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Musical celebration knows no boundaries

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The Omer Avital Quintet doesn't just perform music onstage -- it celebrates.

Bassist Avital is constantly in motion -- nodding his head to the music, dancing, encouraging his bandmates -- and a huge smile rarely leaves his face. He's a man who unabashedly revels in making music alongside saxophonists Eli Degibri and Greg Tardy, pianist Yonatan Avishai and drummer Daniel Freedman.

The band is also like a train (a Blue Train, if you will) -- once it gets going, there is no stopping it, so just hop on and enjoy the ride. In fact, the band played without an intermission; a move that kept the momentum going and the musicians hot.

Israeli-born, New York-based Avital's mix of jazz and world music, especially Middle Eastern sounds, was a wonderful, raucous affair. That mix may have been best illustrated with an old Yemini tune Avital arranged into a hip jazz tune, combining Middle Eastern motifs with a good, old-school blowing session for a hybrid that made sense -- and great music -- no matter where it came from or what you call it.

Avital kicked off the concert with the high-energy Free Forever off his most recent album, Suite of the East, which featured a delightful piano-bass exchange and some riotous horn playing with Tardy on tenor sax and Degibri on soprano (think latter-day Coltrane if he'd come from Tel Aviv).

Avital's composition, Song For Amos, has been in the repertoire for about 20 years when these musicians first began playing together at the New York club, Small's. Avishai opened the tune with a terrific extended solo, turned the spotlight over to Degibri for a great tenor workout, and left plenty of room for Avital to dig deep, very deep, for a splendid bass solo.

On Song for Peace, Degibri was like a man possessed during a soaring soprano solo, the piano solo took the music outside the mainstream as the musicians egged Avishai on, and if the ensemble play seemed like a free-for-all at times, it all came together in a crowd-pleaser of a tune.

Avital took an extended unaccompanied solo on Good Morning, from his forthcoming album set to be released this winter -- an engaging solo full of ideas -- before Tardy let loose with a fantastic tenor explosion.

Drummer Freedman fuelled the band with his ensemble playing, strong solos and by calling encouragement to the others. His skill and enthusiasm were huge assets to the band's sound.

It may be a festival of Jewish culture, but Avital's band proved the boundaries are flexible, if they exist: good music and musicians are just that.

The Tarbut Festival of music, film, authors and art runs until Nov. 24. Ticket information is at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 21, 2013 C6

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