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On an initial blind spin of Dark Beauty, the leadership slot isn't readily apparent – to the leader's credit. It could be any one of the quartet members, so balanced are the contributions, with piano and guitar owning a seemingly equal share of the solo time.
Israeli-born guitarist Issi Rozen leads the quartet on Dark Beauty, which is a loose English translation of the opening tune's title, "Sheharhoret," a perfect starting point for the music that follows: wistful, minor key compositions in a spectrum of grey hues.
Issi Rozen has developed, in a bit more than a decade since his summa cum laude graduation from Berklee, a distinctive personal sound on his instrument: a slightly blurred delivery, each note blending into the next, with occasional forays into a sharp and piquant approach. He brings to the table subtle Middle Eastern motifs, while drummer Harvey Wirht – a native of Surinam, and the time-keeper for the Boston-based Either/Orchestra – brings in his always beguiling Afro-Caribbean rhythms.
Pianist Gilad Barkan, when he goes into flight on uptempto interludes, provides delicate, gravity-defying swirls of notes, bringing Chucho Valdez's right hand to mind; but as a package, he too has developed is own sound, a cogent blend of the percussive and lyrical. And bassist Thomson Kneeland bows beautifully ("Sheharhoret") and puts together a compelling pizzcato solo ("Dramland").
But the considerable strength of the set is the cohesive ensemble play and the sustained start-to-finish mood. Too many young – and perhaps unassured – jazz players mix styles and moods on early recordings, aiming at showing off their versatility. But self assurance isn't a problem for Issi Rozen's quartet; these players have put together a set of melodic and well-constructed tunes, a compelling and darkly beautiful work.