Omer Avital New Song (Motéma)

I’ve always loved the finesse that shapes Omer Avital’s music. Yep, the bassist is an overtly physical player, often impelled to give his strings a good whack in order to express himself (because of such ardor the liner notes to this new album reference him as an “Israeli Mingus”). But Avital’s always been judicious about dispensing aggression, and as the years have gone by – the 42-year-old’s *Think With Your Heart* debut dropped in 2001 – he’s refined the attack that earned him part of his early acclaim. He’s still committed to the whomp in his music, but these days it’s measured out in very wise ways.

That is to say: New Song feels like a balancing act of sorts. While the insistence that helped craft the bassist’s identity as a bandleader and composer is obvious, a contoured approach is in play. There’s a maturity to these pieces, and their mildly wistful air enhances that vibe. It’s as if he’s trading eruption for beauty – each of the 11 tracks glow with a sense of ease and authority that make them seem a tad more eloquent than their predecessors. Could be because Avital has surrounded himself with pals. Saxophonist Joel Frahm and drummer Danny Freedman both played on the debut mentioned above, and along with trumpeter Avishai Cohen and pianist Yonathan Avishai their camaraderie is a nurturing agent. This is a squad that always works as one.

Tempo-wise, there’s nothing too agitated or rushed. Melody-wise, the tunes hark to the folk music of Avital’s Yemenite and Moroccan roots. The repeated motifs of Arab music ignite its rhythmic thrust, and from “Maroc” to “New Middle East” there’s a locomotive power that moves everything forward. The band opens the door for the blues when applicable, and that’s often enough to make the program earthy. Whether it’s a fanfare for daybreak (“Sabah El-Kheir”) or a jaunt through history (“Bedouin Roots”) the music is fused with cultural signifiers.  By the time the opening of “Yemen Suite” starts to bubble up its theme towards the end of the disc, there’s plenty passion on the table. The best part is the band dispenses it in a clear, convincing manner.


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