Sunday, December 16, 2012

Review: Opus One - Shauli Einav

Concluding our Hanukkah/Israeli saxophonist extravaganza (which began with Eli Degibri’s Israeli Song), this time we’ll focus on Shauli Einav’s recording, Opus One.  The opening tune, “Jerusalem Theme,” begins with some in-tandem improvisation by Einav (on tenor sax) and trombonist Andy Hunter, backed by a bouncy ostinato from pianist Shai Maestro.  The tune has a dual personality, beginning as a pretty, minor-key jazz waltz that eventually moves into a 4/4 swing section.  Einav’s solo shows him to be a thoughtful improviser with a refreshing, compositional style of playing.  His tone on the tenor sax is well-controlled, but it strikes me as a little thin.  After Einav’s solo, Maestro plays a pretty synthesizer solo, his keyboard tuned like the synthesizer in the Emerson, Lake, and Palmer tune, “From the Beginning.”  He accompanies himself with one hand on the piano, then finishes his turn in the spotlight by playing the piano alone.  Einav and Hunter play the melody and add some dual improvising to close out the cut.

“Kavana” is an upper mid-tempo, post-bop tune with an Israeli flavor.  Einav plays a nice tenor solo.  Hunter plays a solid, lyrical solo; he’s clearly more interested in producing a coherent musical statement than in pushing the boundaries of his instrument.  Maestro plays a lyrical solo that also has plenty of technical flash, including fast runs and lines played in unison octaves.  Einav warms up his tone on tenor a bit for the lower mid-tempo ballad, “Naama,” playing the melody again in tandem with Hunter.  Einav’s solo is airy, pretty, and romantic.  Maestro and Hunter get in nice solos of their own. 

“The Damelin” is a clever, mid-tempo, later Jazz Messengers-type tune.  Hunter starts off the soloing with a solid, swinging effort.  Einav plays an engaging tenor solo with hints of Wayne Shorter.  Maestro’s solo is both driving and elegant.  He moves into a repeated figure behind which drummer Jonathan Blake makes his own forceful and graceful statement.  Maestro starts off “Hayu Leilot” with a Chick Corea-ish reverb-y electric piano.  Tenor and trombone join the piano with a slow melody, then a slightly funky groove kicks in with the band in 7/4 time, tenor and trombone playing the melody, again with an Israeli flavor, in counterpoint.  Einav plays a smart, compositional solo with especially strong accompaniment from Maestro.  Hunter responds well to the funky feeling of the tune and stretches out, constructing a fine solo.  After a statement of the melody, piano and bass provide an ostinato and Blake again dances a solo under it, before Einav and Hunter play the melody to close out the cut.

“Interlude” is a brief, improvisation-less piece with Einav on both tenor and soprano parts, along with Hunter and Joseph Lepore on bass--a pretty, chamber jazz composition with both quick and slow sections.  (“Interlude” reminds me a bit of Chick Corea’s “Children’s Songs,” which Corea used to as interludes between his longer pieces on his “Light as a Feather” and “Friends” recordings.)  “New Era Ballad” is a slow, march-like piece, Hunter in unison on the melody with Einev on soprano sax.  This leads to a gentle bass solo from Lepore with quiet accompaniment from piano and drums.  Einev displays a pretty soprano sound in his solo, with strong accompaniment again from Maestro, though the improvisation itself seems a bit aimless.

“Shavuot” has a bouncy, tricky theme, a bit like Neal Hefti’s“Repetition,” with some interesting harmonic complexity.  Einav’s soprano sax solo is ear-catching, but again, somewhat aimless.  Hunter plays a deft, logical solo.  The recording ends with “Coda,” another lovely chamber-jazz piece with Einav on both tenor and soprano, plus trombone and bass, but no improvisation.  (This piece reminds me of David Amram’s lovely, haunting theme for the movie, the Manchurian Candidate.)

Opus One is a collection of very good music, with interesting compositions and strong improvisations.  Einav manages a lot of variety in his tunes, but each tune has a touch of an Israeli feeling, which is effective and refreshing.  Einav is an accomplished saxophonist, though his sound on tenor is not as full as I would like, and his improvisations are a little lacking in logical development.  From a bird’s-eye view, the music on this recording is strong, and I think this is Einav’s primary concern, but looking at individual saxophone solos, those who see things through saxophone-colored glasses, such as myself, might wish for a bit more.  But Opus One indicates that Einav is a formidable musician and composer, well worth watching in the future.

To get an idea of what Opus One is about, here is the entire first cut of the recording, "Jerusalem Theme," complements of YouTube.

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