Israeli jazz saxophonist Amit Friedman debuts 2nd album

With the second release just out, Friedman is already looking ahead to the next recording.

January 25, 2017 21:48
4 minute read.
Saxophonist Amit Friedman.

Saxophonist Amit Friedman.. (photo credit: ALON GARINI)

Amit Friedman clearly wants us to get going. His debut album, Sunrise, which came out in 2012, included a jaunty number by the name of “You Must Go.” His hot-off-the-press sophomore release is called Long Way to Go. What gives? “I hadn’t thought about that,” says the thirtysomething jazz saxophonist. “It’s just a coincidence,” he adds with a laugh.

Presumably, there will be quite a few jazz fans going to Friedman’s CD launch show at Zappa Tel Aviv on January 31, with internationally acclaimed Yemenite-nuanced singer Ravid Kahalani putting in a guest appearance.

Friedman’s vernacular consistency – intended or otherwise – is matched by the partners in musical arms he has at his behest, and by his musical line of attack. He has an appealingly lyrical and sonorous approach to his instrumental work, and his numbers draw the listener in, aurally and emotionally alike.

The saxman agrees with my suggestion that both albums follow a similar sonic continuum.

“Yes, I felt that. In many ways, I feel that [the second album] is a follow-up to the first one,” he notes, adding that that goes for the visual aesthetics too. “The album covers are also similar.”

Sunrise shows Friedman carrying his tenor saxophone through a sun-drenched verdant expanse, and there is plenty of rustic charm on the new CD jacket too.

It always helps the leader of a jazz band when he manages to keep all, or most, of his sidemen together for sequential projects.

In this day and age, with the financial constraints with which the vast majority of jazz artists have to cope, musicians tend to flit between different groups, going with the income flow. But Friedman only had to make one personnel change for Long Way to Go, with Katia Tobool replacing Omri Mor on piano. While praising the latter’s abilities – Mor is an extremely gifted musician who works in a range of genres – the leader is delighted to have Tobool on the team.

“There are passages in her playing where you might think you are listening to some African American old-timer from New Orleans, playing really juicy blues,” he says.

Although the transition between albums has been pretty seamless, he was also looking to strike out into different territory, he says.

“I think that the new album follows the same line, but I hope it also brings something new.”

Friedman’s output is eminently inviting to the ear, but he says he also imbibes the vibes of the earliest days of the art form.

“The bluesy stuff, that’s really the key to the whole thing,” he notes, although stressing the wider stylistic reach of his oeuvre. “There are all these world music elements in there too, but that’s really just the outer layer, the wrapping. I feel that the central pivot of the whole thing is the tradition, the jazz thing.

It is important to have swing in there. Even if the first two numbers on the CD are sort of Middle Eastern, it’s still very much jazz. There is improvisation in there. I don’t think there are parts on the CD where you don’t have that basic jazzy element.”

The new offering, indeed, roams far and wide. “Candombe,” for example, kicks off with a tight-knit Israeli jazz-inflected opener but soon segues into sentiments and rhythms that owe as much to Cuba and the world of Latin jazz than anything from here or, for that matter, New Orleans.

Friedman can always be counted on for a good melody but over the years he appears to have added a robustness to his playing, which comes across, for example, on a cut on the new release called “Human Blanket.”

The influence of such titans of the art form as John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins comes through in the sax lines, and the rest of the band members sound perfectly simpatico with the leader’s sonic excursion.

Bassist Gilad Abro is a longtime sparring partner, and drummer Amir Bressler and percussionist Rony Iwryn have chalked up plenty of gigging time, and recording studio hours, with Friedman over the years. Meanwhile, veteran oud player and guitarist Amos Hoffman adds delectable Middle Eastern seasoning on several tracks, and there are guest slots by Chilean-born vocalist Claudia Acuna and blues-folk-rock singer-songwriter Tamar Eisenman, as well as Kahalani.

Friedman says that Long Way to Go was on a back burner for some time before coming to the boil, there were spontaneous last-minute developments to the shape of final product.

“The song with Tamar [“Silent Blue”] came up right at the end of the process, and the collaboration with Claudia came from an idea I’d had for quite some time, and then it suddenly became a reality.”

Not that he needed too much cajoling to include Acuna in the mix.

“I am very much drawn to the Latin side of jazz and, anyway, I’ve worked with her before. She also sang with us, with the Orchestra. I love her voice.”

The latter combo refers to the big band led by veteran trombonist-keyboardist Avi Lebovich, in which Friedman played for many years.

With the second release just out, Friedman is already looking ahead to the next recording.

“I don’t know which way I’ll go with it, but it’s been very much in my mind for a while. I may go for a chamber music-oriented approach. I’m not sure. We’ll see how it all pans out. Right now, I’m enjoying this album.”

For tickets: *9080 and

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