Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Traveling Music

After six years with Paquito D’Rivera, Alon Yavnai is probably well accustomed to life on the road. Of course, having moved to America from Israel, by way of Costa Rica, Yavnai was already something of an accomplished traveler. Now leading his own trio, the pianist previewed Travel Notes, his first release as a leader, with a pre-release celebration at the Jazz Standard last night.

Travel Notes releases in May, and will be reviewed here then. Those at the Standard last night got a preview of how Yavnai’s diverse influences combine into a rich new voice in jazz. Drawing on elements from American jazz, and the music from Israel, Cuba, Brazil, and even Bulgaria, the title of his CD makes perfect sense.

Yavnai has spectacular technique but is never pyrotechnical simply for the sake of being showy. Logically, he played many selections from Travel, including the striking title track. Many musicians will manipulate the piano strings for effect, but Yavnai’s method here is more intriguing and melodic, consciously recalling the sounds of distant lands. Among the departures from Travel were two classical selections from Bach and Lecuona that had a sense of swing, yet remained eminently respectful to the essence of the originals.

Generous as a leader, Yavnai gave ample space to his sidemen. Last night he was joined by bassist Haggai Cohen-Milo, percussionist Satoshi Takeishi, and guest Brahim Fribgane on oud, doumbek, and assorted percussion. On Travel Yavnai’s trio consists of Omer Avital on bass and oud, and Jamey Haddad on percussion. According to Yavnai’s itinerary, Cohen-Milo will be on many dates in the near future, with either Haddad or Takeishi handling percussion. Yavnai sounds great with either the Travel trio or the Standard combo, so check them out if you have the chance. (His next CD launch event is in Philly at World Café Live on June 17th.)

Yavnai has a fresh, distinctive sound, and he also seems like a really nice guy, all of which makes one hope Travel is the start of a long discography. (I will actually be traveling the day before Travel Notes releases, but barring complications en-route, look for a full review here May 13th.)