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Omer Klein: Theme and Variations

Robin Arends By

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The rhythm is what carries the music forward. It's what makes music vital, flowing, alive. —Omer Klein
One of the numerous talents that Israel has produced in the last decade is pianist Omer Klein. He is a much sought-after guest at various music venues in Europe, Israel and the U.S and last April he had his first tour in Canada. Klein, grew up in Netanya, Israel. After he received a special scholarship Klein moved to Boston where he attended the New England Conservatory. In 2006 he moved to New York where he quickly became a notable member of the NYC jazz scene. Nowadays Klein lives with his wife in Düsseldorf. He has given numerous master classes and teaches a yearly course at the Jerusalem Music Centre, in a special program initiated by pianist Murray Perahia.

Klein has completely his own style and he does not like to label his music. His compositions are influenced by Arab, Israeli and classical music. His improvisations are like classical compositions and his compositions are like elaborate improvisations. One of his musical mentors, Omer Avital, who was introduced to the New York jazz scene in the 1990's said in a 2007 interview "Omer Klein is an exceptional musician. He seems to have his own voice already at this early stage of his musical development, and he is on his way to develop a style of his own.." How his music has developed since can be heard on his latest trio-album: To the Unknown (Plus Loin Music, 2013).

About Jazz:You started to play the piano and composing at the age of 7. Why did you choose this instrument?

Omer Klein: I heard the sound on the radio and saw the instrument on TV, and it got me. I don't know why it attracted me so much, but it certainly called me very clearly. Then when I began to play, and develop my musicality through the years, I understood that it's really the perfect instrument for me. I'm interested in composition, improvisation, groove, harmonies, melodies, colors, orchestration, touch, timbre. I don't know an instrument that gives as many possibilities to explore these subjects as the piano does. Of course, it also has its limitations.

AAJ: Such as?

OK: Notes cannot be bent on the piano. You must always either play a c, or a c sharp. there is a world in between these two notes that is inaccessible for the pianist. This is important because music comes largely from the human voice, and landing only on well-defined notes isn't characteristic of the voice. The pianist tries to find ways to work with, and against, this limitation. Furthermore, a single note, interval or chord, cannot increase in volume after being played on a piano. It of course decreases in volume but not in a totally controlled way. This is another feature of the human voice, and an effect that is naturally and easily performed on string, wind and brass instruments, while the piano doesn't allow it, again forcing the pianist to find creative ways to express this basic musical phenomenon.

AAJ: When you started playing the piano, you also started composing and improvising. What did you play? Jazz?

OK:Jazz came later. First there was a mix of everything that was popular, from Michael Jackson to Israeli popular music, to children songs, to TV series themes. You know, all the readily available stuff. Then when I became an active listener and began seeking for music that will move me, I discovered great Israeli composers: Matti Caspi, Yoni Rechter and Shlomo Gronich. They were my first real musical heroes. I was about 12 or 13 years old.

AAJ: When did you first hear jazz?

OK: I discovered jazz when I was 14 or so, through a CD of Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson. One of my teachers at school, at the music department, gave me that CD, and played us other jazz records in class. I was hooked. Then I started buying records. John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea were some of the first jazz musicians I had listened to.

AAJ: How has this jazz music influenced your compositions and improvisations?

OK: Jazz gave me a frame and a language. It gave me a frame because finally I understood what I can do with my musical ideas. I could play a theme and improvise on it. I didn't know classical music well enough yet, so I wasn't really aware of the Theme and Variations form -or if I was, it didn't sound as hip as jazz did. Now I think it's very hip. I also didn't know about other musical worlds that I was soon to discover like Indian music or Arabic music that also involve improvisation. So jazz was really my introduction to this mode of music making. And it also gave me a language, or a set of related languages. I began learning what jazz musicians were doing, and it was stirring my creativity in new directions.

AAJ: How is your relationship with classical music?

OK: I love the music of many baroque, classical, romantic, and modern composers. I listen to it, play it and marvel at it. More specifically as a pianist, I feel that playing classical music on the piano is simply learning the instrument's history, which seems essential to me.

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