Wake-up call

Israeli jazz pianist Omer Klein and his trio are in town from their base in Germany to perform from their latest album, ‘Sleepwalkers.'

Jazz pianist Omer Klein (left) seen here with his trio. (photo credit: PETER HONNEMAN)
Jazz pianist Omer Klein (left) seen here with his trio.
(photo credit: PETER HONNEMAN)
Omer Klein exudes a feeling of gentleness and ease, and with good reason.
The 34-year-old Germany-based Israeli jazz pianist has just released a new CD, which goes by the intriguing name of Sleepwalkers. The recording will provide the bedrock for Klein’s trio gigs coming up here, starting at the Zappa Club in Tel Aviv tonight, followed by a show in Tivon on the morrow, with the brief tour winding down at the Hakochav Hashmini venue in Herzliya on February 9. Sleepwalkers is Klein’s seventh release as leader in the past nine years, so it appears that recently becoming a father – the second contributing factor to his laid-back demeanor – has not dimmed his quest for artistic excellence.
The notes on Klein’s website shed light on the pianist’s motives for getting the project together in the first place. He refers to three areas of individual and collective experience that he addresses in the 13 Klein originals on the album – themes of Internet-age isolation, music’s relation to the mysterious and the trio’s life on the road.
That’s an unusual philosophical base for a jazz offering. Naturally, artists can be fired by muses of all ilks, but the three-pronged subtext for Sleepwalkers comes as a surprise, and offers food for thought even before the laser beam hits the CD.
“I think that when I started writing the music for the album there was a process of trial and error,” says the pianist-bandleader.
That unstructured path to creation is a recurring theme in Klein’s oeuvre.
“I don’t really think about a defined concept beforehand, and then I write the music based on that,” he continues. “But, when I started work on this, an idea came up. It was connected to the world in which we live, in which technology plays such a big part.”
That technology overload, says Klein, gets in the way of seeing things the way they really are, in real time.
“Much of the time we don’t look at the world, as it is. We look at the so-called world, via screens, which is sort of tailored for us, to make us feel at ease, to make us believe that everyone thinks the way we do. But we don’t see the real problems of society. We don’t really see each other, and we are basically engrossed in our own individual world.”
These days, in jazz a “working band” – a group that performs and records together regularly, over time – is something of a rarity.
With such relatively meager financial pickings available for exponents of the improvisational art form, artists tend to flit between all kinds of projects and outfits.
Klein is one of the fortunate few to have long-term copilots for his flights of fancy.
He and bassist Haggai Cohen-Milo have been doing musical business together for 12 years now – their 2007 debut album, Duet, won across-the-board praise – and relative newcomer drummer Amir Bressler has been pounding the skins with the group for four years.
That not only allows Klein a generous comfort zone when it comes to going off on surprising musical tangents onstage, it also allows him to produce charts with his regular teammates, and their individual skills and artistic leanings, very much in mind.
“In music, there is no substitute for having that shared mileage,” observes Klein. “Just like in life. You can meet someone for the first time, and you can have a really good chat. But that can’t compare with having a friend for a long time.”
In addition to enjoying the inestimable rewards of a common musical language, the latter is a reference to the mutually beneficial emotional support system which the pianist feels is so important in his line of work.
“To my mind, there is something very vulnerable involved in the process of creating music. And it has to be that way. Musicians have to be vulnerable when they are creating something. They need to be vulnerable and exposed to each other. They need to be able to go on an escapade together. And they need to have faith in each other.”
For his Sleepwalkers project, Klein asked his Israeli cohorts to embark with him on a meandering, undulating adventure which traverses wide-ranging musical areas, taking in funky rhythms, bluesy departures, hip hop-leaning spots, balladic sentiments and even some comical asides.
Being at ease with yourself, and with your comrades in creative arms, can lead to unexpected developments. Track 9, “What’s On Your Mind,” is a prime example of such unforeseen metamorphoses, and gives the impression of being the least structured of the album’s numbers.
“The way we developed ‘What’s On Your Mind’ was very interesting,” notes Klein. “A few times we asked the recording engineer just to record and we just improvised. There was no preparation, and we just improvised collectively.”
The aforementioned work was the product of such unbridled intent. There was more in the way of the threesome’s free-flowing ethos.
“We didn’t know what to do with what came out, and some of the improvisations got onto the record. ‘Don’t Be a Zombie’ was also the result of such improvisation,” Klein adds. “We didn’t play it before the recording, and we didn’t play it afterwards [in the studio]. ‘Each and Every Child’ was also improvised. There are lots of nuances in that.”
All of which augurs well for a rewarding evening’s entertainment for the audiences of the three scheduled gigs this week, with plenty of stuff to keep ‘em on their toes.
For tickets and more information: www.omerklein.com.