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Thursday, February 16, 2023

Avram Fefer Quartet - Juba Lee (Clean Feed, 2022)

By Kenneth Blanchard

Judging from his disography, Avram Fefer has been recording for two decades. Fefer plays tenor and alto saxophones and bass clarinet. In 2009 he recorded Ritual with Eric Revis on bass and Chad Taylor on drums. Marc Ribot brings his electric guitar to the party on Juba Lee.

There is a reason why the saxophone is so dominant in jazz. On the one hand, it seems to be capable of the kind of precision one demand in the manufacture of aircraft. The shape of this sheet of sound must be perfect down to the subatomic level. On the other, it needs the slow, emotional depth of a film noir soundtrack.

Avram Fefer traverses that range in Juba Lee. “Showtime” raises the curtain in medias res. Lots of energy and the entire quartet orbiting the sax. It reminds me a lot of my favorite David Murray albums.

The second cut begins with a rhythmic chant, laying one level of sediment atop another. At one point, the sax grates out into an electric sounding vibe. One is descending into the burial chamber. Then the beautiful, cautious chanting returns and builds into a warble of passion. The simple pattern repeated allows the song to dig deep into my afternoon. Revis should have been paid extra for this one.

“Sky Lake” begins with a conversation between sax and guitar. When the two join, it has a royal proclamation feel about it. The melody takes a new direction, and the sax stutters, saying something by pretending to say something. Everything is riding on the bass, but I can’t say enough here about Taylor’s drumming.

When the guitar is playing chords it adds pastel colors that blend in perfectly with the traditional trio sound. When he solos, it’s like Frank Zappa has cut in. Yet there is no dissonance or surprise in this. The title cut opens Ribot opens with a velvety sound. After Fefer solos a bit, the guitar goes sci-fi.

“Brother Ibrahim” has a jaunty feel, like riding a bike parallel to the beach. “Love is in the air” has a mournful theme with the guitar creating a heroic, almost royal background. “Gemini Time” has the best interplay between the guitar and bass, followed by a delicious bass solo near the end.

The best sonic and emotional texture will be found on the penultimate cut: “Say you’re sorry.” It is a slow winding out of a wounded heart. Soft acoustic guitar inaugurates the final piece, followed by an astonishing range of emotional signatures from the bass clarinet. It is a lovely duet that painted the view out my study window in rich colors.

You don’t want to miss this one.