Myth of the Cave
Between the lines btl 028

Verbose as a Talmudic commentary, the booklet notes Jerusalem-based pianist Yitzhak Yedid provides for this CD go into prolix detail about the thematic basis for each track. The idea seems to be to give the listener a convincing handhold on the music.

But no matter how heartfelt the back-story though, any music should be appreciated for what it is, not what it reflects. Happily the five themes that Yedid has written are more-or-less able to stand on their own, once you accept his neither-fish-nor-fowl Third Stream synthesis. More to the point, the few times the themes lose their way are related to the compositions, not the minutiae that the CD is named for Plato’s Myth of the Cave, or that the pianist hears this music is as “an appropriate metaphor for the difficult reality of our time”.

Perhaps the young — born in 1971 — Israeli pianist can be partially forgiven his caprice. After all in the late 1990s he did study at Boston’s New England Conservatory (NEC) with Ran Blake, the chief maven of the Third Stream. Yet the most interesting parts of his more than 61 minutes of music are those which strive to synthesize the microtonal Oriental melos of his Syrian Jewish background with New music and jazz improvisation.

His chief helpmate here is Canadian clarinetist François Houle, who himself usually works in that gray zone between improv and contemporary notated sounds. Third trio member is Ora Boasson, first contrabassist of Jerusalem’s Israel Camerata Orchestra, who also studied at the NEC. Unconsciously reflecting the role of women within the Orthodox tradition, perhaps, her contributes appear subservient to those of the men.

Oddly — or appropriately depending on your orientation — the most accomplished track is the last. Here Ashkenazi religious themes are reconstituted with improvisation, as the pianist starts out slowly then explodes into a series of keyboard-spanning high intensity cadenzas. Houle bubbles out the theme as Yedid constructs a fantasia of arpeggios around it. Proper subject and answer sections of a fugue then appear from the pianist and bassist, with each seemingly making sure that the correct fingering is being employed. Finally a coloratura clarinet lines leavened with woody snorts join a bass continuo and some dramatic — almost melodramatic — piano chording in reprising the near-sacramental melody.

Drama, or perhaps melodrama, could help some of the slower moving parts of the five-movement suite however. More deadening are the pronounced concert hall-length pauses that sometimes occur within the tracks. Even the overriding disconsolate theme of “Liturgical Sorrow” loses some momentum when silences are prolonged. Despite this, the composition perfectly fits its title, as death march-like piano parts meet the ever- augmenting, floating clarinet tones, as the tune reflects the liturgical acceptance of the very religiously observant. Some of Boasson’s best work appears here as well, as she sounds out an andante bass solo characterized by overtone leaps and sympathetic string vibrations. Yedid’s contribution is high intensity and highly pressurized, while Houle’s improvisations showcase two contrasting tones, one high and melodic and the other low with a bagpipe-like drone.

Throughout the suite the pianist takes on a variety of identities. For instance, at times patchy rubato passages give way to excited Cecil Taylor-like, staccatissimo runs, which stop-and-start to meet elongated, high note reed tones. Elsewhere Yedid’s ornamentation is such that his fingering becomes positively Chopinesque, recalling 20th Century piano virtuosi. Other times his rumbles in the bass clef and thick timbres suggest a hipper Dave Brubeck.

He’s fleet as well, able to rattle off fantasias at breakneck speed without losing the tune’s thread. Pedal pressure is used judiciously but accurately, while snatches of cabaret stylings inform some of the pieces, as if Jelly Roll Morton’s bordello gigs had taken place in the Weimar Republic. At other points, impressionistic harmonies are interrupted by Cagean key clipping.

POMO to the same extreme, Houle’s regular clarinet can have a hocketing motif for a theme, yet at another point outline a sarcastic, screechy line that aurally resembles a cartoon cat sneaking up on its prey. Masterful in utilizing glissandos and circular breathing, the reedist can pile as many notes on top of one another as he pleases, or singularly concentrate on la note juste. Unfortunately his woody bass clarinet timbre played largo when heard, gets very little exposure.

Yedid’s five movement suite announces that the first stirrings of a major improv talent exist in Jerusalem and deserves to be heard internationally. But to advance even more he’ll have to synthesize and tighten his many influences into something completely original. The evidence on this CD indicates that he’s well on his way to do so.

— Ken Waxman


Track Listing: 1. First Movement - The Crystal Hope 2. Second Movement - Non Believer’s Prayer 3. Third Movement - Imaginary Ritual 4. Fourth Movement - Liturgical Sorrow 5. Fifth Movement - Delusion Reality

Personnel: François Houle (clarinet, bass clarinet); Yitzhak Yedid (piano); Ora Boasson (bass)