Irresistible Look at a Master

"Haosef" [The Collection] - Meir Ariel. Editors Shalom Hanoch and Yoav Kutner. Media Direct.

"Haosef" [The Collection] - Meir Ariel. Editors Shalom Hanoch and Yoav Kutner. Media Direct.

With five CDs and 76 songs - one a special recording made for the collection, one very rare, and some which are already hard to find - Meir Ariel's "Haosef" makes an offer that long-time admirers cannot refuse, and an impossible temptation for avowed collectors

At least for these two groups, which are sizable, this offer is hard to ignore.

"Haosef," edited by Shalom Hanoch and Yoav Kutner, does not aim to sum up Ariel's career, but rather to present it on a broad scale. There is a double logic in this.

Perhaps this is the only way in which to give proper place both to the recordings and songs that Ariel produced during his lifetime, and to those that he wrote and others recorded, some after his death. It may be that this is the only way in which to reflect the broad embrace - the variety of subjects and the number of performers - that characterized Ariel's songs.

This breadth exacts a price. This is not a collection for beginners. For those interested in getting to know Ariel, his previous albums (like the collection "Mivhar" from 1996), will suffice. And this is not necessarily the "best" of Ariel - "the 76 great songs of all times," as the CD label announces - but rather a very comprehensive summary of moments, both central and marginal in his career, of hits and songs almost forgotten, presented for the most part in chronological order.

Two years after Ariel's death, after the eulogies and after the evenings honoring his memory have become a tradition, it seems that research into his work is just beginning. "Haosef" makes an important contribution to this, both because of what it contains, and because of what it hints at. Thanks to the concentration of varied and distinct moments in his long career, an important point is made

The mapping of the Meir Ariel's artistic territory is only beginning.

Part of the achievement of "Haosef" is archival, as the opening exemplifies

There are three songs from 1967 ("Leil Ahava Im Ezrahim," "Esek Bish," and "Yerusalayim Shel Barzel") and one from 1974 (the original version, with Ariel's music, of "Holekh Batel"). "Haosef," therefore, moves Ariel's artistic biography back to the days before the appearance of his first recording "Hag Umo'ed Venofel," from 1977.

The transition between the first three songs in the collection, which were set to music by others, and "Holekh Batel," and the transition between these four songs and the first representative from his debut recording, "Shir Ke'ev," hint at one of the great revolutions in Israeli rock - that of Shablul and Tammuz - and at the different voices in Ariel's work. As is usually the case, the chronological sequence can therefore be misleading

The difference between the voices that reverberate in the songs, in the writing as well as in the performance, is no less fascinating than what links them - the humor, the warmth, the linguistic brilliance.

The variety stands out in the last CD in the collection, which includes songs for which Ariel wrote the words, often to a tune written earlier - from "Mikofef Habananot" by Ariel and Hanoch, performed by Arik Einstein, to the new version of "Agadat Deshe" [Legend of a Lawn], performed jointly by Einstein and Hanoch. Some of the songs are classics of Israeli rock, all are among the best of each of the performers, and Ariel's career cannot be summed up without most of them - hits performed by Yehudit Ravitz, Hanan Yovel, Oshik Levy, the Tammuz band, Danny Sanderson, Ronit Shahar, Gidi Gov, Rami Kleinstein, David Broza, Dori Ben Ze'ev, Nissim Garameh, Sharon Haziz and Yizhar Ashdot.

Nevertheless, there is something misleading in their presence here, just as there is something misleading in the new version of "Agadat Deshe." From the marketing aspect, these hits, like the exclusive recording of "Agadat Deshe," are certainly a vital component and a great gimmick, but from the artistic aspect, they are less justified. Yes, Ariel was a linguistic acrobat, but the fact that he was a partner to hit songs, that he became a brand name signifying high quality, that he was a proper ingredient in any developing career, is perhaps the less interesting aspect of his work.

When Ariel and Hanoch wrote "Agadat Deshe," during their days at Kibbutz Mishmarot, they offered a semi-autobiographical drama that records a moment in the life of very young people - a legend that opens with the pile of kids on the lawn moves on to a passing moment of romantic attachment, and ends in failure, with sitting alone on the same lawn. When Einstein and Hanoch sing the song in 2001, what is left of the drama is only a piece of nostalgia, a distant memory from the days before the great privatization of the kibbutzim.

However, most of the songs in "Haosef" offer something stronger and richer. They are a good reflection of Meir Ariel's need to look at the world beyond the song (and one could say, to expand the world by making its linguistic boundaries more flexible); they record his deep desire to react to a changing reality, to connect with it by means of an attack or an embrace.

This need was central during the dark and difficult days of "Rishumei Peham" (1996), when Ariel thought - if we can rely on the testimony of the songs - that the world had turned its back on him. Or as "Haosef" proves, forces of attraction and repulsion were evident in his work already at the beginning, when he went out to search in the dark for material to whisper, when the streets gave him time without demanding an account. But even Ariel's broad embrace, which began over 30 years ago, has never lost its strength

The ability to respond to his songs - for example, at the tribute that will take place at the Wohl amphitheater in Tel Aviv tonight - is seen as something self-evident, almost natural.