (sometimes flute or clarinet thanks to Gregory Tardy) can sound immense or can reign in, tactfully trading solos. The saxophones can push and shove, muscling for room. Almost immediately out of the chaos they can provide tasteful harmonies in a relaxed approximation of big band sound.

Avital and drummer Joe Strasser are the definition of rhythm. Their individual voices are accomplished and deft but they dutifully fall in line to back the saxophones. This not to say that they are subsumed in the fullness of the sextet but rather that they avoid making showy grabs at attention. The show is in the structure which shifts and turns with anxious immediacy. The rhythm section is excellent backing but they are not content to merely provide a template for solos. Everywhere there are themes, there are possibilities and this potential room is expounded upon relentlessly.

This is eminently displayed on "Its Alright with Me", the second track. Avital rumbles along searching runs and treads heavy with percussive impact before coming up against cascading layers of sax and clarinet. This is clarified by the wailing descent and subsequent resolution of Walden, leading the track out of the cold and into the warmth of a tune. The solidity of Avital is most obfuscated in this track, which sounds close to breaking apart a number of times but always manages to astonish in its taut developments. The cascading horns give way to a sweet hook, but then the bass is off on a tangent. A version of the hook returns, then Charles Owens breaks out in powerful solo, immeasurably enhanced by Strasser's frenetic fills. Calling the shots is entertaining but the real effect of the album is in the immaculate regrouping that occurs between segments, all the more impressive as it was done live. The shared intuition is, at times, almost supernatural. An idea sure to jive with Avital's own theories of "testimony" in "the long journey" as described by Kaven.

The last song, "26-2", is the only time Avital does not introduce. Rather his brief soloing calls the listing band to attention. If his initial voice is that of order he quickly gets off track. And yet there is room for this too. Strasser follows along and the rest of the band patiently waits to chime back in and pursue their own solo ideas. This track is interesting as it is probably the most straightforward of the three. The band makes clear room for each voice to get a solo opportunity. It is upbeat, positive and conversational. The tempo remains mostly unaltered and everyone weighs in, ending with Strasser who has been most consistently motivating the method of address.

When the album title is applied stylistically it would seem pejorative, highlighting shortcomings. This may be, but it is all in perspective and these musicians seem comfortable with the idea of room for growth. It need not be taken at face value as an insult, but rather as a broad, even philosophical statement. Avital uses the term "long journey" musically but again this is clearly rife with meaning. The tracks here are extensive, by most standards epic, explorations but there always remains the sense that there is still a world of possibility. The songs are movements of themes and improvisation. They grow but they are maybe not full grown. While there are clear endings they are not so distinct from the dynamics of the rest of the piece, except in their subsequent silence. These songs can be seen as moments of growth, ideas worked out amongst a specific group of people at a given time.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.

Music

Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.

Music

Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."

Music

David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.

Music

On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.

Music

Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.

Music

Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.

Music

Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."

Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.