Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Omer Avital - Asking No Permission (Smalls, 2006)

Bassist Omer Avital was one of the leading composers and instrumentalists of the progressive mainstream jazz movement that gathered at the Harlem nightclub Smalls in the mid-1990's. He always seemed to be on the cusp of stardom especially after the Impulse! Label picked up a few of his compositions for a compilation documenting the Smalls scene. Alas, it wasn't meant to be and only now is some of the music made during the Smalls scene heyday being released. This is the first of four planned volumes documenting Avital's group with Ali Jackson (drums), Mark Turner (tenor sax), Gregory Tardy (tenor sax, flute), Myron Walden (alto sax) and Charles Owens (tenor sax).

"Know What I Mean" kicks off the performance with a confident tenor saxophone solo using some overblowing and the band riffing along while the bass and drums urge a fast tempo. The band improvises smoothly together in this high-intensity live format. "Lullaby of the Leaves" begins with a melody that recalls Charles Mingus before moving into a light and delicate ballad. "Devil's Head" features some heated solos from the horns while the bass and drums anchor the band. The final two compositions, "Kentucky Girl" and "The Field" really drive the Mingus comparisons home, not only because the leader is a bass playing composer, but because the layered atmosphere evoked by the music recalls the multiple layers of the great man's own music. This is a good start for the series, showing the band in a comfortable hothouse environment making truly in-the-moment music.

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