Off the chain

Israeli-born, New York-based tenor saxophonist Arnan Raz strings together an honest narrative in his sophomore album, ‘Chains Of Stories’

ARNAN RAZ: I was trained to make people feel, that was my goal. (photo credit: EFRAT GOLDMANN)
ARNAN RAZ: I was trained to make people feel, that was my goal.
(photo credit: EFRAT GOLDMANN)
Arnan Raz may not have picked up a tenor saxophone until his teenage years, but music has been flowing through his veins via osmosis since before the title track to his life was even conceived. Both his mother and brother are professional guitarists, and his uncle is a classical conductor, but it was the young boy’s grandfather who initially guided him on his winding path to musicianship.
“My grandfather was a painter and the kibbutz musician on our kibbutz [Merhavia] in the north,” Raz recounts. “I used to go over to his house and practice every day, so I learned the importance of routine from the very start.”
A more imperative lesson stemmed from Raz’s close relationship with his grandfather, though – one that reached far beyond discipline or work ethic.
Close your eyes and pick any of the nine tracks from Chains Of Stories, and you’ll feel the emotions pulsing through the piece.
Raz writes from an emotive place because “that’s how I was educated. My grandfather was a very emotional musician. Often, when he listened to a beautiful song, I’d see him shed a tear... sometimes even when I played for him. I was trained to make people feel, that was my goal.”
There are three songs from the quintet’s new album, which is scheduled for release on February 2 under their independent label, Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit Records, that specifically target the listener’s emotions: “Her Story,” “Our Story,” and “His Story.” Without the composer’s insight, one might naturally imagine this trilogy of stories depicting the progression of a single relationship: the pop-y arpeggios and harmonies in “Her Story” paint the unadulterated portrait of a woman’s beauty, while the saxophone lines cast a solemn mood over “His Story,” perhaps indicating a strain in the relationship, which eventually comes to a resolution in the light and airy denouement: “Our Story.”
While “Our Story” is, in fact, a reflection on the New York-based artist’s relationship with his girlfriend – “our love, our connection, our difficulties” – the other two songs follow surprisingly different characters whose narratives are completely independent.
“Her Story” was written for Raz’s mother. From his New York dwelling, Raz set out to capture “her spirit, her influence, and her beauty” in a richly harmonized tune where the progression of voices reigns supreme over the melody – a refreshing antithesis to the album’s opening track.
“His Story,” the indie-jazz musician says, “was originally called Yonatan.” He continues, his disposition suddenly somber: “[Yonatan] was my best friend on the kibbutz. He lost his life in the Lebanon War in 2006. I remember the exact moment: it was in July, the day that I got released from the IDF. I was in line to return my army equipment when I heard the news... my life changed that day.”
Listening back with this tidbit in mind adds new weight to the ballad.
Raz explains his motives behind his first album, Second To The Left, in detail, so one might find it peculiar that he has chosen to exclude dedications this time around.
“I don’t believe in telling the entire story. I think that the listener should interpret it for themselves and shape their own narrative,” Raz shares.
Narrative is the key to Chains Of Stories, and while the characters that live within the album’s world are concrete, the artist’s creative process borrowed from a slightly more unusual methodology. The title of the album is a translation of a game Raz enjoyed as a child called “Sipur Besharsheret.” The game encouraged one child to write a sentence of a story, then fold it over and pass it onto the next child, who would blindly write the subsequent sentence, and so on, until you had a complete story.
“I did the same with ‘Chains Of Stories’ [the song]. I sat down at the piano for five minutes and wrote a short melodic phrase, then came back the next day and picked up where I had left off, until eventually I had a whole tune.”
When many people play this game, Raz explains, the story tends to escalate into something weird and fragmented.
“Since I was the only one playing, nothing was odd, it all magically made sense.”
Even though he did not apply this technique to every song, Raz made an effort to maintain this essence throughout the album in its entirety.
“It was an exercise of letting go,” he says. “When you write music, there is a lot of judgment. As an artist, you learn to be true to yourself. The chain-writing process taught me to let go and just write – whatever came to mind – and then decide if it’s worth keeping. But first and foremost, you must write. Only then will the music come from a purely genuine place”– a place that helped Raz mourn the loss of a dear friend; that enabled him to tap into his own insecurities and overcome emotional obstacles, achieving closure in the mellow, reflexive “Ending”; and it was that same genuine, judgment-free place that brought tears to his grandfather’s eyes on an quaint kibbutz up north so many moons ago.
Chains Of Stories will be released on February 2. Arnan Raz is also planning a mini-tour across Israel this winter with Israeli drummer and composer Tom Dayan, including a stopover at the Yellow Submarine in Jerusalem in early March, after which he will return to his quintet in New York.