‘Opus One,’ take two

Jazz saxophonist Shauli Einav ‘plays it for truth’ at the TA Jazz Festival.

Shuali Einav 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Shuali Einav 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Budding Israeli jazz musicians have been relocating to New York in droves for two decades now, with varying degrees of success. Some, such as bassists Avishai Cohen and Omer Avital, trombonist Avi Lebovich and pianist Anat Fort, have left their mark on the New York and global jazz scene, while others continue to maintain a busy yet lower-profile working agenda.
Shauli Einav is one of the more promising Israeli jazz artists to have hit the Big Apple in recent years. The 28-year-old Jerusalem-born saxophonist moved to the capital of the jazz world two and half years ago, after completing a master’s degree at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. On February 16 (at 10:30 p.m.), he will be here to show us just how far he has taken his craft to date, with a performance at the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival.
Most of the concert will be based on Einav’s new CD, Opus One, which came out on the French label Plus Loin Music at the beginning of the year. In fact, it is Einav’s second release, although he refers to it as his real debut offering. “The first album [Home Seek] was a recording I made while I was at university. It was a self-produced CD that was distributed mostly in Israel and a little bit in Upstate New York in the area around Eastman. It served as a kind of calling card and got me to a few places, like the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival and Red Sea Jazz Festival in 2008. But it wasn’t big-time at all. I call this second recording Opus One because I do believe that it’s my first major work.
And I think it reflects the progress that I’ve made since finishing school and finding my way in such a competitive and hard place as New York City.”
Challenging as it may be to gain a solid perch in the New York jazz scene, Einav already had several years of hard-earned grounding behind him. Prior to his studies at Eastman, Einav earned a bachelor’s degree from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and, before that, he imbibed the rudiments of jazz, and much more, from late US-born saxophonist and teacher Arnie Lawrence, who galvanized the jazz community in Israel, and specifically in Jerusalem, between his aliya in 1997 and death in 2005.
“What I learned from Arnie was to love the sound and to play the truth. In my tunes, I try to tell the truth. Arnie was tough, and there were no compromises with him when it came to the music. He brought so much experience to Israel, and he was a very spiritual man.”
That adherence to purity of sound comes through loud and clear on Opus One, which Einav recorded with a quintet that includes Israeli pianist Shai Maestro. Almost all the tracks were composed by the 28-year-old leader. “If all you do is play standards, then there’s no difference between you and a classical musician,” Einav declares. “What sets you apart from the others is your writing, irrespective of technical playing abilities.
That’s how you get your career going in New York. Sure, you have to play well but, anyway, you have to be a good player if you’re going to work in New York.”
Judging by end product, Einav has come a long way since he put out his first recording.
While Home Seek was more than a decent first effort, Opus One offers more depth.
“A lot has changed in the meantime,” he observes. “I feel more mature, and being in New York for over two years has given me a lot. No one knew me when I arrived. I felt I was starting from the lowest rung on the ladder.
I knew a few Israelis playing here, but at the end of the day you have to do the work yourself.”
Interestingly, Israeli jazz artists, such as Paris-based pianist Yaron Herman, increasingly perform and record versions of Israeli songbook classics, and Einav is no different.
Opus One includes a delightful rendition of “Hayu Leilot,” although Einav says he took some flak after a performance of the number at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat a couple of years ago. “Someone criticized me for doing that, but I guess we all have our opinions.”
Considering jazz musicians have been reworking classical compositions, numbers from musicals, ethnic material and even pop and rock songs for decades, Einav’s critic is definitely in a minority.
Meanwhile, Einav is happy to be coming here with his band to perform cuts off his latest album and says there will be some new numbers in his Tel Aviv show as well.
“I am working on the next CD and trying to work out the instrumentation. I like the idea of a sextet, a septet or even an octet, with lots of horns.”
Then again, the idea of a smaller ensemble also appeals to him. “I am also thinking about a quartet, with a guitar, organ and drums. When you’re in a large band, you can hide behind the other players; but I think maybe it’s time for me stand out in front on my own.”
Einav certainly makes his voice heard to great effect on Opus One.
For more information about Shauli Einav: www.shaulimusic.com. For more information about the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival: www.cinema.co.il and (03) 606-0800