Long a part of the Toronto jazz scene, pianist Noam Lemish
hasn't at all been limited to that genre. He has made plenty of jazz recordings, some of the best of which include drummer George Marsh
: their self-produced duo album Nightfall
(2013) is an especially winning slice of post-bop jazz. But Lemish may be at his best when he's disregarding stylistic confines. Israeli folk forms and classical motifs are some of the resources that make appearances in his work, giving him a distinctive voice within contemporary jazz. And when he sat down to record Erlebnisse
, his first solo album, he was clearly inspired to explore these pathways even more extensively. The music does retain an implicit jazz flavor, but the classical and folk touches are what stand out most noticeably, and it's all to the good, as the results are consistently affecting, and often quite beautiful.
The album is well-titled: "erlebnis" is a German word for a transformative personal experience, and each of the sixteen tracks creates an enchanting, self-enclosed space perfect for exploration and discovery. The pieces are wholly improvised, ranging in length from very brief sketches of a minute or two to more substantial offerings of four to six minutes; but even the longer pieces don't quite feel sufficient in exhausting the riches of Lemish's ideas. For instance, the first track is one of the album's loveliest, with floating right-hand figures intertwined with delicate counterpoint in the left hand; the piece's melodic potential seems fully realized just before it ends. And the ninth track may be even more emotionally powerful, with a somber lyricism that aches with yearning. Four quick minutes and it's gonebut fortunately one can, and will want to, return to these pieces for repeated encounters.
The echoes of Lemish's devotion to Jewish folk music are plainly audible on a few of these cuts, with small gestures and melodic devices that connect the recording to that tradition; the second track is an especially good example, with subtle overtones emerging periodically throughout the piece. And on a couple tracks, Lemish takes some interesting detours, with a tumultuous, brooding left hand catalyzing the mysterious mood of the eighth track, and clever use of prepared piano on the fifth cut for additional contrast on a piece that also carries an unmistakable folk resonance. The most technically impressive piece may be the fourteenth, where Lemish's thunderous exclamations alternate with pensive ruminations, establishing an unsettled and unrelenting tension.
A worthy solo statement, Erlebnisse
should garner increased visibility for a pianist whose creativity and talent more than justify it.
Erlebnisse 1 through 16.