Few artists have bridged the worlds of Middle Eastern music and postbop jazz as artfully and acerbically as bassist Omer Avital. He was one of the ringleaders at the original Smalls back in the 90s and has also been a key cog in high-voltage dance band Yemen Blues. He likes minor keys and often plays his bass like his other instrument, the oud. He’s leading a quartet on Nov 5 at 8:30 PM at Bar Lunatico. What’s a good album of his to spin if you’re thinking of checking out the show? Try his 2016 release Abutbul Music, streaming at Spotify.
The opening track, Muhammad’s Market – dedicated to Avital’s longtime drummer pal Ali Jackson – is a pretty straight-up, funky, New Orleans blues-infused jazz number, saxophonists Asaf Yuria and Alexander Levin harmonizing brightly over the loose-limbed groove from the bandleader alongside pianist Yonathan Avishai and drummer Ofri Nehemya. Yuria takes a good-natured solo on soprano sax, Levin and then Avishai picking up the pace.
The second number, Three Four is a diptych, beginning as a coyly strutting waltz and growing more lustrously bittersweet on the wings of Levin’s moody tenor solo. Avishai leads the hypnotic upward charge afterward with a pointillistic attack, the bandleader’s spare, spiky solo bringing the song full circle.
Afrik has a scampering drive and a bristling, McCoy Tyner-esque, allusively Ethiopian-tinged theme with some deliciously rapidfire, melismatic, Arabic-tinged flurries from the horns. The album’s most epic cut is the almost eleven-minute New Yemenite Song, the band slowly making their way from a somber, dusky sway to a joyously edgy, pulsing, melismatic dance. Avishai’s glistening, chromatically charged solo is tantalizingly brief.
With its balmy horns, Miles Davis allusions and subtly shifting swing, Bed-Stuy is a change of pace. Then Avital introduces the next number, Ramat Gan with a long, achingly crescendoing bass solo in the edgy Arabic hijaz mode. The band shuffle with an understated majesty through the Andalucian-tinged tune afterward.
Ayalat Hen is a bouncy, swinging remake of a catchy traditional Yemeni theme that’s considerably darker than this song, at least until the brooding vamp beneath Levin’s terse solo midway through. This particular playlist’s closing cut is the tersely playful, rhythmically shifting Eser (Middle Eastern Funk),Yuria pouncing in amid the staccato, minor-key revelry. The cd also comes with three bonus tracks that weren’t included with the promo package this blog received a couple years ago.