Omer Avital can instigate a band like few bass players. He has quietly become an important bassist-bandleader in the tradition of Charles Mingus and Dave Holland. Avishai Cohen, with his tantalizing tart tone and well-formed fresh ideas, may be the most underrated trumpet player in jazz. They are two of the co-leaders here. The other essential members of this collective are pianist Yonatan Avishai and drummer Daniel Freedman. All except Freedman are originally from Israel.
Songs and Portraits is the fifth album by Third World Love. The press notes claim that the band has rock star status in Israel and routinely plays for 1,000-plus crowds that turn their concerts into raucous dance parties. No wonder. This music twitches and throbs with a life force that draws on diverse sources: Africa, Arabia, rock ‘n’ roll. Infectious, supple global grooves underlie bittersweet original melodies contributed by all four members of the band.
The music of Avital and Cohen has grown more explicitly ethnic over the years, more deeply rooted in their Middle Eastern backgrounds. The paradox of Songs and Portraits is that, for all its exotic flavorings, it is one of the jazziest albums that either has made. It is fierce with a fire that only occurs when jazz improvisers burn. These piquant, singable tunes spin off solo after killing solo. Cohen’s elaboration of his “Song for a Dying Country” is a long, involved, passionate ascent. Avital’s two-minute unaccompanied introduction to his “Sefarad” is hypnotic and complete. Avishai’s response to Freedman’s ballad for his infant daughter, “Alona,” is fervent and poetic and personal.
Third World Love is unique. They play intellectual party music, physical enough to make you want to shake your ass. And they play pieces like Avital’s “The Immigrant’s Anthem,” sad enough to pierce your heart.