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Issi Rozen: Dark Beauty

In the same way that the title of Issi Rozen’s latest release, Dark Beauty (New Step), conjures somewhat contradictory images, his often sparse and moody music-which benefits from the contributions of pianist Gilad Barkan, bassist Thomson Kneeland and drummer Harvey Wirht-fills the senses with rich sounds, a melding of exotic influences. Born in Israel and now living in the Boston area, Rozen writes and improvises music with the spirit and approach of jazz but with decidedly Middle Eastern overtones. It’s not klezmer by any stretch, but rather postbop in character and very hip. Rozen’s music owes much to the mutual sympathy of its participants. With Barkan tastefully feeding chords, Kneeland filling out the low end of the spectrum (sometimes going arco) and Wirht’s expansive low-register drumming, the music roils beneath Rozen’s clear tone and expressive lines. Cases in point include “Sheharhoret,” a dark-sounding beauty in itself, “Maya’s Blues,” with its subtle chromaticism, and “Inspiration,” an extended ballad. The only cover is Charlie Parker’s “Segment,” which nonetheless receives an intriguing reading. While Rozen’s playing is frequently inspired and seamless most of the time, his phrasing is occasionally a bit hesitant as if he were momentarily wondering where to go. That small drawback aside, when his playing is working right, it’s a thing of, well, dark beauty.

Originally Published