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Assaf Kehati Quartet: Live at Blue Note

Dan Bilawsky By

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Assaf Kehati Quartet
Blue Note
New York, New York
August 1, 2010

Guitarist Assaf Kehati brought his enthralling post-modern, Middle Eastern-tinged music to an appreciative though occasionally chatty, crowd during Sunday jazz brunch at New York's Blue Note. Kehati's education—with undergraduate studies at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in his native Israel and a masters degree in jazz performance from the New England Conservatory of Music—is reflected in his music and he leads with poise and grace. His natural ability to conjure images of far-away lands is often at play and an intellectual rigor informs a large share of his music. Polyrhythmic pursuits and time-twisting antics are part of the fun, but it all has an organic feel to it in Kehati's hands.

A new quartet, featuring Will Vinson on saxophone, Ziv Ravitz on drums and Noam Wiesenberg (the regular bassist in a trio with Kehati and Billy Hart) came together for these shows and expertly performed a series of Kehati originals during the second set. Kehati's warm-toned guitar work was front and center on "The Small Sunrise," a new composition which opened the set, but things really heated up on "Todidido." Kehati invited the audience to participate with some singing and the reluctantly delivered, though surprisingly in tune vocals interspersed between guitar statements. Vinson took the vocal line, which became the central melody of the song, and ran with it on his saxophone, supported by Ravitz's killer drumming. Wiesenberg played the straight man by anchoring the music and keeping everything in line while Ziv Ravitz proved to be a tasteful Tasmanian Devil behind the kit. His constant groove making was busy, but brilliantly creative and he powered the band creating an exciting, evolving rhythmic underbelly during the majority of the song, and the set on the whole. The fact that Kehati and Ravitz had never shared a bandstand together, prior to this day, made their rapport all the more impressive.

"The Most Beautiful Flower That Ever Grew In My Garden," was one of the highlights of the afternoon. Kehati's hypnotic guitar work provided the seeds of the song and the music continued to bloom as Vinson joined in. His suave saxophone work was brighter in sound than the rest of the band providing for an excellent contrast within the group. Following Kehati's killer solo work, the saxophone and guitar began to spin out a unison line seemingly from out of nowhere that brought the music back into clearer focus. Vinson seemed to reach the throes of ecstasy as the whole band built around him and Kehati's lines became fused with the saxophonist.

The quartet came across like a tight working unit when they navigated the shifting feels of "The Horses Fight" and Vinson's soprano saxophone made its sole appearance of the set during "Don't Attack." The craziest song that the band performed was "Mr. Mario," which contained some wild shifts and some playing that was schizophrenic, yet unified. Kehati went in a more mainstream direction to close the set with "Quit Now." This song's high-intensity, up-tempo swing feel and Monk-ish head—with Vinson and Kehati moving as one—was an instant crowd-pleaser. Once the soloing began, all the musicians took things further out and Vinson's scorching spot was the first in a series of impressive solos that ended with Ravitz unleashing his drumming force over two-note exclamations from the rest of the band. Kehati proved to be a creative force, through his compositions and captivating guitar work, and his name deserves to be added to the ever-expanding list of Israeli jazz musicians that seem to be at the forefront of modern jazz.

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