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Omer Avital Group: Asking No Permission

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Omer Avital's new release, Asking No Permission, isn't actually new at all. Rather, it's the first of the projected four-disc series The Smalls Years, presenting live performances of bassist/composer Omer Avital's group at the West Village Smalls nightclub in 1996-97. It's not unheard of for a label to release archival live performances simply because, well, they've got the tapes and they might as well—but this previously unreleased set of seven tunes, recorded on one Thursday night in April of 1996, is very much a keeper. This is engaging, richly enjoyable and undated music.

Avital's band is notable for both its configuration—bass, drums, no piano and four saxophones (three of them tenors)—and its personnel of young players, all of whom continue to be vital presences in the New York improv scene: drummer Ali Jackson, tenormen Mark Turner, Gregory Tardy, Charles Owens, and altoist Myron Walden. None of them shows any sign of callowness or immaturity; they all sound imaginative, technically proficient and utterly like themselves. Any awkward public development on any of their parts must have happened before this gig.

They also sound gloriously well-rehearsed—the collective sax heads on long pieces like "Know What I Mean? and "12 Tribes display a sweetness of voicing and plenty of Avital's compositional melodicism, but they're also flawlessly executed. Avital and Jackson are likewise fused. Their metric shifts under Owens, Tardy and a round-robin Walden/Turner solo duet on "12 Tribes seem downright telepathic as they maintain momentum and tension, even when playing a hair's breadth above silence.

The pieces are all Avital's, with the exception of a bluesy, slow-swing cover of "Lullaby of the Leaves, which is, of course, associated with Gerry Mulligan's equally piano-less original quartet with Chet Baker. It's a good fit with Avital's tunes, which offer a similarly timeless airiness and bathos-free romanticism. "Kentucky Girl has a simple, almost countrified horn theme but Avital's somber bass melodies and Jackson's restless, surging drums underpin it with a subtly tense menace. Tardy contributes a long, modal solo on this song that ranks with his best work to date—while the group has plenty of horns, here and elsewhere the band's essentially performing in trio formation during solo segments, with occasional deftly-placed written horn accents to undercut any notion that this is a jam session.

Best of all is "Devil Head, with its intro of Avital's bass darting and springing between the notes of its theme, articulated by rich-textured saxophones and Tardy's flute before Turner delivers a magnificently stately solo over a quicksand of mixed-meter bass and cymbals.

Avital's never been the most prolifically documented musician—this CD is his first release since the 2001 Fresh Sound New Talent album Think With Your Heart—and the absence of late of recorded Avital product makes Asking No Permission that much more valuable. All that's missing is the leader's trademark look of ecstatic joy as he performs.

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.

Title: Asking No Permission | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Smalls Records

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