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The Omer Avital Group was a mainstay at New York's Smalls club in the mid '90s. An unfortunate turn of events with record companies suppressed the bassist/composer's major label debut, and in recent years Avital has spent more time working and studying in his native Israel. But with the release of Asking No Permission and a recent series of Greenwich Village gigs, including a near-magical set at the Fat Cat in mid-January, New York's jazz scene is once again abuzz with Avital's name.
The first of four planned releases of recordings from the Smalls years, Asking No Permission provides ample evidence of why the group was so well regarded. Avital's compositions, like "Devil Head and "Kentucky Girl, at once contain instantly attractive melodies, wide-open spaces for improvisation, and boisterous group interplay. The performances are unrushed, extending to twelve, fourteen and fifteen minutes, perhaps a reflection of the environment Smalls provides for experimentation and the maturation of ideas.
Avital's classic sextet features a lineup of three tenor saxophonistsCharles Owens, Gregory Tardy and Mark Turner, who also doubles on fluteplus Myron Walden on alto and Ali Jackson on drums. The four-reed front line is showcased on "Ballad, a gorgeous, brief piece full of colorful and subtly shifting harmonies among the horns and bass.
At Fat Cat on January 14, Avital's new all-star group with Jason Lindner (piano), Joel Frahm (tenor and soprano sax), Avishai Cohen (trumpet) and Eric McPherson (drums) was on fire, crackling with energy. Though the set started nearly an hour past the advertised time, Lindner, Frahm and Cohen (sitting in on drums) warmed up the audience with a light, playful "Moonlight Sonata jam.
Avital's "Song for Amos led off the set proper, with Cohen delivering the first of many blistering solos, spilling out long ideas one after another and the group blowing full force at the end. Among the other tunes were a rapid bebop number and a downtempo dark blues waltz, but the standout was Avital's "Song of Praise. An overwhelmingly joyous song with an affirming melody over basic, descending chords, it had Avital swaying, bouncing and grinning ear-to-ear as things unfolded.
Track Listing: Know What I Mean?!; Lullaby of the Leaves; Ballad; Devil Head; 12 Tribes; Kentucky Girl; The Field.
Personnel: Omer Avital: bass; Ali Jackson: drums; Mark Turner: tenor saxophone; Gregory Tardy: tenor saxophone, flute; Myron Walden: alto saxophone; Charles Owens: tenor saxophone.