In a (re)return of the prodigious prodigal son, the Israeli-born and New York City-seasoned Omer Avital is back on the block after extended musical fieldwork in his native land. The Ancient Art of Giving presents the vibrant and eclectic bassist with a host of jazz adepts: Mark Turner (tenor), Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Aaron Goldberg (piano) and Ali Jackson (drums), all veterans of and close collaborators in the underground (literally!) scene at Smalls, a "new -breed Mecca under the auspices of the eccentrically avuncular Mitch Borden.
Pressed on the club's in-house label, this disc captures the spirits of the times, rendered through the lens of Avital's decidedly personal artistic aesthetic. Blending the Old World elegance of Spanish classicism with Afro-Arabic modal soul and North American hard-bop, Avital has gleaned a unique sound from these cultural interzones, a sort of "jazz of Gibraltar.
Many of the tunes on the recording employ the descending phrygian cadences associated with Iberian peninsula composers and flamencos (eg. "Homeland, "Ras Abu-Galum and "Shimi's Tune ), along with an ample dose of gospel (thanks to Goldberg's churchy comping) that recalls the Bobby Timmons-era Jazz Messengers.
When simmered in Smalls' subterranean crockpot into the wee hours, these flavors blend in a pungent potpourri, as on "Arrival, where a funky piano intro sets up a two-horn, Blakey-esque head, followed by tandem soloing from Turner and Cohen; or on "Shimi's Tune, where Jackson's rat-a-tat snare drum fusillades sync and swim with Goldberg's facile pianisms. You can just imagine the heads bobbing.
This October, Avital had been in-house at Smalls; on the first Wednesday of the month, he appeared with Cohen (trumpet), Joel Frahm (tenor), Daniel Freedman (drums) and fellow Israeli Omer Klein (piano). The early set featured "Free Forever, "Suite of the East, "Mountain Top, "The Chant and "New Middle East, all well-conceived, memorable tunes with unusual twists and turns that Avital's unmistakable stylistic stamp. Amidst this all-star cast, Klein in particular dazzled with torrents of turbo-charged one-hand "rolls" and tumultuous lyricism.
Personnel: Omer Avital: bass; Mark Turner: tenor sax; Avishai Cohen: trumpet; Aaron Goldberg: piano; Ali Jackson: drums.