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Omer Avital: New Song

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Omer Avital’s New Song picks up where his marvelous Suite of the East left off two years ago, with more of the rich mix of modern jazz and the music of his multicultural roots that the bassist-composer thrives on. The core quintet has changed slightly, with Yonathan Avishai taking over for Omer Klein on piano but Avishai Cohen, Joel Frahm and Daniel Freedman remaining on trumpet, tenor sax and drums, respectively. The music, again, is fresh, sophisticated, authentic and-something that can’t always be counted on accompanying those other qualities-great fun to listen to.

The set includes impressive nods toward the home countries of each of Avital’s parents, in “Maroc” and “Yemen Suite” (Avital himself was born and reared in Israel), and three satisfying slower numbers, “Avishkes,” “Ballad for a Friend” and the title track. “New Middle East” starts off slowly as well, via Cohen’s piano, before picking up steam as the horns kick in. “Bedouin Roots” lopes along, suggesting a camel caravan, its charge provided by shifts in dynamics and strong trumpet and piano solos. But the album at its most characteristic is energetic and danceable, an organic blend of North African and Middle Eastern influences with hard-bop-flavored jazz. “Sabah El-Kheir (Good Morning)” is a standout in that vein, featuring rapturously gutbucket blowing by Frahm; “Tsafdina” has some rapid-fire work from Cohen toward the end; and the opening “Hafla” is a soaring, expectation-swelling introduction to what will follow. The album ends, as did Avital’s earlier Live at Smalls, with the slow, bluesy “Small Time Shit,” the musicians going out chanting the title as a refrain.

Avital’s melodies, as a rule, are remarkably singable. More power to him if his big-hearted music compels listeners to sing or dance along.

Originally Published