Jazz Review: Omar Avital and Yaron Herman

Avital is a mainstay of the New York jazz scene, where he primarily gets the public grooving at the renowned Smalls club.

Omar Avital 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Omar Avital 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
OMAR AVITAL Arrival Fresh Sound/MCI It is something of an open secret that Israeli jazz players are fast becoming some of this country's best emissaries around the globe. Big names on the scene include the two Avishai Cohens (one a bassist, the other a trumpeter), pianists Omer Klein and Yaron Herman, reed player Anat Cohen (the aforementioned trumpeter's older sister) and bassist (and sometimes oud player) Omar Avital. All perform regularly in the US and elsewhere and put out recordings at a fairly rapid pace. Avital's Arrival is the latest. Today, Avital is a mainstay of the New York jazz scene, where he primarily gets the public grooving at the renowned Smalls club. Since returning to the Big Apple a couple of years ago, after a four year furlough back here to hone his classical and ethnic music skills, he has maintained an impressive career trajectory. He is part of a wave of Israeli born jazz artists abroad who increasingly incorporate material from this part of the world in their jazz endeavors. Avital is making a name for himself in this regard and Arrival is chock full of Middle Eastern seasoning. His intent is evident from the very first bars of the album. Avital's delicate oud phrasing is interspersed with muezzin-like cries before the band slips into a velvety jazz groove underscored by Jason Lindner's deft touch on piano. "Groove" is the operative word in much of Avital's work. The bassist is also known for his role in the highly entertaining Third World Love quartet (which also includes Arrival colleague and trumpeter Cohen). Israeli trombonist Avi Lebovich, another longtime Avital cohort, is also on hand here. Overall, there is strong energy and melodic theme to Arrival, although the beaten groove track is also circumnavigated, principally on saxophonist Joel Frahm's long searching solo on "Sea and Sand." There are some sharper edges on "Song of Thanks" too. Avital has taken yet another step forward with Arrival which will undoubtedly appeal to both jazz lovers and music fans in general. YARON HERMAN A Time for Everything Laborie/NMC United Paris-based pianist Yaron Herman is another Israeli doing sterling work overseas. His third offering, A Time for Everything, pushes the boat out, both in terms of energy and sonic exploration. Throughout the album one gets the feeling that twentysomething Herman is constantly looking to surprise his listeners. Keyboard flurries abound, often showcasing the pianist's classical training, and there is an abundance of twists and turns at almost every juncture. The aforementioned Israeli element is most evident on his delicate rendering of the Natan Alterman poem (and popular Mordehai Zeira score) "Layla Layla". Attempting to reinvent such staples of the Israeli songbook is certainly a risky venture, but despite bordering on the saccharine at times, Herman manages to skirt around a treacherous minefield. Herman feeds off a range of genre sources, as evidenced by the classically-oriented "Prelude No. 2 in B-Flat Major," and there's also plenty of romantic coloring on "Neshima". Fans of '80s pop will surely dig the explosive rendering of Sting's "Message in a Bottle," although his more ethereal version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is about as far from drive time radio as you can get. Herman is well supported by colleagues, including bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Gerald Cleaver, and one looks forward to the next stage of his artistic evolution with great anticipation.