It almost doesn’t matter whether guitarist Or Shovaly is composing music, arranging music, playing music, thinking about music, or talking about music. One point remains: Groove is at the heart and the guiding star of Or Shovaly’s music, including and especially the debut recording of his band Or Shovaly Plus, Live at the New Orleans Jazz Museum
. “My number one influence is Grant Green
, my favorite jazz guitarist. I love his playing because he's very groovy, very bluesy, very to the point,” Shovaly says. “It's not about extravagant technicalities as much as the blues and the feel.”
Or Shovaly was born in Israel, absorbing its musical culture along with musical expressions from nearby Middle Eastern nations as he matured before moving to New Orleans
. “I started to get interested in music as I was starting to become a teenager. I saw my older aunts and uncles that were teenagers at the time interested in music, and that opened my interest,” says Shovaly. “The thing they were drawn to was Israeli rock, an Israeli mixture of Middle Eastern and rock sounds. So, bringing west and east together was basically part of my culture, and I was exposed to it from a young age.”
After earning his Jazz Studies degree from the University of New Orleans, Shovaly became lead guitarist in local Afro-beat legends Kumasi in 2014, playing on all their albums as Kumasi won Gambit’s Best of the Big Easy awards for Best World/Latin music in both 2017 and 2019, while continuing to expand his personal voice and vision on guitar.
Shovaly’s debut release, Live at the New Orleans Jazz Museum
filters jazz standards plus his original “David and Goliath” through two decades of multicultural playing experience and the unique New Orleans perspective of his ensemble Or Shovaly Plus. “I started Or Shovaly Plus with the intent to arrange jazz standards that reflect my life’s journey,” he explains. “Having grown up in Israel with roots from Yemen and Iran and exposed to many different cultures and styles of music including Middle Eastern, African, hip-hop, and my current life living in one of the most interesting cities in the world, New Orleans.”
“This music comes out of my experience in New Orleans. I met the musicians in the band in different jams around the city,” he continues. “Benjamin Matlack
on trumpet is more in the hip-hop, groove jazz scene. Bassist Steve Walch
is more in the traditional jazz scene in New Orleans and Ronan Cowan
, the drummer, is more active in the straight-ahead jazz community in New Orleans. Benjamin also plays in Kumasi with me.”
Released in June 2022, Live at the NOJM
offers tunes by jazz piano (Ahmad Jamal
), saxophone (Charlie Parker
) and trumpet (Miles Davis
) legends, vibrantly presented in an expansive framework that feels free and open for grooving. Shovaly opens with his original “David and Goliath,” inspired by Yemen rhythmic and African drum lines. Matlack swings his New Orleans trumpet sound like a heavyweight punch, while Shovaly and Cowan ping crisp rhythms off each other in the guitar trio section when Matlack lays out. “I'm really proud of my original tune,” Shovaly allows. “It represents exactly what I talk about–the fusion of different styles–and it came out great.”
Jamal’s “Poinciana” provides a reflective platform for Shovaly’s solo guitar contemplation, with a bright sound that seems to ring out like piano as well as guitar. Shovaly and friends gracefully cycle through two Miles Davis modal pieces on Live at the NOJM
. “Solar” mixes jazz with native, global grooves and shines in broad and deep colors, with Shovaly strumming sunny guitar accompaniment that reflects off of Matlack’s roaring trumpet like polished brass. All four instruments step into “Nardis” with a true ensemble feeling, as if each member of the quartet was discovering their own way (but together) into Shovaly’s Middle Eastern spin on its Spanish tinge–until Matlack’s volcanic solo erupts into radiant hot blue notes. “Miles Davis is one of the people that I've listened to the most,” Shovaly allows. “Again, I like the simplicity, the beautiful tone, and the focus on style and what he says rather than on extravagant technicalities.”
What message does Or Shovaly hope to send through this debut?
“I'm very proud to present music that I'm emotionally attached to and comes from a very sincere place. I love the experience of improvisation and creating music in the moment. There is joy in it. It's a very authentic way of expression for me. I hope it comes out through the music and people enjoy it.”
And this brings Or to today, emerging from a pandemic that silenced the music for many, but brought new ideas and inspirations to him.
“Sitting at home during the pandemic, I listened to different styles of music to elevate my spirit and got reminded of how much I enjoy playing music that's danceable and that moves people emotionally, spiritually as well as physically,” he says.
You will find him today playing with several different bands in New Orleans, or with his own group Or Shovaly Plus, continuing to play a groovy, funky jazz that makes you want to move. And if you can’t make it to New Orleans, listen to Live at the New Orleans Jazz Museum
, where he delivers the groove directly to you, wherever you might be listening from.