Amos Hoffman: Evolution (2008)
This is the second recording by Israeli guitarist Amos Hoffman that features him as an oud player, following Na'ama (Magda, 2006). Hoffman, who began playing the guitar when he was six years old and the oud a few years later, studied with Lebanese oud and nay player Bassam Saba, while he was living in New York.
For this recording Hoffman recruited good friend and prominent Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen, after playing on Cohen's recent recordings, veteran Israeli percussionist Ilan Katchka and flautist Ilan Salem. All ten compositions are by Hoffman, and feature him as a composer with a rich sense of melody who enjoys stretching Middle-Eastern scales and African rhythms. He clearly knows how to articulate infectious themes on the oud, as featured on "Enayim," "Silence" and "Hamsa."
But that is where Hoffman's proficiency on the oud sounds shy of a necessary sense of experimentation that could ornament and color his melodies. As "Enayim" reaches its early climax when a rhythmic interplay between Cohen and Katchka takes the lead, Hoffman takes the back seat and opts for the original theme instead of exploring the rhythmic pattern. On other tracks, such as the fast "Exploration," Cohen, whose use of the bow here is masterful and imaginative, sounds keen for more adventurous development while Hoffman opts for a more elemental reading of the theme. Cohen takes the lead on the romantic "I met you," as a vocalist and pianist, and Hoffman sounds more at home as a sideman than a lead player. Other compositions, such as "The Wheel," sound as if Hoffman consciously chose to tread on predictable and familiar rhythmic roads.
Hoffman's solo oud improvisation on the traditional maqam scale "Takasin Bayati" is one the most exceptional and impressive tracks here. His playing still lacks the brilliant ornamentation of genre-bending oud players such as Rabih Abou-Khalil and Dhafer Youssef or the poetic sense of Anouar Brahem but his development of the scale is reasoned and beautiful. This is also heard on a romantic oud-piano duet with Cohen, again on the piano, where they don't attempt to reference Middle-Eastern scales or rhythms and instead they just enjoy playful interplay.
Track Listing: Enayim; Exploration; Silence; Hamsa; Takasin Bayati; I met you; The Wheel; The Journey; Miss T; Sweet Eden.
Personnel: Amos Hoffman: oud, guitar; Avishai Cohen: bass, piano, vocals; Ilan Katchka: percussion; Ilan Salem: alto flute.