“Israeli Mingus” bassist Omer Avital, to use Vincent Bessières’ phrase, of Yemenite/Moroccan heritage, was a part of the strong Smalls scene in the 1990s in New York and is found here with trumpeter Avishai Cohen, tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm, pianist Yonathan Avishai, and drummer Daniel Freedman joining him on an album full of original Avital material. Opening with the jaunty ‘Hafla’ pianist Yonathan Avishai setting the album up and Freedman cantering along before the horns repeat the heavily accented piano theme Avital riffing off the strong tide of the tune. Title track ‘New Song’ next has a joyous bass figure with some very 1960s tenor and trumpet pairings painting a tantalising sound picture without being too retro.
Recorded in France in July and August last year it’s immediately likeable modern-mainstream jazz built from the ground up from the Blue Note sound but with a certain imaginative middle eastern and north African variety added in, for instance on ‘Tsafdina’ with vocals from Mehdi Chaib who also features on later track ‘Maroc’, drawing out new flavours. Avital’s big solo well-in on ‘Avishkes’ has a gloriously gritty texture to it that tugs at the heartstrings and drummer Daniel Freedman knows how to up the ante adding a bit of drama for trumpeter Avishai Cohen to respond to.
‘Sabah El-Kheir (Good Morning)’ has a compelling duo routine between Avital and the pianist at the beginning, a nice touch at this point of the album, and Joel Frahm opens out into a sunny Joshua Redman-like soundspace on the ensuing solo. ‘New Middle East’ has a strongly folkloric strand, again with a handsome if slightly cheesy melody and indeed New Song has so much melodic resource it’s easy to land on a great tune at any given point. ‘Maroc’ opens with Avital setting the pace and trumpet pitted against drums and the leader’s bass moving on to inject some zip. By contrast ‘Ballad For A Friend’ has a liquid very beautiful piano-led intro and main theme that makes it the real highlight of the album in terms of the tunes based on strong emotion-laden material with a slight nostalgia to it that isn’t at all grating. ‘Bedouin Roots’ is a real dig-deep hard-riffing shoulder-swinger, again the rhythm section and horns knowing how to integrate well together and there is a band rapport that’s discernible throughout but especially here. ‘Yemen Suite’ is much more melancholic at first while the soulful ‘Small Time Shit’ at the end again has a great sense of unforced swing, Avital’s riff-making knack here shown at its best. Out now