It is difficult to think of Anat Fort as having over 20 years of sterling instrumental and compositional work in her bio locker. The Israeli jazz pianist is one of our freshest musicians, with an international career that has lasted well over two decades and merrily counting.
The fact of the matter is, however, that 40-something Fort put together a trio with bassist Gary Wang and drummer Roland Schneider back in 1999. Now, after such a protracted gestation period, Fort, et al, have finally put out their debut album Colour.
Actually, Colour is not at all the first time Fort, Wang and Schneider have recorded as a threesome, but it feels like a first offering per se, in the most impressive sense of the inaugural endeavor.
It may sound a little gauche, or even cheesy, to call a record “beautiful,” but it is an apt epithet for the release which officially comes out on Sunnyside Records on April 5. The nine tracks are, yes, beautifully crafted. And, naturally, after 20 years of performing together all over the world, the sense of chemistry and simpatico between the three players is palpable.
Later this month, audiences at the Tel Aviv Museum, on Wednesday March 27, at 9 p.m. will get the chance to hear Colour live, with Wang and Schneider flying in for the occasion. It is all part of this year’s Felicja Blumental International Music Festival, which also features Ethiopian-born Israeli saxophonist Abate Berihun, Mizmor School of Music, Givat Washington College (March 28, 12 noon), Kibbutz Hagoshrim (March 30, 9 p.m.), Jerusalem (Mishkenot Sha’ananim, March 31, 8:30 p.m.), and Haifa (Hecht House, 10 p.m.).
Fort, who was recently awarded the Prime Minister Composers prize for jazz composition, is up there with our most internationally lauded jazz artists. After spending 16 years in New York, she returned to these shores a decade ago, and has maintained a busy concert schedule, here and all over the world, releasing four albums under her own name in the process.
Three of the records – Birdwatching, And If and A Long Story – came out on prestigious German label ECM. Putting out an album with ECM is a sizeable feather in any jazz musician’s cap. Fort was the first Israeli jazz artist to join the company stable, with A Long Story which came out in 2010. It featured reedman Perry Robinson, bassist Ed Schuller and venerable drummer Paul Motian.
Having Motian on board more or less guaranteed Fort the thumbs up from ECM founder and producer Manfred Eicher, but this was no protekzia job. Fort knows her F sharp from her C major, and had been honing her skills for some time before the Eicher recording date. Besides, Motian would not have gone along just for the ride and the pay check.
While the three ECM releases are emotive, creative and polished works, there is a different vibe to Colour. There is a greater sense of intimacy and harmony, both on a musical and a personal level. The tracks flow seamlessly and naturally, like a fine wine, or a bubbling brook, and one gets imperceptibly sucked into the music and the pulse. That should come across in the gigs here too.
Twenty years ago, Fort was in New York, as were Schneider and Wang, each largely doing their own thing with a bunch of other people. As we all know, mom knows best, and it was the pianist’s mother who provided the litmus paper for what became an enduring and fruitful association.
“One day I spoke to my mother and she said, ‘Why don’t you have your own group?’” Fort recalls. “I told her I was in New York to play with everyone and anyone. The city is so full of great musicians.” But the trio seed had well and truly been sown. Fort called Schneider, with whom she played the odd show before, and he made the connection with one of his own sparring partners – Wang.
It was a natural fit. “We got together, rehearsed and played a load of gigs,” says Fort. “There was a good click between us.” The group evolved organically. “We did more and more gigs together, and it just became something, a sort of comfortable thing. We all felt it was the real deal.”
Nobody appeared to be in a rush, and all three were happy to go along with the feel-good factor, and to continue enjoying their shared stage time together. There was no sense of urgency to get something down, in a recording studio for perpetuity.
“And If came out in 2010,” Fort notes. “At that stage we’d already been together for 11 years. Paul [Motian] didn’t want to do gigs after the recording and, after a while, I replaced Ed [Schuller] with Gary and we became a real working band.”
The latter arrangement is something of a rarity in the jazz arena, where musicians often tend to spread their working time across numerous lineups, to keep the wolves at bay. The fact that the Anat Fort Trio has been doing sterling creative work for all this time, and will be bringing its individual talents and collective baggage to these parts later this month is a boon for all Israeli jazz fans, and for those of us who appreciate finely crafted sounds.
For tickets and information, go to anatfort.com.
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