Dynamic jazz musician Asaf Roth showcases his debut album as a vocalist in Tel Aviv

The event will take place at Abraxas Bar in Tel Aviv on January 22 (doors open 10 p.m., show starts 11:30 p.m.)

Musician Asaf Roth (photo credit: Gadi Dagon)
Musician Asaf Roth
(photo credit: Gadi Dagon)
One could be forgiven for back-peddling on learning that Asaf Roth is about to launch his debut album as a vocalist.
The event will take place at Abraxas Bar in Tel Aviv on January 22 (doors open 10 p.m., show starts 11:30 p.m.), when the 40-year-old musician unveils a string of numbers from Al Sfat Hacrach (On the Edge of the City) in the company of drummer Yuval Shafrir, who also produced the CD, bassist Yehu Yaron and guitarist Eran Weitz, with Adi Renert on keyboards and trumpet.
It is, of course, no surprise that Roth has got his first release out. After all, he has been on the local and international music scene for some time now. The innovative element here is that Roth, who has already chalked up an impressive resume as a percussionist – principally on marimba and vibraphone – apparently can also sing.
Not that Roth is making too big a deal out of the new venture. “I am not really a singer,” he protests. “I never sang before this, and I don’t identify myself as a singer. I sing my own songs.”
Semantics aside, Roth and his sidemen have done a pretty good job on Al Sfat Hacrach, which comprises 10 numbers based on the words of some of our most iconic poets across the ages, the likes of Rachel, Leah Goldberg, Yehuda Amichai and 72-year-old Meir Wieseltier, all put to music by Roth.
This is a side of the percussionist we have not seen thus far. Roth is internationally known for his work with various classical ensembles, including with the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra under Zubin Mehta. Then again, Roth developed a tendency to roam across all kinds of musical terrain from quite an early age.
“I come from classical music, but I have also played accordion, piano and trumpet. I was always curious and always looking to get a taste of something new. All that eventually led to the drums, and from there to marimba and vibraphone, which are now my main instruments.”
Roth’s instrumental range expanded over time, and so did his interest in an ever increasing swath of creative areas.
“I started out in classical music, and then I moved into jazz and new music,” he says, adding that his range of interests grew exponentially while he lived in New York, where he took a degree at Manhattan School of Music, and gained an abundance of street-level experience, with all kinds of musicians and musical acts.
“I lived in New York for seven years and, as you know, it has so much to offer in terms of cultural and artistic opportunities.”
And Roth made the most of them, right across the board. “I was exposed to so many new things there. I wanted to be part of the scene. I didn’t care if it was classical music or new music, or funk, jazz, you name it. I tried out new things before I moved to the States, but it was in New York that I really tested the waters, and began exploring things I hadn’t known before, and really get to grips with them.”
When Roth returned here, he brought hefty musical baggage with him, and new understanding of where he was heading as an artist. “All those experiments in New York, and all the collaborations I enjoyed there, with all kinds of musicians from all over the world, helped me understand that what I am most interested in is sound. I bring my knowledge and my personal taste to every musical situation in which I find myself. I am a sort of decorator. I add my colors to what I find, and draw on my personal taste and respond to what is required by the musical situation in question.”
That, says Roth, enables him to adapt and contribute to any given exploratory circumstances. “You can put me in any situation, with any musicians, and I will bring my experience and knowledge to that, and I will always have something to say, to add.”
Roth defies pigeonholing.
Many jazz musicians, for example, will generally rail against any attempt to tag their work as pertaining to bebop or avant garde. Nine times out of 10 the retort will be something along the lines of: “Hey! This is just music, that’s all.”
Roth takes a similar approach. “I play with orchestras and bands and also solo. You just have to know the language, and be able to communicate with the other musicians you are playing with. If you manage to communicate then the music happens. It’s really quite simple. Of course you have to have certain skills, and you bring your experience to what you do, and your personal tendencies but, at the end of the day, that’s all there is to it.”
Although he primarily plays percussion instruments today, presumably some of Roth’s firsthand experience on other instruments finds its way into his work on marimba and vibes.
“I once did an audition for an orchestra, on marimba, for famous conductor Mendy Rodan and, when I finished playing, he asked me if I played the piano. I am not aware of that, but obviously that comes through. I don’t think about whether I have a pianist’s or trumpeter’s way of playing marimba.
Whatever comes out comes out.”
Roth adds that he doesn’t generally publicize his other instrumental exploits. “The main thing is for the listener to get what I am doing at the moment that I produce the music. If I manage to arouse some emotion in the listener – it can be a sense of joy or even of shock – I have done my job.”
Al Sfat Hacrach is an extension of Roth’s ongoing developmental continuum.
There are jazzy and bluesy colors in there, alongside the more rock-and pop-oriented elements. The latter are hardly new additions to Roth’s musical arsenal, with high-profile synergies with the likes of Beri Saharoff, Yoni Rechter, Shlomi Shaban and Rita in the Roth professional bio to date.
Roth is delighted with the way Al Sfat Hacrach came out, and with the creative process.
“We all went to a studio, without rehearsing, and just played the numbers.
It went so well. I handpicked the people I wanted to play with – Adi [Renert] and I have worked together for many years – and we generated a sort of chamber music ambiance. For me it is far more important to choose the right musicians than to be punctilious about the way you work. It was fun.”
That certainly comes across in the final product, which also incorporates some handsome artwork courtesy of Roth’s wife, Ada Rothenberg. A fetching package indeed.
For tickets and more information: (054) 674-5149 and [email protected]