Daniel Ori and Oz Noy at Jazz Showcase, Feb. 1
Among the notable contingent of Israeli-born jazz artists on the U.S. scene, the guitarist Oz Noy stands out, and not just for his impossibly compact (and seemingly fictional) given name. Along with the Israeli musicians who power the Chicago band Marbin, Noy displays a predilection for latter-day fusion. He gives it full rein and a pop spin on all his albums, from Ha! (2005) to Twisted Blues Volume One (his most recent). Those albums stand apart from another prevalent strain of Israeli jazz, the one exemplified by bassist Daniel Ori on last year’s Emuna – a primarily acoustic setting for compositions reminiscent of Israeli folk melodies, which in turn draw on ancient Hebrew modes and melodies still hear in modern synagogues. But the quintet on Emuna nonetheless includes Noy, who neatly turns down both the volume and the histrionics to fit into Ori’s music.
A local version of Ori’s band, with the inclusion of Noy, plays Friday at the Jazz Showcase, with sets at 8 and 10; it’s part of the third annual Blujazz Records Showcase, which this year grew from four to six nights of presenting artists on the local Blujazz label. (The week began with the fine Milwaukee saxist Curt Hanrahan’s band, followed by a CD-release show from saxist Shelley Yoellin’s Chicago-based sextet; Thursday night features guitarist Paul Kogut, celebrating last year’s Blujazz release Turn Of Phrase, which made my list of the year’s Top 25 albums.)
With their echoes of Judaic themes and a fair amount of vamp-based improvising, Ori’s tunes relate to but stand apart from the standard jazz repertoire; they travel a path analogous to those of bassist Avishai Cohen, who introduced American audiences to this brand of Israeli jazz with his own albums some 15 years ago. On Emuna, there’s a more direct connection as well: the disc leans heavily on keyboard work from former Chicagoan Sam Barsh – who played briefly in Avishai Cohen’s trio.
Friday, that role is filled by Greg Spero, the local piano powerhouse recently named “Best Jazz Entertainer” in the Chicago Music Awards; the band will also feature Chicagoans Alex Beltran on tenor and Ben Scholz on drums. By the time they take the stage, these musicians should be well attuned to each other. Ori, Spero, Beltran, and Scholz (along with trumpeter James Davis) will have spent much of Thursday in the studio, recording the debut album of Scholz’s “heavy fusion” band The ElecTet, with Noy’s overdubbed guitar parts added later, for a planned summer release.
The Blujazz Records Showcase continues Saturday night a rare visit by the hyper-expressive Austrian trombonist Paul Zauner, who maintains a more mainstream exuberance with his group Blue Brass, and the local debut of vocalist Mansur Scott, whose 2011 album Sometimes Forgotten, Sometimes Remembered is now distributed by Blujazz. (To my ears, Scott takes “exuberance” a little too far and straight off the rails; if you can imagine Leon Thomas on steroids, you’ll know what you’re in for.) Zauner and Scott return Sunday for the 4 PM matinee; Blujazz Week concludes Sunday night with a band led by Belgian-born, Boston-based fusion-funk drummer Zeke Martin (as yet unheard by this writer, sorry).
by Neil Tesser