Omer Avital – “Suite of the East”


Omer Avital - "Suite of the East"At the tail end of a residency at Small’s Jazz Club in 2006, bassist Omer Avital brought his group into the recording studio for a one day marathon session.  The goal was to capture the vibrancy of the time they’d been spending together playing live, and to play compositions that Avital had completed in New York after a three year residency in Israel.

What came out of that session is an album that will deserve strong consideration for Best of 2012.

Your album personnel:  Omer Avital (bass), Daniel Freedman (drums), Joel Frahm (sax), Omer Klein (piano), and Avishai Cohen (trumpet).

Of immediate interest is the comparison of the Avital composition “Free Forever.”  Coincidentally, a live version appeared on the 2011 Avital release of the same name.  It’s near the same ensemble, but replacing Ferenc Nemeth with Daniel Freedman at drums and bringing in Jason Lindner to replace Omer Klein on keys.  This is a song to jack up the volume for.  Roll down the car windows, turn up the volume, and hope there’s no cops around as you speed down an empty country road.  Euphoric, uplifting, and so full of life and electricity, the studio version of “Free Forever” is just as thrilling as the live version.

That’s not an easy accomplishment.  Generally speaking, studio versions of songs are going to sound cleaner than their messy live counterparts, whereas the live version will jump right out at the listener.  However, on Suite of the East, Avital’s quintet brings all the bombast and power of a live performance.  It’s gotta be completely attributable to the fact that this recording session followed this quintet’s residency.  They brought the live energy into the studio with them.  No better example of this than “Free Forever.”

But it doesn’t end there.  Title track “Suite of the East” alternates between statements of melody with a gentle lilt on trumpet and sax, then with the full effect of the ensemble blasting it through the speakers.  Half way through, an interlude changes to an easy groove, Klein and Avital in the lead on piano and bass, then Cohen and Frahm step in on horn and sax.  Freedman accentuates both groups without sacrificing his own sound.  The tune ends much how it began, though with Freedman throwing in some rhythmic wrinkles.

And third track “Song For Peace” opens with a festive statement that’s got a little groove in its soul.  Develops some tension, but then the tension dissipates and both Cohen on trumpet and Klein on piano take turns with some nice solos.  Some wonderful interplay between Frahm and Cohen to close the tune out with more of that festivity.  But this, like the songs that preceded it, are full of life and energy.  Celebratory.  No different with on “The Mountain Top,” which plays with tempo as they achieve increasingly higher elevations.

The song “Sinai Memories” calms things down a bit.  It opens with a lovely bass section by Avital, and Klein offering some accompaniment before taking the baton for a lovely section of his own.  It has a contemplative presence, palpable in that way that Abdullah Ibrahim always seemed to invoke at will.

“The Abutbuls” has a driving cadence, and Cohen’s trumpet is like flames over a sheet of gasoline.  It begins with a peacefulness marked by where “Sinai Memories” left off, but that’s quickly dispelled with a vibrant Middle-Eastern influence.  It builds up to a thunderous climax, which, interestingly, is a different approach than Avital, Cohen, and Freedman take as three parts of the Third World Love quartet.  On their 2012 release Songs & Portraits, they bring a fusion element to the composition, and behave more as lightning than thunder.  But on Suite of the East, it’s full speed ahead, and from my perspective, the better of the two renditions.  Avital gets to the heart of the song and makes it thump loud and clear.

Oddly, the album ends with “Bass Meditation,” a solo bass piece.  Also, oddly, it doesn’t kill the flow of the album at all.  After an hour of perpetual intensity, there’s something refreshing about the gentle comedown of a meditative bass solo… like watching a bird soar gently back to earth after an extended flight in turbulence.

You want to know who the new Monks, the new Coltranes, the new Davises are on the modern jazz scene?  Start listening to Avital, and start with this recording.

Released on the Anzic Records label.  You can stream most of the album, and purchase it, on their bandcamp page.

Jazz from NYC.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3