(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Superlatives are bandied about all too often these days, to the point that they lose most of their original powerful meaning. Almost everything is “amazing” or “extraordinary,” when in the past, something might have been considered “good” or “beautiful,” with the aforementioned epithets reserved for the truly exceptional.
Omri Mor clearly pertains to the latter category. For over a decade-and-a half now, the 34-year-old pianist has been dazzling audiences the world over with his mesmerizing keyboard work across a number of genres. His ivory tickling is nothing short of astounding, as his fingers careen across the keys, darting seamlessly into jazz and ethnic domains with ease. There’s more than a sprinkling of Western classical music touches in there, too.
Until recently, just one thing – albeit a very important one - had been missing from Mor’s impressive artistic achievements, a recorded document of his work. That was finally put to rights just over a month ago when he put out his debut release, appropriately named It’s About Time!
They say the longer you wait for something the more likely you are to be disappointed. That may be true in general, but it certainly doesn’t apply to Mor’s first studio fruits. The magic he produces on stage, solo or with various band formats, is palpable across the nine tracks of the record as well, and will surely come across in the most immediate and thrilling of ways at his local launch gig, which take place at HaEzor in Tel Aviv on May 21 (doors open 8 p.m., show starts 9 p.m.).
Finally getting It’s About Time! out there is a hefty monkey off Mor’s back, after years of gestating – eight years to be precise. “I started collecting material for the disc in 2010,” says Mor, who does not regret the protracted process. “In Judaism they say, ‘The later the better.’”
Mor is a natural. He started out on piano in the most natural of ways. “I just listened to the music and played by ear,” he notes. “I didn’t read music from the beginning. I just played what I heard.”
Things became a little more structured when Arnie Lawrence came onto the scene. Lawrence was an acclaimed American jazz saxophonist and educator who, before immigrating to Israel in the late 1990s, had worked with some of the titans of the jazz world, such as trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. He was also instrumental in establishing the jazz department of the New School in New York, which has churned out numerous stars of the current global jazz scene.
LAWRENCE SET up a small school in Ein Kerem in Jerusalem, behind the Lebanese Restaurant, and held weekly jam sessions there. Mor frequently showcased his budding skills at the venue and made good progress with his jazz schooling. One day his musical point of reference took a new and enduring line of exploration. “Nino Bitton came by with his banjo and joined in the jam sessions,” recalls Mor. “There was something in his playing and his music that really grabbed me. I wanted to know more about the music.” Bitton is generally acknowledged as the doyen of Andalusian music in this country.
Mor’s musical die was well and truly cast. He began going to the sixty-something Algerian-born Jerusalemite’s house to steep himself in the intricacies of Andalusian music from the Maghreb region of North Africa – primarily Morocco and Algeria. For Mor it was love at first note, and over the years he crafted his own singular fusion of jazz and Andalusian music the word of which has spread far and wide, leading to regular concerts and festival appearances across Europe and even in Morocco. “It was an organic development,” says Mor. “I didn’t even notice the years going by with Nino, and it became a major part of my music.”
It is also one of the main sonic themes of the new CD, which features world-renowned Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen with whom Mor enjoyed a sideman berth for around four years. Algerian-born French-domiciled drummer Karim Ziad is also in the lineup, as is French bass guitarist Michel Alibo and compatriot drummer Donald Kontomanou.
“I didn’t plan getting into Andalusian music,” Mor declares. “It just evolved, organically.” That natural progression eventually spawned his Andalou Jazz Project, which has grown and taken on new textures and subtexts over the years. All of that and more is on It’s About Time!
The album closes with a jazz standard, not a usual turn of musical events for Mor. He ends the record with a typically lyrical – one might even say romantic – rendition of “You and the Night and the Music,” full of lush chords and the odd staccato insert which, with only a tiny stretch of the imagination, owes more than a little to Mor’s apprenticeship with Bitton.
Mor will have a top-notch bunch of fellow instrumentalists from both the jazz and Andalusian musical worlds on call on Monday. Ever-popular bassist Gilad Abro will be on the HaEzor stage, as will lauded Andalusian music violinist Elad Levy and jazz drummer Amir Bressler. Oh yes, there is also the small matter of a guest appearance by megastar, veteran-rocker-cum-ethnic-musician Beri Saharoff.
A handsome return on the audience’s ticket money appears to be a given.
For tickets and more information: http://haezor.com.