Born in Israel and primarily influenced by the music of Duke Ellington or Charles Mingus, composer and double bass player Omer Avital moved to New-York in 1992 where he became a regular at Greenwhich Village’s Smalls Jazz Club. Establishing himself as a sought-after sideman or leader, he has performed extensively with the emerging new jazz scene of the early 1990s, recording 9 solo albums to date.
Of Yemenite and Moroccan descent, the musician returned to the home soil in 2002 for the next three and a half years in an effort to reconnect with his musical roots. The move made a lasting impact on his music, culminating with the release of Suite of the East (recorded in 2006 and released in 2012) and more recently New Song (September 2014) on Motéma Music.
Learning to play the oud, studying Israeli folk songs and music, Middle-Eastern, North African themes and Arabic musical theory in parallel with European classical composition became a way for the musician to explore the underground historical and spiritual connections linking all these styles together.
Around that time also, Omer Avital cemented a long-lasting collaboration with fellow Israeli Avishai “The Trumpet Player” Cohen, Yonathan Avishai (piano) and New-York-born Daniel Freedman (drums), playing and composing as a co-leader on the newly formed Third World Love. Since 2002, the quartet has released 5 albums fusing Jazz with African and Middle-Eastern influences.
With the exact same line-up and joined by New-York-based and long-time collaborator Joel Frahm on tenor saxophone, New Song features 11 compositions by Omer Avital as a leader. Blending soulful ballads with hard bop and Afro-Cuban jazz, Omer Avital also assimilates traditional Yemenite or Eastern European Klezmer song and dance tunes into his compositions while Gnawa or Moroccan Berber rhythms resurface in several songs. At all times, the mood is celebratory, uplifting and ecstatic.
In Eastern music there’s a word we use: tarab. It’s the feeling of ecstasy. I often compare Arabic music to blues because it’s about feeling. If you don’t feel it, nothing has happened. You have to convey that essential feeling to your listener or you haven’t completed your task. This music is about the spirit just as jazz is about that feeling: to lift your soul or take you somewhere. Omer Avital – Downbeat – July 2013
That sense of elation is palpable on this extended and electrifying live version of “Tsafdina” (originally recorded on Third World Love’s 2006 Sketch of Tel Aviv) with all band members hitting on a trance-like groove, singing and dancing on stage to the bass-driven theme: