Omer Avital, New Song

Ken Micallef

By Ken Micallef

on 11.04.14 in Reviews

Over the course of eight albums, Israeli-born New York bassist Omer Avital has brought the rich melodies and churning rhythms of his homeland to forward-looking spiritual jazz. As he has continued to study, taking two years off in the early ’00s to delve into classical European composition and Middle Eastern and North African music, Avital’s compositions have become more powerful, more deeply felt, and more inspired by the year.

An understated yet powerful composition

New Song is an extension of Avital’s previous release, 2012′s Suite of the East, wherein Avital forged a sound that was equal parts celebratory folkdance and straight-up jazz. Supported by his longtime band that includes fireball drummer Daniel Freedman, pianist Yonathan Avishai, trumpeter Avishai Cohen and tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm, New Song opens with “Hafla,” its piano, trumpet and saxophone spiraling skyward over spirited funk. Call-and-response melodies increase the tension, with Freedman’s drum set driving accents into a popping pulse before subtly shifting into a more intimate groove. Avital works the upright’s upper register through to the following track, “Avishkes,” sinewy instrumental cries leading to deep-toned questions and bold pleas. The song also includes one of the album’s few bass solos and, like Charles Mingus, Avital plays it with equal parts emotional insistence and intellectual fury. “New Middle East” bounces over a hypnotic beat, its uplifting mood and double-time closing section seemingly drawn from an earlier era when Israelis were simply happy to have a homeland.

Avital’s dreams for Israel’s future seem to inspire his work. There is an underlying tension, a simmering thread throughout New Song, as though the musicians are holding back, lest their emotions overwhelm the music’s understated but potent power.