Saxophonist Amit Friedman began his concert on Sunday evening on an optimistic note. "This morning they called me from [the Tel Aviv music store] Jazz Ba'ozen and reported that all the store's copies of the new album were sold."
Just as one of the people at my table was commenting that there probably were only ten copies at the store, Friedman added, "They only had ten copies, but that's also something. It's a good start."
Ten copies is a good start, and the capacity crowd at Tel Aviv's Zappa Club (not an insignificant thing when it comes to an Israeli jazz musician's concert, and certainly not insignificant when that concert is on the same day as the Euro League quarter final ) was an even better start.
And Friedman deserves such a reception for his new disc; not just because it's a beautiful disc, and not just because Friedman is an outstanding saxophonist, and not just because he tends always to see the cup as half full (the new album, "Sunrise," features songs entitled "Light" and "Optimism" ). It's not even because Friedman played for many years as part of various ensembles, and waited patiently until he had what to say as a band leader. Friedman deserves the kudos because his music often stems from personal, social interaction, and because this kind of music finds its way into people's hearts.
Almost halfway through the concert, this quality of reaching into the depths could be felt as Friedman performed "Hoffman Stories." The piece is a product of the many years Friedman spent working with guitarist Amos Hoffman, someone who has a story to tell, and who played with Friedman Sunday night.
Another distinguished guest was the outstanding trumpeter, Avishai Cohen, whom Friedman placed in the spotlight. As is fitting to do with a segment about the art of the story, Cohen and Friedman's solos stressed their being narratives about narratives, using speech-like tones and beats. The entire segment was a terrific meeting of the musical and human elements; in the end, the musical element prevailed.
The half-hour preceding Cohen's arrival on stage may have been a success, but it was not entirely enthralling. But the trumpeter's arrival tied up all the loose ends and the second half-hour was pure pleasure: Israeli jazz at its best.
The last half-hour featured Ravid Kahalani and Tamar Eisenman and even though they are both excellent singers, it their presence seemed to overburden the concert a little. This feeling actually stemmed from Friedman's creative spirit. He is a very modest artist, but also a maximalist: he has no problem moving from jazz in the hard bop tradition, to Israeli-tinged jazz, to sentimental ballads, Latin beats, and touches of Middle Eastern music. And at the concert, he even touched on African-Maghreb funk and emotional soul.
There is a lot of beauty in this diversity and it is likely to speak to a relatively broad audience (in jazz terms, of course ), but it also made it hard for Friedman to refine a clear and distinct creative voice.
Another issue that made it difficult for Friedman to formulate such a voice was what sounded like Avishai Cohen's (the bassist, not the trumpet player who was a guest performer ) excessive influence. Some of Friedman's segments were based on an harmonic beat and movement closely identified with Cohen, and they sounded unoriginal when played by another musician.
The review cannot end without passing on the story Friedman told before a piece entitled "The Archaeologist." A few years ago, he played in Hungary with the young drummer, Amir Bresler, and on one of their free days, they visited a palace where excavations were underway. There, Bresler realized something very deep. "Jazz is like archaeology," he told Friedman, "you dig and dig and dig, discover amazing things and it doesn't interest anyone."
Given the filled club, and the crowd's warm feelings and support for Friedman, Bresler's realization should be qualified: except for those that it does interest.