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Bassist's world view hits suite spot

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Jazz is an open art form for bassist and bandleader Omer Avital, and he feels his mixture of jazz and world music doesn't need to be labelled.

"For me there is not much difference between the styles, since I know and feel both worlds," says the New York-based, Israeli-born musician whose quintet performs here Nov. 19 as part of the Tarbut Festival of Jewish Culture.

"By definition, I guess my music could be called jazz since jazz is the way I became a serious musician, and also my band is made of jazz musicians, which means that all of us know the tradition -- the body of work of all the greats which we share and the language of the music -- and that's how we communicate musically," Avital says before heading out on a tour that includes stops in Jerusalem and Taichung, Taiwan.

"It is an incredible band, indeed."

He's right about the band, of course. Avital, which includes saxophonists Greg Tardy and Eli Degibri, pianist Yonatan Avishai and drummer Daniel Freedman, promise an excellent jazz show, whatever elements the music contains and whatever you call it.

It's like Duke Ellington says: There are two kinds of music, good and bad. These guys are good.

As Avital adds: "Jazz has always been a pretty open art form and culture which welcomed new traditions and elements into itself, so for me what I'm doing is pretty much a continuation of this great and vast tradition.

"For me it's about the quality and feeling of the music and not the genre. I noticed that people love good music that makes them feel something inside. Each tradition has its own special qualities and people have their own preferences. I've played swinging jazz concerts where people were super-enthusiastic to hear some swing and blues and I've played some Middle Eastern concerts where people loved the grooves and the feeling, as well. As a musician I focus on creating the best music I can create in each concert," the bassist says.

For its Winnipeg show, Avital's band will perform music from his latest recording, Suite of the East, and new music recorded last summer in Paris for a 2014 release.

"The set includes only my own compositions but all the band members are great composers on their own right. Their interpretation is highly important to me and they get to have a lot of freedom on the bandstand. I also believe that jazz composition should always involve the players and I try to write and fit my material as much as possible for whoever is playing with me," Avital adds.

"I studied a few traditions in my life so far. I started as a classical guitarist playing European art music as a kid, then continued to serious studies of jazz and the traditions of swing and blues and eventually studied Middle Eastern and North African music on a professional level. In my own music as a composer/band leader, I think I use all of these traditions and elements from those genres, but I'm pretty sure my overview, or point of view, so to speak, is that of a jazz musician.

"In other words, the concept and life philosophies of people such as Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, etc., are what influenced me the most in creating my own artistic concept and view of music and the world around us. Yet at the same time, a lot of the feeling and sensations I get in my music come from my background and my history and my heritage, which is Middle Eastern and North African," says Avital.

Avital will also hold a master class, Nov. 18 at the University of Manitoba jazz studies program in the faculty of music annex at 3 p.m.

The following day, the Omer Avital Quintet performs in the Berney Theatre at the Rady Jewish Community Centre at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $38, $35 for members and $20 for limited student seats at www.radyjcc.com and 204-477-7510.

The Tarbut festival -- which features music, film and authors from Nov. 16 to 24 -- includes the show In Tribute to Barbra Streisand headlined by Winnipeg singer Heitha Forsyth, Nov. 16, with local musicians Will Bonness (piano), Karl Kohut (bass), Rob Siwik (drums), Paul Balcain (tenor sax), Andrew Littleford (trumpet), Todd Martin (mellophone and flugelhorn), Kristopher Ulrich (guitar) and backup vocalists David Grenon, Brooke Wylie and Joanna Majoko.

 

chris.smith@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 12, 2013 D3

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