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Omer Klein: Rockets on the Balcony

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Dread and beauty coexist on Israeli-born pianist Omer Klein’s third disc, a musical voyage replete with both Weltschmerz and chutzpah. The haunting cover image-“Rockets,” by Israeli artist Dafna Ilan-merges glimpses of Berlin in the 1930s and a contemporary Tel Aviv boulevard. In the spirit of the picture, Klein’s work blends Jewish folksong with contemporary dynamism and a technical command grounded in the classics.

The title cut is a tone poem about apprehension, as percussionist Ziv Ravitz lays a skeletal bed for bassist Haggai Cohen Milo and the stealthy Klein to flesh out. The tune is eerie and far less straightforward than the more ebullient music that surrounds it. “Rockets” becomes a conversation dominated by Milo’s bowed, high-collared sonorities; its is the sound of a world coming unhinged. After that creaky beginning, it gives way to a gentle waltz, replicating the descending minor figure that crept in at the start. Klein’s touch is gossamer here, but insistent. It helps to know that he wrote this on a hot summer night in 2006, on a Tel Aviv balcony, during the war between Lebanon and Israel.

While this is a piano-trio CD, Klein’s piano doesn’t always dominate. True, he wrote all the pieces, but Klein gives Milo free rein on bass and kalimba. (For Milo’s style at its spriteliest, try “Hope.”) Ravitz is so driving, his highly textured rhythms dovetail perfectly with Klein’s explorations. Other noteworthy cuts include the florid, sexy “Espana,” the shimmering, cautious “Shining Through Broken Glass” (with Klein on Fender Rhodes), the swaggering “Baghdad Blues,” the ebullient “The Wedding Song” (Middle Eastern disco for the end of the world) and “Heidad,” a happy skirl featuring Ravitz’s most entertaining drumming.

That Klein has technique to burn is obvious. That he deeply feels what he’s writing comes through even during a composition as rueful as the title track. He’s pushing envelopes ethnic and musical here. Stretch your ears to meet Omer Klein.

Originally Published