Amos Hoffman and Noam Lemish are among a wave of jazz musicians that has emerged from Israel in the last ten years. The success of bassist Avishai Cohen and his sister, clarinetist Anat Cohen and guitarist Gilad Heckselman has caught the attention of jazz fans around the world.
Hoffman, now a resident of Columbia, South Carolina and Lemish, who hails from Toronto, Canada, have joined forces to not only display their considerable talents, but to run the music of the Middle East through the jazz ringer. They combine the better elements of both into a fairly comfortable stew. Hoffman's use of the oudan instrument common in Eastern music, but virtually unknown to jazzadds to the flavor, as does the clarinet stylings of Jacob Gorzhaltsan on "Aji Tu, Yorma Aji" and Pedram Khavarzamini on tombak (a percussion instrument common in Iran) on three songs.
Both Hoffman and Lemish are highly talented melodic improvisers, and this album may represent their best recorded effort to date. Hoffman had a couple impressive outings with Avishai Cohen, but this is an opportunity to hear him as a featured artist and it is a welcome addition to his resume.
The purpose of the group is to introduce listeners to the compositions of Jewish composers from around the world. There are ten selections, all lasting between two and a half minutes to six minutes. While the listener doesn't get a deep dive into the music, the artists comfortably fit the Eastern melodies into a jazz framework and manage to shake loose from the kind of rhythmic and harmonic limitations of the songs. There is a definite minor key mournfulness in many of the tunes, but Hoffman and Lemish explore them sufficiently to leave the listener wanting more and knowing they can probably go a lot further if they allowed themselves to stretch out more.
The co-leaders are the main focus of the album, but bassist Justin Gray and percussionist Derek Gray offer solid and reliable support. Many of the rhythms are somewhat angular and keeping things swinging is no small accomplishment.
Hoffman is an agile performer, although his technical brilliance is often hidden here in deference to the melodies. However, "Harbi Meir" gives a taste of his virtuosity as does the hard swinging "Tchol Hamitpachat." Lemish appears to be an admirer of Chick Corea, and his melodic playfulness comes out in all his solos. He doesn't stray far from the melodies and his expositions are very listenable. "At Telchi Basade" best highlights his delightfully light hearted swinging.
Jazz has pretty much ignored music from the Middle East, but it obviously has a rich tradition just waiting to be embraced by jazz musicians. This album does a good job of demonstrating that and hopefully will also bring much deserved attention to Hoffman and Lemish.
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