Omer Avital ‘Suite of the East’ (Anzic) 4/5

Israeli bassist Omer Avital is part of a New York collective of musicians who have been eager to explore the music of the Middle East in a jazz idiom (including another more renowned bassist, Avishai Cohen) and a couple of years back he surfaced on one of the ‘Live at Smalls’ recordings from that venue in the Big Apple. Here Avital returns with a studio date that has some of the immediacy of the indepedent Strata East label of the 1970s and a project subject matter that recalls Duke Ellington’s ‘Far East Suite’, and the whole CD is in fact devoted to a series of lengthy pieces that conjures up the Middle East to perfection with some lovely melodic playing. The quartet includes Avishai Cohen, but here on trumpet while Joel Frahm occupies the other brass spot on saxophone with Omer Klein on piano and Daniel Freedman on drums. Collectively this quartet has a lot going for it and the compositions are especially strong. The opener ‘Free forever’ has a wonderful Eastern flavour with the brass performing in unison whereas on ‘The Abutbuls’ there is a real build up in tension and in intensity of the piece which features Latinesque piano vamps and a trumpet solo that harks back to Lee Morgan in his prime. A trio number ‘Sinai Memories’ is really a vehicle for some blues inflections by Klein and the influence of Abdullah Ibrahim is evident. The reflective piano-led title track features a gorgeous lyrical solo from Frahm and concluding matters is an extended bass solo from the leader on a number that pleads for a return to peace in the Middle East on ‘Bass Meditation’. Overall there album has something of a live feel to it and the musicians have plenty of freedom and space to explore while retaining a melodic underpinning. One of the most enjoyable new jazz releases of the year so far. Tim Stenhouse

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