When one thinks of blockbuster jazz records, Miles Davis’s totemic "Kind of Blue," and "Time Out" by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, immediately spring to mind. But there are other works that have stood the test of time and continue to fire the imagination and creative output of generations of musicians with an improvisational bent.
As far as Shauli Einav is concerned, The Blues and the Abstract Truth by American jazz composer and saxophonist Oliver Nelson is up there with the best of them. It was recorded for the Impulse! label a couple of years after the aforementioned brace, in February 1961, and is one of those rare game-changing milestone releases that continue to resonate across the jazz community to this day.
Saxophonist Einav, who currently resides in Luxembourg, after previous lengthy sojourns in the US and France, is coming over here to perform all six numbers from the Nelson work, together with his septet, at the Tel Aviv Yafo Music Center, in Jaffa, on July 13 (9:45 p.m.).
The 1961 outing also featured seven players, and Einav, who plays tenor saxophone for the occasion, has gone for an identical instrumental lineup, with Alon Farber on baritone sax, Tom Lev on the alto version, Gregory Rivkin on trumpet, and a rhythm section of Katia Toobool, Yonatan Levi and Shai Zelman on piano, bass, and drums respectively.
Einav says this is the first time the Nelson record is being played in this country, in its entirety. Given the quality of Nelson’s arrangements, the Israeli reedman isn’t about to tweak the original charts. “You know, sometimes you take on a project and you write new arrangements for a record but, in this case, the raw material is so great you really don’t want to meddle with it.”
Sounds like he may have gone for something of an easy life, “just” playing what’s in front of him and his sidemen. Then again, when you take note of the supreme musicianship of Nelson and the rest of the illustrious gang, which included trumpeter Freddie Hubbard giving one of the standout performances of his career and the peerless Bill Evans on piano, you know Einav and co. will have to be at the top of their game to do the record justice.
Rivkin, in particular, will have his work cut out for him to reprise the Hubbard berth. “[In an interview he gave to drummer Art Taylor in 1971] Freddie said he wants to be the best drummer in the world so that nothing can stop me. It wasn’t an ego thing,” Einav observes. “He just wanted to have the best facility, just like in soccer you want the best equipment and pitch.”
Einav is keenly aware of the task he and his pals have taken on, and the core spirit behind the original work of art. “I chose sidemen who, I feel, are good at telling their own truth. The idea is to tell the truth, to take this amazing instrument – life – and do the absolute best you can with it.”
That’s quite a philosophy to take on and one that Einav, across the five solo albums he has put out to date, countless performances across the world, and in his capacity as an educator in Luxembourg, embraces wholeheartedly.
The first part of the title of the 1961 release also infers the stylistic substratum of the whole venture. “It is a bit funny to play a whole show that is pure blues,” says Einav, adding that The Blues and the Abstract Truth is anything but a one-trick pony.
“Each number of the record sounds completely different. There are six numbers of blues which are all really different from each other.” That, and the quality of the septet’s delivery, should help to keep the fans riveted to the edge of their seats.
Einav is also at pains to point out that he and the band will not be merely trying to replicate the dynamics and sounds produced by Nelson et al. In any case, as the 41-year-old Israeli jazzman did not come up, like Nelson, in the 1940s and 1950s, it would have been a pointless exercise to take a shot at evoking the specter of jazz from back in the day.
“Of course, it won’t be exactly the same, but I will try to immerse myself in the Nelson spirit,” he says. According to Einav, the late lamented saxman was one of a kind.
Having a classical sound
“What is unique about him, in contrast with other jazz musicians, is that he had a sort of classical sound. You get a sense that he was almost like a conductor presiding over the record. He is far more calculated [than other jazz musicians], like a sort of responsible adult. I really like that.”
That’s pretty notable considering Nelson was all of 29 years old at the time. Presumably, with quite a few more years here on terra firma behind him, Einav brings experience and everyday life lessons to the music-making table. There are numerous twists and turns in The Blues and the Abstract Truth which, no doubt, Farber, Lev, Levi, and the rest will exploit to the max.
Einav says he was also impressed with Nelson’s capacity to produce the goods despite his seeming shortcomings as an instrumentalist.
“He wasn’t a virtuoso, like Hubbard or [saxophonist-flutist Eric] Dolphy,” for example. “But, when you hear him play his solo on [opening track] ‘Stolen Moments’ he plays his own truth.”
The classical music element Einav notes also comes through in “Hoe Down” which references Aaron Copland’s ballet score for Rodeo, which premiered in 1942. It is an expansive number that gives you a sense of 19th-century American frontier spirit and wide open spaces, with some country music seasoning. Einav says Nelson’s connection with the Copland chart is a mystery to him, but he is happy to leave some stones unturned.
The Nelson set will be preceded by an 8 pm. show inspired by the music of saxophonist Wayne Shorter, who died in March.
For tickets and more information: https://eventbuzz.co.il/lp/event/mecru