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Oded Lev-Ari: Threading

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This disc’s title is appropriate in more ways than one. Melodic lines interweave in deft counterpoint, segueing into contrasting tempos and rhythmic patterns; the various instruments engage in a swirling dance, now one voice predominant, now another. Anat Cohen’s clarinet, Nadje Noordhuis’ trumpet and flugelhorn, Brian Landrus’ low-end reeds and Will Vinson’s alto and soprano saxophones are particularly notable, as is the steady but subtly shifting melodic base provided by pianist and leader Oded Lev-Ari, a Tel Aviv native now long based in New York.

The music itself also “weaves” aural portraits, limning landscapes of shifting images and colors, often darkened by brooding melancholy. The result may be a bit too stately and reserved to meet some definitions of “jazz,” but the jazz sensibility is nonetheless strong. On “Lost and Found,” blues and cool influences intermingle; Vinson and Landrus contribute solos that sound like a cross-generational/cross-genre summit meeting among Ben Webster, Lester Young and Paul Desmond, while Lev-Ari channels Brubeck and Ellington in turn. Two versions of the Gordon Jenkins standard “Goodbye” are offered, the first featuring vocals by Alan Hampton, who affects a gender-melding vulnerability reminiscent of Little Jimmy Scott. A full-bodied horn declamation helps keep bathos at bay, as does Cohen’s upward-bound clarinet solo on the second take.

“Voices,” after a solemn introduction, abruptly kicks up the intensity for several bars, then dissolves again into introspection and sparseness, featuring Levi-Ari’s piano in dialogue with clarinet and single-string guitar leads from Gilad Hekselman, at times forward-thrusting, at times almost stationary, but never lifeless. Hampton returns on “The Dance,” along with co-vocalist Jo Lawry, and some may find that track’s lyrics’ new-agey sentiments (“Let me fly … let me shout, let me feel”) to be cloying. The wordless interplay between Lawry and Vinson’s soprano sax sounds more fully realized and genuinely dramatic, as does the final vocal/instrumental counterpoint choir.

Originally Published