Ariel Elisha disc 88 248.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
ARIEL ELISHA ROSEN
Pianist Ariel Elisha Rosen's debut release, Holding Space, is an ambitious presentation of Jewish melodies amplified by furious jazz and avant-garde chops. Recorded on a single day in the fall of 2008 in Jerusalem, this solo piano disc is raw, emotional, uplifting and inventive - a far cry from most cookie-cutter Jewish music put out these days, and also much different from the groove-oriented jazz style popular in Tel Aviv.
Rosen is an agile and clever pianist, and the solo piano format really allows his artistry to come through, along with the sonic possibilities of the pianoforte - which he exploits to full effect. Many of the pieces are well-known Shlomo Carlebach compositions or melodies associated with Bratslav Hassidim, all of which receive a thorough harmonic and melodic makeover to serve as a springboard for Rosen's ideas. The disc seems to be deliberately organized in a kind of dramatic arc, beginning with minor key pieces with relatively simple improvisation, leading to a sweeping, challenging middle section and finally coasting to a dÃ©nouement of hopeful and sweet selections in major keys.
Standout tracks include "Azamer Bishvahim," which introduces the melody with a funky bass line and descending harmonic cadence, but then transitions to a be-bop style solo section with Middle Eastern influences; while "Beshem Hashem" is treated to an elegant, majestic arrangement highlighting various permutations of the simple, beautiful melody.
"Besht's Nigun," one of the longest tracks on the disc at 6:27, begins slowly and delicately, but progresses to a thundering fury of two-fisted chords by the end. Rosen's version of the "Krakau Nigun" is sonorous and stately, with clear allusions to Eastern European folk music, while "Ufduyei Hashem," toward the finale of the CD, is light and airy, with rolling major chords and the melody carried brightly in the piano's upper octaves.
Holding Space also contains several original pieces which have less overt hassidic influence, including the title track. Perhaps because these tracks are his own compositions, and perhaps because he is not working from a recognizable melody and is thus less constrained, Rosen's playing on his originals is more free and confident. He would have been wise to include more of these kinds of tracks into Holding Space instead of the questionable insertions of a melody from Fiddler on the Roof and the classic "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav." Both of these are played quite well, but despite the interesting treatment feel out of place because they are so well known.
A more successful surprise selection is Frederic Chopin's "Mazurka in A Minor," which is deftly played as a jazz ballad with an extended solo.
Rosen's playing is articulate and powerful throughout, but he seems to concentrate more on emotional flow and the tonal possibilities of his instrument than on strict technique. This comes through in the occasional off-note or small glitch, perhaps only noticeable through close or repeated listening, but present nonetheless. One gets the feeling that Rosen is wrestling with himself as he plays, wanting to take the source material out to the furthest limits on one hand, but also wanting to remain accessible on the other; for the most part, he succeeds in finding the balance.
Despite its minor flaws, Holding Space is a great listening experience and is a brave, intriguing work with the depth to bear much repeat play. Independently produced and recently released, it is currently only available directly from the artist at www.arielelisha.com.