Jazz Review: Omer Klein, Enrico Pieranunzi & Marc Johnson, and The New Albert Beger Quartet

Klein takes Israeli folk songs, and more ethnic Middle Eastern inflections, and molds them within a jazzy spectrum.

Omer Klein 88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
Omer Klein 88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
ENRICO PIERANUNZI & MARC JOHNSON Yellow & Blue Suites (Challenge/MCI) Italian master pianist Enrico Pieranunzi has given us a number of delicious CDs to salivate over in the last two or three decades. Yellow & Blue Suites certainly adds to his mellifluous oeuvre as he and bass player Marc Johnson spin out sumptuous textures like there is no tomorrow. In fact, Yellow & Blue Suites is not exactly a marker for Pieranunzi and Johnson's individual or combined artistic growth, as it was actually recorded back in 1990. But, as the pianist says in the liner notes, he is delighted "that this music has been made accessible to a wider audience after such a long time." When you come across this kind of comfortable laissez-faire that produces such rare and precious treasures, it should be grabbed with both hands and enjoyed unapologetically and repeatedly. THE NEW ALBERT BEGER QUARTET Big Mother (Earsay Jazz) It would be safe to say - to paraphrase an old soccer anthem - there's only one Albert Beger. That's certainly true of this country, where the jazz fraternity tends largely to the mainstream and, of late, has begun to increasingly incorporate items from the Israeli songbook in its oeuvre. Beger has been peddling his freely structured jazz wares here and abroad for some time. Now approaching 50, the saxist-flutist has been doggedly following his avant-garde star, putting out eight albums in the process and enjoying fruitful synergies with some of the brightest elements in the free jazz firmament. His previous two releases were two volumes of a special recording session with stellar Chicagoan bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake in which Beger scaled new heights of creativity - but did not necessarily always lead the way. Big Mother sees Beger return to his old quartet format, and to far more structured and composed works. The album certainly has its introspective moments and there are dark, almost foreboding, colors in there. One only has to catch a glimpse of the CD cover, which features a young boy gazing out over a garbage dump with his mother standing protectively by, to get the idea that Beger has something to say about the state of Mother Earth. But Big Mother is not all doom and gloom. "The One," for instance, does offer dark splashes of color, some lugubrious bass bowing laced with a vaguely apocalyptic piano, sax and drum envelope. However, Beger's horn soon soars out of the mire to signal some ponderous hope. And it gets even lighter as the album evolves. "Yellow" is suffused with airy saxophone musings and you get the sense that Beger has thrown us a line of open questions and left us still looking for the answers. Then "Tales of Beezlebub" even ventures toward rock sentiments with Yoav Zohar putting out a thudding drum solo, and things get downright sentimental on the title track with Aviran Ben-Naim providing melodic piano flurries, even after the more acerbic sax joins in. Veteran bass player Gabriel Mayer provides solid service throughout. Big Mother is a mature outing from an evidently still-developing artist. OMER KLEIN Introducing Omer Klein (Small Records/High Fidelity) Pianist Omer Klein, at least in chronological terms, is a generation or so behind Beger. Still, his two CDs to date indicate a maturity beyond his relatively tender years. Last year's Duet, with bassist Hagai Cohen Milo, was a promising debut - and now he has taken the leader reins for the first time on Introducing Omer Klein. The two efforts are very different. On the new release, Klein teams up with an all-Israeli lineup of acclaimed bass player Omer Avital - a mainstay of the Smalls jazz club in New York - drummer Ziv Ravitz and percussionist Itamar Doari. There is a clear upbeat spirit to Introducing Omer Klein that was absent on the darker Duet. Klein appears to be following an emerging pattern among young Israeli jazz musicians - including the likes of Paris-based pianist Yaron Herman and renowned bassist Avishai Cohen - in taking Israeli folk songs, and more ethnic Middle Eastern inflections, and molding them within a jazzy spectrum. Klein's polished keyboard skills are on view throughout and the project pulsates with high energy from the very first bars of "Abutbul." Avital exerts a strong influence here, too. Avital's own work marries ethnic elements - including his own contributions on oud - with highly colorful contemporary jazz, and he and Klein appear to share the same mindset in that area. Avital's bowed bass solo toward the end of "Abutbul," with Doari accompanying on darbuka, is more Arabic than jazz. There also seems to be a growing propensity among Israeli jazz artists to complement their instrumental efforts with melodic vocals. Klein does this here on "Malchut." Whether this is jazz or whether it adds to the improvisational fray is a moot point, but it is certainly attractive.