Oran Etkin, a native Israeli clarinetist-saxophonist and ardent proponent of melded cultures, sows gratitude for his world travels throughout Gathering Light. Indeed, his song called “Gratitude” initiated these sessions, prompting a display of effusive teamwork from the all-star ensemble, including trombonist Curtis Fowlkes as his frontline partner, bassist Ben Allison and drummer Nasheet Waits in the rhythm section, and guitarist Lionel Loueke as the bridge for the clambering, African-inflected groove.
A sinewy effervescence marks this outing. Even the supposed downers, like the Chinese folksong “Takeda (Homesick Blues)” or “Shirim Ad Kan,” based on a poem by an Israeli father who lost his son in war, bristle with a beauty of bittersweet pining. The Indonesian folk tune “Gambang Suling” has Etkin’s sinuous horn line wending around Waits’ playfully clopping beats. And Etkin’s seven originals range from the expertly calibrated array of tempos that comprise “Tony’s Dance” to his peek-a-boo-simple duet with Allison on the children’s song “All I Really Want to Do Is Dance!”
Etkin doesn’t omit New Orleans from his travelogue. The Yiddish melody “Der Gasn Nign” gets pulled into the vicinity of St. James Infirmary by his clarinet, and he closes the disc with the Louis Armstrong homage “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South.”
Perhaps we should expect a disc entitled Gathering Light to be lighthearted, but the sense of illumination and unburdened goodwill imparted on these 11 songs is still potent enough to continually provoke pleasant surprise.