The steady stream of highly talented young jazz musicians continue to flow from Israel to New York. We've gone from Avishai Cohen to, uh, Avishai Cohen and everyone in between, like Amos Hoffman and Oz Noy. Earlier this week, we officially welcomed another Israeli musician into the fold as leading recording artists with the first widely distributed album led by tenor and soprano bop specialist Shauli Einav. Reflecting the big statements Einav sought to make as a first impression, he named this record Opus One.
This Arnie Lawrence protégé and grad of Eastman School of Music (Rochester, NY) had self-made and released a very limited distribution record a few years ago as a calling card to assist in getting gigs, but Opus One marks his first serious effort as a composer, bandleader, arranger and of course, saxophonist. To highlight himself as both a tenor and soprano saxophonist, he devoted the first two thirds of the CD for tracks featuring his tenor and the remainder led by his soprano, with abridging track ("Interlude") that has one horn overdubbed over the other one.
Joining Einav are guys he chose for his high comfort level with them: the pianist Shai Maestro had been friends with Einav since they were teenagers back in Israel (Maestro previously made quite an impression as a member of Avishai Cohen Trio on Gently Disturbed). Joining the two are Andy Hunter (trombone) and Jonathan Blake (drums). It's an ensmeble that's perfect for getting out the deep harmonics of Einav's compositions while staying small enough to be agile.
Most of the songs he had written for this proper debut relate in some way to Einav's native Israel, but isn't necessarily a record of Isreali jazz or anything klezmer-ish. While some of the music reminds me of my homeland," affirms Einav,"I don't see this as an Israeli album, it's just music per se." Within the realm of post-bop, he takes the listener through of variety of complexions.
This ever-changing temperament of the album keeps it from falling into the doldrums, as some records do when each track sounds too alike. Jeruselem Theme" takes different directions rhythmically while staying in a 4/4 time, and Einav announces his alto-like tenor language that i sensitive and articulate. Maestro plays a moog-like synthesizer on his solo which, believe it or not, doesn't dampen the boppish mood of the some at all. Even more charged is Kavana," which swings hard and fast, and Einav confidently tosses out setups and resolutions in his improvising. The Damelin," written about a fallen friend, reminds me a lot of some of Joe Henderson's unusual devices he'd use in his own compositions, such as odd measures in the head and varied root motion on songs like Punjab." That's some pretty sophisticated harmonic development even by today's standards, and Einav seems to have it mastered. Naama" is a little like Trane's Naima" more also evident of the bluesy ballad style of Wayne Shorter. Both Maestro (on acoustic piano) and Hunter supply thoughtful, endearing solos.
Hayu Leilot" is a heavily reworked standard in Israel from the 40s, and Einav even inserts a little influence from Jamiroquai (most notable in Meastro's use of a Rhodes), but with the modern jazz sensibilities of Jason Lindner and Chris Potter. The Middle Eastern strain strain remains evident in the song, however. On the soprano side, Shavuot" is the highlight. it's based on Israeli folk dance music, and Einav's elfin straight horn dances through three time signatures and a barrage of chordal ascents and descents.
Shauli Einav strived for his formal debut record to have sophisticated compositions but also to make them as melodic and memorable as I could." that, combined with sympathetic performances from everyone involved make Opus One a very strong first step forward. There's always room for improvement from an initial effort, but it's hard to find where Einav can improve much from this solid and likeable album.
Opus One, from Plus Loin Music, his the streets January 11.