Music Review: Daniel Zamir and Mark Guiliana

Zamir has come to be one of the foremost proponents of the emerging Israeli ethno-jazz idiom.

By ELIE LESHEM
February 23, 2011 15:24
2 minute read.
Israeli ethno-jazz musician Daniel Zamir.

daniel zamir_311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Daniel Zamir and Mark Guiliana
With Shem-Tov Levi
The Lab, Jerusalem
February 19

Daniel Zamir has come to be one of the foremost proponents of the emerging Israeli ethno-jazz idiom, along with the likes of bassist Avishai Cohen and Third World Love. But the largely groove-driven local scene wasn’t always his playground of choice. The Israeli-born Lubavicher soprano sax player first entered the public consciousness as a young prodigy about a decade ago, when avant-garde guru Zohn Zorn took him under his wing and released Zamir’s first album on his Tzadik label.

Zamir quickly became known for his frenetic, associative playing style, jaw-dropping chops and a repertoire that fused free and atonal jazz with Jewish musical traditions such as the hassidic niggun and Sephardic piyutim. Zamir’s virtuosity and eclecticism sat well with Zorn’s own Ibn-Ezra-meets-Ornette-Coleman aesthetic and, for a while, positioned Zamir firmly in the experimental jazz circuit.

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However, in the ensuing years Zamir gradually gravitated toward more traditional genres, eventually becoming a force to be reckoned with in the world of mainstream music as well. He’s played with Evyatar Banai, Berry Sakharof and even his good friend (and fellow Lubavicher) Matisyahu, and over time he’s shorn much of the bristly, atonal aspect of his playing.

In 2010, Zamir’s metamorphosis came full circle with his seventh album, Ga’agua Lekan (Longing for Here), which reflected a fervent yearning for the idyll of old Israel and perhaps signaled a decision to favor nostalgia over innovation. The album was also the first in which Zamir, like bassist Avishai Cohen before him, set down his instrument to try out his singing voice on some of the tracks.

Zamir’s amazing technical prowess was fully on display at the Lab in Jerusalem on Saturday night, when he took the stage with a quartet comprising wunderkind pianist Nitai Hershkowitz, Gilad Avro on bass, and Mark Guiliana, one of the brightest up-and-coming drummers in the jazz world. The musicians backing Zamir were superb, especially the intense Guiliana and Hershkowitz, who tickled the audience’s fancy with whimsical, deft fingers.

As expected, Zamir shone, caressing the crowd with an endless cascade of perfectly timed notes and neat phrasing. At times, though, this reviewer would have liked to see a bit more of that raw, visceral energy that characterized his more experimental offerings. This feeling was further accentuated with the appearance of the evening’s special guest, Shem-Tov Levi, a distinguished musician who represents something of the old Israel that Zamir appears to be yearning for.

Although Levi is excellent at what he does – he’s an adept singer, flutist, pianist and composer – there was something slightly awkward in his cooperation with Zamir. The musical chemistry between the two was fun, giving rise to some lively sax-flute and scat-sax conversations. But then Zamir put down the sax and the two launched into a series of duets, and although much of the crowd fell right in with the sing-along kumzitz atmosphere, this reviewer felt a small pinch of nostalgia for some avant-garde.

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