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Roberto Olzer Trio at Studio Annette

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Roberto Olzer Trio
Studio Annette
Tribute to Bernardo Sassetti
Tel Aviv
May 24, 2024

There are concerts that are so mesmerizing that one is left feeling on a high for days after it occurred. This was certainly the case with "Dreams of Others," a concert billed as a tribute to the Portuguese pianist and composer Bernardo Sassetti's music, that was held at the Annette Studio in Tel Aviv at the end of May.

Italian pianist Roberto Olzer was an inspired choice to accurately render the depth and beauty of Sassetti's world. With a growing reputation both in Italy and worldwide, his playing demonstrates all the elegance, understanding and charisma to portray the many facets of Sassetti's abundant work. He was joined by Israeli double bassist Gilad Ephrat and drummer Roy Oliel, who have long since established themselves as distinguished musicians on the Israeli jazz scene and who immediately rose to the challenge.

The Annette Studio is a recording studio which provided excellent acoustics and an intimate setting where musicians and the audience could mingle before and after the concert.

The concert kicked off with "Olhar" which instantly put the audience in the mood, as the trio moved forward with spirited group interplay. Olzer delivered an engaging interpretation of Sassetti's composition and Ephrat delved into a short solo full of warmth. Right from this first piece the audience got a taste of the chemistry between the trio, and of the wonders to come. Although they only had had a day to practice live together before the concert, it felt as if they had been performing together for years. That happens only with musicians of a certain caliber, who instantly get each other and live the music.

Next up was "Homecoming Queen," a poignant and intimate piece which started with a crystalline-like piano and where the drums ran parallel to the piano on a crisp and alluring soundscape. With the audience warmed up, the trio moved to "Reflexos," a faster and more determined piece, where the piano quickly intensified the tempo before it receded, giving Gilad Ephrat the chance to deliver an outstanding double bass solo. Picking up the melody again, Olzer developed it before the piece once again gave way to a lively drum solo in a dramatic finale.

Breaking away from Sassetti's repertoire, the trio played the jazz standard, "Beautiful Love," a song originally composed by Victor Young, and which Olzer had arranged a few years prior. A rumbling drum solo followed by sweeping piano lines and pulsating double bass rhythms made this piece flowingly catchy. Just as Olzer wooed the audience with his piano artistry, Ephrat's use of the bow also produced a hypnotic effect.

Olzer then changed script with two solo numbers; perhaps lesser known tunes of Sassetti—"Petit Pays," originally a song by Cesaria Evora, and "A Primeira Viagem." The beauty of his renditions kept the audience spellbound till the very last note, at which point a collective emotional sigh and an enthusiastic applause filled the auditorium.

After a brief intermission, the trio impressed with an honest and heartfelt rendition of the lyrical "Abertura," followed by "Sassetti bom tom," a composition written by Filipe Almeida five days after the pianist's tragic death, and which was included as part of his musical project Viela dos Abraços. This is a beautifully moving piece where piano and the double bass ebbed in and out, representing life's contradictions and fragility. It was a hub of emotions; joy, sadness, and every emotion in between, a range that Sassetti was so good at expressing.

With a nod to Sassetti's notable contribution to film scores, Olzer performed an achingly moving version of "Il Vino e l'Uva," a song composed by Ennio Morricone for Giuseppe Tornatore's 1990 film Stanno Tutti Bene. This was definitely one of the many knockout moments of the concert.

Occasionally, during live jazz concerts, musicians try to end it with a bang. The trio decided on a different approach; they played "Historia de un Amor" and apologized if the piece was not exactly wow material . What they failed to mention is that the beauty of the performance itself provided exactly that wow effect.

Called upon for an encore, they played "After You Went Away" by the iconic Israeli songwriter Matti Caspi. The set wrapped up with the soulful "Sonho de Outros," in honor of the tribute concert's name and during which Ephrat's double bass performance was simply captivating.

Apart from Sassetti's beautiful melodies, it was the connectedness between the musicians that was striking. Nothing seemed forced. It was a tribute brimming with emotions, as they played their heart out on every tune.

Olzer at times delivered a profusion of notes or burst into triumphant crescendos, but he was equally not shy on giving the spotlight to his sidemen and their solos; Ephrat coaxed a full range of tones from his instrument, using his bow to entrancing effect and accentuating Sassetti's lament. Oliel, for his part, never took a back burner position but stood out both as a soloist with a feisty spirit, and as a sympathetic accompanist.

This tribute had all the ingredients to deliver a successful project: great musicians, material that pulls at one's heartstrings and a crowd that showed genuine enthusiasm. No one can tell what will happen in the future but we can only pray it will not be long before these three reunite for another evening of musical creativity..

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