Saturday, October 15, 2011

Omer Avital - Free Forever (Smalls 2011)

Omer Avital (bass)
Avishai Cohen (trumpet)
Joel Frahm (tenor sax)
Ferenc Nemeth (drums)
Jason Lindner (piano)

There is something special about Omer Avital, and while much has been written about him saying as much, there is, well, more. There's a reason we call him "maestro," and that has to do with his complete mastery of the musical experience from top to bottom. In this recording, you will be treated to what I would call 'the perfect set' from the Panic Jazz Club in Marostica Italy, on April 18th, 2007.

It also has to do with the Avital's concept of "freedom." In the years I've known Avital, I've heard him use that word a lot in connection with his music, and I think it is a theme of central importance. He craves freedom, finds freedom in his music, and his music speaks of freedom. Each musical outing is a journey, but with the path undetermined at the outset. This is true of jazz in general. But in Avital's case, I do believe that he takes the idea of the journey consciously into the process. The journey is far ranging, fluid in form, and represents in many ways the development of a character as in a narrative, and is suggestive of epic themes: a journey for the seeker, a journey for the explorer, a journey to manhood, to fatherhood. Each soloist is accorded the maximum amount of freedom by the accompaniment, here in the form of fluid time, dynamics, and instrumental form, all used as a kind of narrative.

The story starts with all original compositions, composed in many respects for the very people who are performing them, and composed to be performed in the sequence they are performed in. Then we of course have Lindner, Frahm, and Cohen, who have performed with Avital for nearly fifteen years in every conceivable setting. [Nemeth, a later addition to this fabled drum chair, adds his name to the list of greats who occupied it before him.] You might think of this as a dramatic ensemble and Avital the dramaturg. The characters emerge one by one to tell their stories, and the music weaves their narratives together. After years of work, they are fluid story tellers. This set sweeps you out to sea, where you get tossed by the waves, and then ultimately deposited, whole, back on shore.

One further critical note. In contemporary music, the tendency towards eclecticism is inevitable in a world where the entire history of the world's music is available with a few clicks. The temptation to borrow forms from this far ranging corpus and to recombine them into new things is irresistible. But few really do succeed in achieving the promise of this new aesthetic, because they lack the essential element of synthesis that would make these musical experiments greater than the sum of their parts. But here, the narrative elements create a synthesis that binds the borrowed elements thematically together as a part of a storytelling. This is where Avital sets himself apart from the rest.