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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Latest Releases of Israeli Saxophonist Albert Beger and Double Bass Player Shay Hazan

Israeli sax hero Albert Beger and double bass player Shay Hazan are soul mates. The 30 years age difference between Beger, born in 1959, the mentor and teacher of Hazan, born in 1989, is totally erased when the two play together, in a duo or in their respective groups. Here are the latest releases from Beger and Hazan.

Ehran Elisha / Albert Beger / Dave Phillips - Heads (CIMP, 2018) ****

Every summer since 2010, drummer-educator Ehran Elisha, a disciple of drummer Ed Blackwell and close collaborator of trumpeter Roy Campbell, comes for a family vacation in Israel and spends much of it in free-improvised performances with local sax hero Albert Beger. In September 2012, Beger came to visit Elisha in New York, and after two rehearsals with double bass player Dave Phillips, the three headed to upstate New York to record at CIMP’s Spirit Room. The first volume of two, Heads, was recorded on the Jewish New Year Holiday, Rosh HaShana (Rosh, in Hebrew means literally is head). It will, hopefully, followed soon by the second volume of this session, Tales.

The trio interplay is that of a long-standing outfit. The trio does justice to one of Beger’s most beautiful and touching compositions, the ballad “The Way To Go”, dedicated to his late mother, originally recorded on Beger's trio album by the same name (Jazzis, 2014). The central piece is Elisha’s four-part homage to another mentor of his, "Trio Suite: for Milford Graves". This suite is a series of imaginative impressions that solidifies the cumulative, spiritual energy of this trio and its deep understanding of Graves' vision. Elisha navigates the trio between ecstatic, cathartic eruptions and lyrical, touching themes, always shaping the rhythmic layers and keeps challenging Beger and Phillips. Beger flies high with such rhythmic support and Phillips knows how to articulate his own rhythmic conception within Elisha’s powerful one. All this energy crystallizes in the final part of the suite, “The Motion Movement” where the trio forms an massive, polyrhythmic pulse that gains more and more emotional power. Phillips’ lyrical, gentle “Filomene” concludes this impressive recording.

Albert Beger / Shay Hazan - Black Mynah (Creative Sources, 2017) ***1/2

The Beger-Hazan debut recording as a duo focuses on a program of improvised pieces, recorded at Mishkenot Sha'ananim Studio, Jerusalem in January 2017. The atmosphere of Black Mynah is totally different from the urgent, dense one of Beger’s outfits or recordings. Beger and Hazan opt for a emotional and gentle form of improvisation, always focused on searching the melodic essence of the improvisations. Often this duo sounds like a local version of an ECM release, contemplative and lyrical, but with a warmer sound.

Beger’s tenor sax on Hazan’s chamber “Cycles” and the free-improvised, title-piece sounds as paying homage to to the the leisured tone of his hero, Lester Young, and even brings to mind the singing voice of early Jan Garbarek. Hazan stresses the dark, melancholic spirit of these pieces with remarkable, reserved bowing of the bass. Beger sings again with his rarely-played bass clarinet on “The Frog Dance” and even dances around the hypnotic, North-African pulse of Hazan’s guimbri on “Ritual”.

Shay Hazan Quintet - Domestic Peace (OutNow Recordings, 2018) ****

The Quintet is the main musical vehicle of Hazan's in recent years, featuring Hazan’s close friends - trumpeter Tal Avraham, tenor sax player Eyal Netzer, pianist Milton Michaeli, who also plays in Beger’s quartet, and drummer Haim Peskoff, another disciple of Milford Graves. The quintet performed tirelessly before recording its debut album at Tel Aviv’s Levontin 7 club in January 2018. The title, Domestic Peace, reflects many Israelis existential fear of the coming future, just by “looking outside a window one occasionally wonders what will happen next?”

Hazan's music is rooted in the spiritual, free jazz of the sixties with strong influences of the hypnotic grooves of North-African gnawa music. He knows how to employ the distinct voices of his comrades, and the quintet often sounds much bigger than just five musicians. The album begins with the elegiac, touching homage to Hazan’s friend who was murdered in a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv two years ago, “New Year’s Eve”. Domestic Peace is concludes with the joyful, anthem worthy groove of “Who Owns MUSIC?”, that brings to mind Hazan's love of William Parker ensembles and South African free jazz - especially of Chris McGregor’s Blue Notes and Brotherhood of Breath.

The main piece, the two-parts suite “Hybrus”, is an angry and urgent statement about Israel’s current political atmosphere, captured in the voice of racist member of Parliament, Oren Hazan (no family relation), who wishes to deport African refugees from Tel Aviv back to the “black continent”. Shay Hazan offers an alternative vision to the one of the despicable politician, a compassionate and all embracing vision that welcomes and feeds on the diversity of colors and cultures. Eventually this impressive composition challenges the supremacist hubris of the politician and asks if the Hebrews/Hybrus are so different from these Africans refugees or why we can not share the same, common ground. The quintet delivers Hazan humane vision with poetic passion, graceful elegance and lyrical power. Hazan adds that the performances of this composition trigger many insightful talks with the audiences.

Shay Hazan - Good Morning Universe (No Business Records, 2018) ***½

The 10" EP vinyl Good Morning Universe features an ad-hoc double trio - Beger and Netzer on tenor saxes, Hazan and bass player Nadav Masel, who plays here the custom-made 5-stringed cello called Hamsa, and drummers Peskoff and Ofer Bymel. This sextet was recorded at the Levontin 7 club in Tel Aviv on February 2017.

Hazan’s four compositions offer different strategies for free-improvisation based on complex, layered rhythmic patterns. The first, passionate “Densho” (in Japanese: to pass to the next generation) begins with Beger and Netzer sketching a brief melodic theme but allowing the expanded rhythm section to keep shaping and shifting the restless pulse, before they all gravitate towards a powerful coda.  

“Compassion” offers a similar kind of loose interplay but this time rooted in a lyrical theme. The second side begins with “Courtesy”, where the intimate, talkative saxes of Beger and Netzer lead the sextet with a searching, chamber improvisation. Only on the last piece “Hope” the double trio builds a playful, burning groove.

Gal Atzur Trio (OutNow Recordings, 2018) ***

Alto sax player and painter Gal Atzur is influenced by the American fiery free-jazz of the late sixties and idolizes iconic sax players such as Albert Ayler, Charles Gayle and Joe McPhee. His free-improvised performances are based on instantaneous, burning energy. He began his musical career as a guitarist who played noise and metal music, but switched to jazz, studied under the guidance of Beger and later was mentored by another local sax hero, Assif Tsahar, who joins him in his new quintet.

His debut album, featuring Hazan and Bymel, focuses on Atzur’s strength - his boundless energy, which is often also his weakness. Most of Atzur compositions, all titled after colors, burst with immediate, powerful intensity, often also with a violent sense of urgency. These pieces explode with restless passion, but rarely rests for moments of reflection and contemplation. His most interesting pieces are the ones where he abandons this energetic comfort zone and explores a reserved and patient approach, as on “Orange”, “Red” and the surprising, lyrical “Pink”. On these pieces he sketches soulful melodies, builds cleverly the tension and weaves a poetic interplay with the always resourceful Hazan and Bymel.