Recorded live at New York’s Fat Cat, sister club of Smalls, Gilad Hekselman’s SplitLife (Smalls Records) is everything one could hope for in a debut release. The Israeli-born guitarist shows maturity beyond his years, playing standards and originals with Joe Martin on bass and Ari Hoenig on drums. In terms of time feel, technique, tone projection and linear and chordal sophistication, Hekselman is clearly poised to reach the highest ranks on his instrument.
The first two cuts give one a good idea of Hekselman’s range as a composer: “Purim” is lilting and boundlessly melodic, its trainlike rhythm powered by Hoenig’s fine brushwork; “Hello Who Is It?” moves into harder-swinging territory with a complex head that brings to mind Metheny (via Ornette). Three more originals—“The Summer of Laughs and Tears,” the samba-informed “Suite for Sweets” and a ballad called “Breathless”—also speak to Hekselman’s formal inventiveness and tuneful clarity. With “My Ideal,” “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” “I Should Care” and Ornette Coleman’s “When Will the Blues Leave,” he articulates a playful and personal take on blues and standard repertoire. “My Second Childhood,” by Israeli songwriter Matti Caspi, closes the set in minor-key reverie, expertly enhanced by Hoenig on mallets.