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Oded Lev-Ari: Threading

Dan Bilawsky By

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There's more to music than often meets the eye. While educated jazz fans often laud and focus on the artists whose names adorn the cover of albums and the sidemen that support and converse with them, far fewer people applaud the work of figures like Oded Lev-Ari—those men of many hats who work out of sight, producing, arranging, and orchestrating for the better-known names.

Over the past decade, Lev-Ari's guiding hands have helped to sculpt the sound on albums from clarinetist Anat Cohen, vocalist Melissa Stylianou, trumpeter Marty Ehrlich, the vocal trio DUCHESS, and others. He's the man behind the stunning arrangements on Cohen's Noir (Anzic, 2007), the producer who helped to capture the beauty and honesty of Amy Cervini's voice on Jazz Country (Anzic, 2014), and the wizard responsible for the absorbing works presented here on Threading.

For this, the first album under his own name, Lev-Ari delivers a collection of impassioned music that warms the soul and melts the heart. Six originals and two versions of Gordon Jenkins' immortal "Goodbye" give him ample opportunity to spread his wings and fly in different air spaces during Threading. There are maudlin moods, cool streaks, triumphant expressions, tender thoughts, harmonically rich settings, and threadbare episodes. Lev-Ari uses everything at his disposal—his pen and his piano, space and silence, mass and movement, the friends and singular artists aboard for this project—to create stunning pictures that each stand apart from one another.

The first glimpse into Lev-Ari's mind comes through the title track, a piece with beautifully flowing lines, Nuevo Tango allusions, and passionate musical episodes such as the one that finds trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis evoking images of a toreador while Matt Wilson cooks with his madcap bolero-inflected snare work. It's a musical statement that moves with intensity but never boils over. "Lost And Found," which immediately follows "Threading," is nothing like its predecessor. It's a blues expression built with cool school esthetics and featuring laid back saxophone solos from Will Vinson and Brian Landrus.

With "Voices"—the longest piece on the album, lasting just over ten minutes—Lev-Ari manages to create a lengthy and memorable episodic narrative. The piece opens on foreboding cellos, but a sense of optimism quickly comes to the fore as more instruments enter and help to build a charge in the music. Once the electricity has passed, there's space and openness with fluttering sounds, a backbeat-driven section which finds upper reeds and other voices twisting around one another in ecstatic fashion, and arrival at serenity, with celestial harmonies taking over.

The remaining numbers, like those before them, each speak in different tongues. Mournful Hebraic tones filter there way through "Black Crow," a piece which takes a bluesy swing turn for Cohen's solo and gives Wilson a chance to operate with simple ideas all by his lonesome; "E And A" is a halcyon beauty, part hymn, part country romance, and wholly idyllic in its unfolding; and "The Dance" is a stirring number that features Alan Hampton, who also delivers matter-of-fact vocals on one of the versions of "Goodbye," and Jo Lawry, who matches emotions with Hampton here and adds wordless vocals that intertwine with Vinson's horn.

There's no single underlying stylistic principle behind the music on Threading, but that does nothing to diminish its power. If anything, the multifaceted nature of this album, wholly reflective of the artist who made it, enhances the listening experience. Threading thrills by tapping into so many different musical veins.

Track Listing: Threading; Lost And Found; Goodbye (feat. Alan Hampton); VOices; Black Crow; E And A; The Dance; Goodbye (feat. Anat Cohen).

Personnel: Anat Cohen: clarinet; Will Vinson: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Brian Landrus: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Nadje Noordhuis: trumpet, flugelhorn; Alex Waterman: cello; Yoed Nir: cello; Noah Hoffeld: cello; Oded Lev-Ari: piano; Gilad Hekselman: guitar; Joe Martin: bass; Matt Wilson: drums; Alan Hampton: vocals (3, 7); Jo Lawry: vocals (7).

Title: Threading | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Anzic Records

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