As album titles go, it must be said, Gilad Hazan might have gone for something a tad more original.
Musrara is the thirty-something oud player and violinist’s debut recording as leader, which will be officially released this evening (doors open 8:30 p.m., show starts 9 p.m.) at a concert at the Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv.
For Hazan, the CD moniker was a given.
“I studied there for three years and now I teach there,” he points out. “It is sort of closure for me.”
And it’s not just about the music, and the education, Hazan took on board at the Center for Middle Eastern Classical Music, which nestles snugly in the neighborhood of Musrara, near the Old City of Jerusalem.
“Musrara is located between east Jerusalem and downtown Jerusalem, and there is a mix of Arabs and Jews,” he notes. There have also been some colorful chapters in the area’s annals over the years.
“They also had the Black Panthers [1970s protest movement of second-generation Jewish immigrants from Middle Eastern countries] there.”
Should one conclude, therefore, that the new album is charged with cultural and other baggage? “Absolutely,” Hazan concurs. “This album is the product of all the music from the east, across all its different colors and styles. This disc is a real trip around the world.”
That sounds only fitting for someone who has had his strumming and bow-pulling fingers in a diverse range of musical pies for some years now. Hazan defines the material on the album as “Jewish Israeli music” and he recruited an eclectic lineup of players to help him get the job done.
Consider such stellar performers as seasoned Turkish-born, ethnically-inclined rocker Barry Sakharoff, octogenarian Algerian- born pianist Maurice El Mediouni, acclaimed kamanche player Mark Elyahu and internationally renowned, Iraqi-rooted oud player and violinist Yair Dalal. It is a highly impressive roll call, which takes in around 40 sidemen all told. There are 15 cuts on the album which encompass a cultural/musical spread that stretches from India to Ireland, and from Ethiopia to Armenia, with some jazz and Latin seasoning thrown in for good measure.
Hazan’s earliest recollections come very much from this part of the world.
“My father used to listen to piyutim [liturgical] singers, like Joe Amar and others,” he says. Then came the adolescent rebellion.
“I was a DJ at a big club in Tel Aviv called Colosseum,” says Hazan. That was one of hottest venues on the DJ scene at the time.
By the time he was 18, Hazan made a U-turn back to his roots, and began getting back into eastern music. He was clearly a driven young man and, when still a teenager, opened his own restaurant in Rosh Ha’ayin which, naturally, proffered a rich musical backdrop to the edible fare.
When Hazan was in the army he came across Yossef Shem Tov, an octogenarian oud player who learned his craft in Baghdad and, before making aliya in the early Fifties, had been held in high esteem across the Arab world. Shem Tov guided Hazan through his initial steps on oud, and the youngster had well and truly caught the Arabic music bug.
Since starting out on oud Hazan has never strayed too far from the sounds of the Levant. Dalal, in contrast, went through his own rebellion stage by playing rock and blues on electric guitar before eventually wending his way back to the Iraqi music he heard at home and, like Hazan, taking up the oud and violin. Dalal’s tuition on oud was also courtesy of Shem Tov.
While maintaining his instrumental proficiency continuum at the Jerusalem music center Hazan found himself branching out to other areas of sonic exploration in an effort to keep the wolves at bay.
“I got into Irish music when I made a living playing at weddings,” he laughs. “That’s joyful music.”
Actually, Hazan’s resume to date features forays in all sorts of musical directions, although his Middle Easter core has remained intact throughout. He works with a band called Alilah which plays a mix which primarily pertains to the world music sector, with some Israeli Songbook material betwixt and between, and he is a member of the popular eastward-leaning pop-rock group Tea Packs, with which he also plays ney, a kind of Persian flute.
The debut album was something of a slow train coming.
“I wrote some of things around 10 years ago,” notes Hazan. “They are all original scores, other than one piyut for which I wrote a new arrangement.”
That’s pretty impressive for a first fruit.
“The people around me gave me the strength to do this,” he says.
The people around Hazan also brought their own cultural and musical baggage to the recording studio. Dalal performs some Iraqi instrumental magic, while Haim Oliel – who, like Tea Packs frontman Kobi Oz, hails from Sderot – who has made a successful career out of fusing his Moroccan roots with rock sentiments, co-wrote a song with Hazan about the latter’s great-grandmother.
The number is called “Eshet Hasodot Mimarrakesh” (The Confidante from Marrakesh), and is based on the African gnawa style which is still popular in Morocco.
Around the time he started getting serious about playing music, Hazan also became religious. His newfound faith also left its imprint on his musical path.
“There is a song on the album called ‘Lamenatzeach’ – from Psalm 19 – for which I found the music when I started becoming religious, when I’d walk through the forests.
At the time, I didn’t dare do anything with the melody that came to me.”
And here Hazan is, all these years later, an accomplished musician and teacher, finally pushing his boat out for the public to enjoy. It has been quite an odyssey.For tickets and more information: (050) 421-5599.