REVIEW: ‘Close to Home’ – Ari Erev

EVER THE MELODICIST and bestower of hope and light, Israeli pianist Ari Erev releases Close to Home, the follow-up to 2016 album Flow.

Continuing the configuration of piano trio augmented by soprano saxophone and percussion (plus, on this occasion, flute), Erev again presents a considerable breadth of original composition and reinterpretation – over 70 minutes, in fact. Within this music is a beauty which clearly amplifies its overarching title, referencing his deep emotions for family, friends and familiar places – a sentiment which has been pulled into sharp relief for so many, over the past year or so.

The pianist’s deliberate yet rubato expression can sometimes be reminiscent of Abdullah Ibrahim – there’s a warmth and a focus there that reflects both his experience and this album’s theme. In addition, the subtly detuned tone of his instrument creates a ‘chamber’ aura of intimate recital or jazz bar, even with occasional traces of traditional music hall. However you might define this ensemble’s collective sound, it’s a congenial blend.

Curiously, from a purely personal perspective, the opening two numbers – Israeli Story and Playground – don’t necessarily foretell the elegance and interest of the hour which then follows them. But then, immediately in Childhood Scenes, is found the most dreamy, slightly nostalgic trio waltz – an example of how Erev’s originally-stated themes frequently have a recollective dimension, suggesting they might also host a vocal lyric first heard many moons ago. Chipper Falling in Place crackles with Yuval Cohen’s soprano-led exuberance as bassist Assaf Hakimi and drummer Gasper Bertoncelj drive it forward with panache, while Old Friends’ chromatic figure possesses a tentative air. Another ruminative original, Saturday Coffee, features lithe sax improvisations, as well as posing a thought of how the richer timbres of tenor or baritone might also suit the pianist’s output. In Afar (for Tal), though, Cohen’s high register is gracefully interlaced with the flute of Hadar Noiberg, fashioning a particularly homely, trad-jazz-tinged dedication to Erev’s daughter.

In terms of other composers’ works, the emotive, Brazilian shades of Debora Gurgel’s Para Sempre (Forever) find greater mobility with Erev, accented by the percussion of Gilad Dobrecky; and the solid beat of Efraim Shamir’s Shi’ur Moledet (Homeland Class) – from successful Israeli pop band Kavaret – is significantly reworked as a melodramatic, almost silent-movie-styled episode whose percussion impetuously tugs the piano trio towards an excitable Latin groove. Keith Jarrett’s So Tender (known to many in his breezy recording with Gary Peacock and Jack De Johnette) is respectfully visited in a sparkling, bossa miniature; Olha Maria (Antonio Carlos Jobim) flows tenebrously; and Paul Simon’s evergreen Still Crazy After All These Years enjoys a pleasant, countrified outing. To close, Erev’s assuredly grooving Po (Here) displays a theme-tune quality, its bright, memorable melody expanded on by saxophone and piano.

At the heart of this recording and, indeed, Erev’s own pianistic delivery is a sense of both conviviality and gratitude; and his own compositional flair perhaps has the greatest appeal in this collection. Falling in Place is certainly an irresistible, tightly executed, good-time gem!

Released on 8 June 2021, Close to Home is available at Bandcamp.

 

Ari Erev piano
Assaf Hakimi double bass, bass guitar
Gasper Bertoncelj drums
with
Yuval Cohen soprano saxophone
Hadar Noiberg flute
Gilad Dobrecky percussion

arierev.com

(2021)

‘Spirit House’ – Joel Harrison 5

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US guitarist Joel Harrison is not the kind of guy to become entrenched in one particular musical niche – in fact, his extensive back catalogue of recordings (probably lesser known to European ears) reveals a desire to straddle genre borders to communicate his searching creativity.

Harrison’s collaboration with sarode player Anupam Shobhakar (Leave the Door Open, Whirlwind, 2013) conveyed an intelligent and empathetic appreciation of North Indian and other world music, ingeniously fusing it with jazz and rock elements; and previous albums reveal an embracement of African, Appalachian, country music and spirituals (to name but a few), as well as the clear influence of American jazz and country guitarists such as Bill Frisell and Duane Allman.

This new release release presents a fascinating quintet line-up – guitar, trumpet, bassoon, bass and drums – in an improvisationally-heavy exploration of originals by Harrison, plus one arrangement. The guitarist explains that a Spirit House, in East Asian culture, is a miniature structure sheltering the deities, “a home of sorts for those invisible forces that guide the visible world” – and hence a useful metaphor for the studio coming-together, following a West Coast tour, of esteemed musical spirits Harrison, Cuong Vu, Paul Hanson, Kermit Driscoll and Brian Blade.

With such collective experience, Spirit House projects a huge vista of powerful styles and atmospheres centred around contemporary jazz and rock, with an instrumental/electronic weave which, at times, is pleasingly difficult to unpick. Title track An Elephant in Igor’s Yard is typical of the energy to be found here, it’s dark, swirling mood underpinned by clashing, overdriven guitar chords and a solid, persistent bass’n’drum pulse; yet there is space within for trumpeter Cuong Vu to blast high into the roof… and is that footloose pitch-bent synth actually a remarkable electronic transformation of Paul Hanson’s bassoon?

The attractive, relatively acoustic feel of Old Friends is inhabited by a playful whiff of mid-’70s prog/psychedelia (mostly thanks to its jaunty, almost Hendrix-fashioned bassoon melodies), as is the tumbling Left Hook, where guitar, trumpet and bassoon superbly combine as a smooth, pseudo horn section before Vu delivers the most impressively extreme range of techniques. Paul Motian’s Johnny Broken Wing drifts freely and emotionally in Harrison’s guitar-and-effects arrangement, the plaintive unison melody carried serenely by Vu and Hanson; and that melancholy aura filters in to the leader’s translation of his own early 90s poem, Some Thoughts on Kenny Kirkland – a tribute, led by soulful vocalist Everett Bradley and Harrison’s ‘Free Bird’ guitar, to those who have departed too soon.

The chattering lightness of You Must Go Through a Winter is carefully measured, leaving a broad canvas over which trumpet, guitar and oboe glide effortlessly – a levitational oasis amongst the heavier numbers; and bluesy Sacred Love increasingly bustles to Kermit Driscoll’s grooving bass as trumpet and guitar grittily duel it out, joined by the new-age inquisitiveness of the bassoon (Hanson’s work a real stand-out). Eight-minute title track Spirit House cautiously ebbs and flows, Harrison’s sparse writing offering the intended freedom to his colleagues; and Look At Where You Are, featuring the leader’s layered vocals, closes the album in smoky, wistful, American folk-rock tones.

Spirit House offers a real sense of discovery, realising Joel’s Harrison’s own intentions: “This is a project that mixes heart, soul, intellect and wit to create music that might move in different ways… to open a door inside the listener that helps to experience something which takes them on a journey.”

Released on 7 July 2015, full details and purchasing options can be found at Whirlwind Recordings.

 

Joel Harrison guitar, voice
Cuong Vu trumpet
Paul Hanson bassoon
Kermit Driscoll bass
Brian Blade drums, voice
with
Everett Bradley voice
Adam Kipple Hammond B-3 organ

joelharrison.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4673 (2015)