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The Omer Avital Group: Asking No Permission

This album, recorded live at Smalls in Greenwich Village in 1996 but not released until now, demonstrates that the Omer Avital Group was one of the strongest ensembles of its decade.

Avital’s instrumentation seems like a brilliant stroke, opening fresh opportunities in group form. (It is Avital, bass; Ali Jackson, drums; Mark Turner, Gregory Tardy, Charles Owens, tenor saxophone; Myron Walden, alto saxophone.) It turns out that there were just too many good saxophone players hanging around Smalls, and the piano player didn’t show for the first gig.

Avital is a passionately communicative bassist, but, like Mingus, his real instrument is his band. His compositions range from retro swing to free modal. His arrangements give his sextet the close-harmony layered textures of a little big band. He incites brilliant soloing. Tardy’s statement on the secular gospel anthem “Kentucky Girl” is a slow climb into keening catharsis and back again. Turner’s lines on “Devil Head” and “The Field” are long and elegant, threaten to break apart, but don’t. On “Lullaby of the Leaves,” Avital’s wrung, strummed solo kicks loose strangulated musical wails from Walden.

But Avital’s music incorporates blowing into detailed designs, wherein airy counterpoint might suddenly whisper in behind a shrieking soloist. The rewards are in the complex relationships between form and freedom.

Smalls plans to release three more volumes of this music. If they are all this good, the series will be epic.

Originally Published