If Avram Fefer is a new name to you, you are not alone. His new album is so good it should make us all embarrassed to have missed him.
Fefer’s primary affiliation is the avant-garde, but he is an atypical outcat. Juba Lee is his second release with a quartet that was formed when guitarist Marc Ribot joined Fefer’s longstanding trio with bassist Eric Revis and drummer Chad Taylor. The opening track, “Showtime,” a basic, rousing anthem, sounds like a song by a bebopper until Fefer blows it up with his blasting, guttural solo. He is a commanding, implacable, exhilarating tenor saxophonist.
He also kills on alto. “Love Is in the Air” is a ballad, one of the most searing and raw you will ever hear. Over Taylor’s relentless drum disturbances, Fefer slowly ascends from heartfelt calls to shrieking catharsis, then subsides.
Throughout, Fefer’s stealth weapon is Ribot, who segues seamlessly between inside and outside. Whenever Ribot joins an ensemble as a sideman, whether Diana Krall’s or Fefer’s, he always adopts its aesthetic, then pushes it.
“Sweet Fifteen (for G.T.)” is an elegy for Fefer’s close friend, the musician and writer Greg Tate, who died in 2021. It is in 15/8, with Fefer on bass clarinet and Ribot on acoustic guitar. Unexpectedly, it stays rapt and inward. But it never sounds merely sad. It operates in a domain you don’t expect Fefer to know about: peacefulness and acceptance.
The showstopper is “Bedouin Dream.” Its twitching, snaking progress is driven by Revis’ insidious ostinato. It is hypnotic and addictive. Joined at the hip in unison, Fefer and Ribot burn the melody into the air, then they separate and trade incitements. If the world were a perfect place of justice and meritocracy, “Bedouin Dream” would make them both famous.