Nori Jacoby/Yoni Kretzmer/Haggi Fershtman

One Afternoon
Kadima Collective KCR 21

Yoni Kretzmer Trio

Nevertheless

Hopscotch Hop 22

Part of the younger generation of Israeli improvisers proving who performs at the same elevated standard as his out-of-country equivalents, tenor saxophonist Yoni Kretzmer has ample opportunity to experiment on these CDs.

Jerusalem-born and now a Brooklyn resident, the reedist has played with sound explorers ranging from pianist Slava Ganelin to saxophonist Assif Tsahar. Yet these discs are particularly instructive since one was recorded in the Jewish state with fellow Israelis and the other in Brooklyn with American associates.

Neither trio has to take a back seat to the other. Nevertheless however features players better-known internationally, since drummer Mike Pride is in demand on the Alt-Rock scene and plays improvised music with the likes of saxophonist/composer Anthony Braxton. Bassist Jason Ajemian has, among other ensembles, been part of cornetist Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra and guitarist Marc Ribot’s Sun Ship. Kretzmer’s Israeli partners on the other hand are violist Nori Jacoby, part of the Between the Strings improv trio, who also flits between notated orchestral music and Rock; and drummer Haggai Fershtman, who studied African, as well as Jazz drumming and plays with many of the country’s top improvisers, including saxophonists Ariel Shibolet and Albert Beger.

This empathy with saxophonists is apparent throughout the 15 tracks which make up – and were recorded in – One Afternoon. Although Fershtman is present to supply the back beat or shuffle rhythms as needed, most of his playing goes way beyond time-keeping. With multi-positioned clatters, bangs and pitch-stretching his role here is akin to a colorist not a beater. By the same token, Jacoby’s command of multiophonic runs plus a variety of spiccato and angled motions introduce his timbral contributions from many spectrums of the scale. His textures can be dissonant, sul ponticello and tapered at one point and swell to spacious multiphonics at others.

Kretzmer too isn’t limited by one narrative strategy. While principally sharp and pressurized with glottal punctuation and split tones on display, his playing can also be more legato and linear. Probably his most abstract soloing arises within the six miniatures in the CD’s centre where unattached flattement and overblowing abut the fiddler’s quivering, staccato squeaks. Divergence in performance is most apparent on “And There Is”, the melody of which recalls a pop tune. On top of Fershtman’s moderato smacks, slaps and ruffs, Kretzmer moves from a near-lyrical head to tongue gymnastics and finally exposes bugle-like cries, altissimo smears and extended reed pressure.

“Alternations” and “Bite Size” are the tracks which show off the trio’s communication at its best however. On the first, the saxophonist’s mid-range tongue fluttering moves upwards as it comes in contact with the drummer’s rattles and ruffs plus dobro-like plucks from Jacoby. After his split tones are further segmented with what could be a fanciful speech impediment, Kretzmer concludes with a satisfying deeper tone, propelled by Fershtman’s rolls and Jacoby’s pizzicato motions.

More conspicuously “Bite Size” finds the trio dividing into solo and duo sections as well as handing the contrapuntal continuum from one to another. While Kretzmer’s tremolo expression is taken moderato in real time, Jacoby’s twanged notes and the drummer’s rolls and cymbal clangs gradually accelerate in toughness and speed. When the saxophonist reaches a high-pitched summit, the violist takes on the bottom continuum; when Fershtman’s rhythm extensions begin rhythmically changing the chronology, Kretzmer cleaves to the central motif. Eventually the violist’s sul ponticello squealing and downwards sliding friction come to the fore, only to conclude in tandem with super-fast slurred tenor tones.

Performing in a more common sax-bass-drum trio on the Brooklyn-recorded CD, Kretzmer’s interaction with the others while no less thoughtful, seems more conventional. As each of the 10 sequences arrives, every one of the players seems to fall into his accepted role.

Not that there’s any let down in playing however. Pride’s contributions range from frenzied clip-clopping to cymbal concussions plus strokes and drags. Ajemian’s solo intermezzos include clanking and thumping lines, carefully positioned slaps and expected walking up and down the scale. Yet it’s Kretzmer who appears to be most committed to experimentation. His sax lines are often strained and stuttering, glissandi are sharpened and snorted and there’s more glossolalia than moderato note examination in his solos.

His storytelling on “Something with Tango” for instance, inflates from prickly tonguing to altissimo screams, as it meets the bassist’s four-square accompaniment and Pride’s delicately accented drumming. Finally as the backing becomes sparser, his repeated textures turn to eviscerating, tongue twisting jabs. It’s a similar story on “Sort of Despair”, where abrasive stopping from Ajemian and top-of-cymbal scratches from Pride stay in the background as Kretzmer’s quivering slurs move deeper into his horn’s body tube. After a series of rubato slurs and wind-tunnel-like bell muting, his vibrations turn guttural and conclusively dribble away.

A good deal of exceptional playing is highlighted on these discs, either of which can serve as a defining introduction to Kretzmer. Nonetheless with One Afternoon recorded in 2007 and Nevertheless in 2009, one wonders how the saxman sounds today. Hopefully the ferocious experimentation so aptly expressed on the Israeli CD is still being rerfined.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Nevertheless: 1. Looks Like Not 2. A New Start 3. Improv Two 4. Nevertheless 5. Something with Tango 6. Four Notes 7. What a Pity 8. Sort of Despair 9. Till We Got There 10. Four Notes Ending

Personnel: Nevertheless: Yoni Kretzmer (tenor saxophone); Jason Ajemian (bass) and Mike Pride (drums)

Track Listing: One: 1. Arrival 2. Story In Two 3. Alternations 4. Cupboard Song 5. Lonely Markets 6.-11. Six Miniatures 12. Bite Site 13. In Jerusalem 14. And There Is 15. Passacaglia

Personnel: One: Yoni Kretzmer (tenor saxophone); Nori Jacoby (viola) and Haggai Fershtman (drums)