Jazz: Back to bassics

Jazzman Omer Avital, his quintet and two vocalists will perform in Tel Aviv.

January 19, 2017 17:49
Omer Avital

Omer Avital. (photo credit: YOURI LENQUETTE)

Omer Avital has done all right for himself over the last quarter of a century or two.

It was around 25 years ago that the Givatayim-born bass player decided to take up his jazz sticks and relocate to New York, the epicenter of global jazz endeavor.

His long US sojourn notwithstanding, Avital makes regular working visits here. His upcoming professional foray sees the 45-year-old jazzman take the stage of the Israeli Opera House in Tel Aviv next Friday, along with saxophonists Asaf Yuria and Alexander Levin, keyboardist Eden Ladin and drummer Ofer Nechemia.

The quintet’s efforts will be complemented by Yemenite-infused singer Ravid Kahalani and seasoned vocalist Haya Samir.

In truth, it’s difficult to know what to expect from Avital. Over the years he has turned out straightahead jazz material, heavily grooved numbers, pieces that tend towards the jam session side of the rhythmic tracks, and a fair share of ethnic-tinged works. The latter probably has something to do with the fact that his parents hailed from Morocco and Yemen.

Avital’s latest album, Abutbul Music, which came out last year, had several of the aforementioned styles on it and, true to form, the dynamic artist will treat his Tel Aviv audience to some new sounds.

“We just spent three days in a studio recording a new album,” says Avital. “We’ll be playing material from that in Europe and Tel Aviv. I’ll probably take a few numbers from Abutbul Music, and Ravid and Haya will bring some of their music. It will be a mix of things.”

The new CD is due out in the summer.

“This is a great band,” he declares, “one of the best I’ve heard. It’s going to be a lot of fun in Tel Aviv.”

There will be a lot going on at the Tel Aviv gig, which reflects Avital’s long-held eclectic view of music making.

“The new album will be a sort of extension of Abutbul Music, but it will also be different,” he says. “The idea is to use everything we have at our disposal.”

That also involves dipping deep into Avital’s compositional bag of tracks.

“There’s a song on the album that I wrote 20 years ago, which I used to play with my first band at Small’s.”

The latter refers to the cozy Greenwich Village jazz club that opened in 1993. Avital has been a Small’s regular since it first opened for business.

“There’s also a song [on the new album] that I wrote a month ago, there’s something I used to play 10 years ago, and there are things I’ve been playing over the last three years but never recorded,” says Avital.

That sounds like something close to a description of a compilation album, but the bassman says it’s really just about following well-trodden paths and seeing where the winds take him.

“There’s no particular emphasis on one thing or another. I think there’s a good balance in the new album. It takes in the different channels of my influences,” he says.

Presumably, for example, the song Avital wrote 20 years ago, which found its way onto the new record, will have undergone some changes along the way. After all, not only has Avital developed as an instrumentalist, but he has also gained a couple of decades of life experience, including becoming a dad.

“There’s a song called ‘Immigration,’ which I wrote in 1994 and never recorded. That was one of the first songs I wrote, and I wasn’t such a good composer back then. I played it for the first time when I had a gig with [jazz musician, guitarist] Gilad Hekselman about five years ago.”

The “Immigration” endeavor began hotting up when Ladin arrived on the New York scene, and he and Avital hooked up and began playing the number with increasing frequency.

“We’d get together and he’d asked to play ‘Immigration,’ and when he joined the band it became a regular part of the repertoire,” he explains.

Hence its inclusion in the new Avital release.

“I like it when my sidemen come up with ideas. I like to see what they want to play. That’s a natural process,” he says.

There are reworkings in the new CD lineup, too.

“There’s a song called ‘Know What I Mean,’ which I recorded in 1996, but this time around we performed it in a very new way. They – Ladin and Nechemiah – were born in the year in which I first recorded it,” Avital remarks with a laugh.

Even though Avital comes to Israel pretty often, he lives on the other side of the world. Presumably, he misses certain things about his motherland, and that must come through in his writing.

“Maybe,” he surmises. “When I lived in Ein Kerem [in Jerusalem – he studied composition for four years at the Hebrew University’s Academy of Music and Dance], I wrote a few Eastern style songs. It just came out of me. They were a sort of homage to my Eastern roots, but it was still jazz.

When you get the scent of something with which you are very familiar, that does something to you, especially an Israeli band. But it comes from something that is not blatant. It is art, and you don’t break things down and categorize them. Yes, I do miss Israel, but I have been in New York a long time. Basically, it all flows through me.”

With his 11th album as leader due out soon, in addition to co-leadership of the three-quarter Israeli Third World Love foursome and more than 20 other recordings with a wide range of ensembles and artists, Avital seems to be content with just going with the fruitful flow.

The show takes place January 27 at 10 p.m. at the Opera House in Tel Aviv. For tickets: (03) 692-7777; www.israel-opera.co.il

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