Yoni Kretzmer

OutNow Records ONR 002

By Ken Waxman

Prime examples of top-drawer free jazz, the 10 tracks on this Tel Aviv-recorded date confirm that Israeli improvisers operate at the same high level as their counterparts elsewhere. More than that though, taking this quartet as an exemplar, advanced Israeli-born jazzers are now likely to be found anywhere in the world.

Tenor saxophonist Yoni Kretzmer for instance, who wrote all the tunes here, and has worked with visiting stylist such as German drummer Günter “Baby” Sommer, now lives in Brooklyn. So does drummer Haim Peskoff, who fills the Sunny Murray role for Kretzmer, when the reedist channels Albert Ayler in some of his free-form compositions. Idiosyncrasy characterizes Overlook’s instrumentation as well. In these circumstances, sympathetic bass work provided by Tel Aviv’s Shai Ran is expected. But the saxophonist’s decision to voice his inspired playing with equally stimulating sounds from Jerusalem-based bass clarinetist Nitai Levi is as unusual as it is monumental. You’d have to go back to the mid-‘50s for a similar arrangement in the American Jazz Quintet’s pairing of Alvin Batiste’s clarinet with Harold Battiste’s tenor saxophone.

Levi, best-known internationally for his recordings with pianist Yitzhak Yedid’s trio, is a subtle colorist whose juddering counterpoint, usually expressed in the chalumeau register, is a perfect foil for the corrosive high-energy playing of Kretzmer. The most dazzling instance of this sound-blend occurs on “Trauma”. Introduced by bulky arpeggios from Ran, the tune then attains almost thermonuclear heat after the composer enters blasting split tones with intense glossolalia, like a kosher Peter Brötzmann. Effectively cast in the Elvin Jones role is Peskoff, whose cymbal clangs and bouncing ruffs impel the piece from stroll to sprint. Finally the bass clarinettist’s tongue stutters and slithering vibrations add necessary sonic balance.

Balanced sequences involving Ran bowing and Kretzmer blowing; Peskoff’s well-recorded percussion patterning; plus the saxman’s ability to switch tones from breathy Ben Websterisms to robust Aylerians depending on mood; are this date’s other attributes. “Your Morning” is an additional striking example, where keening reed tones eventually harmonize as low-pressure, snorting cadences, as Peskoff’s backbeat resounds sympathetically.

Overlook authenticates the talents of Kretzmer and company. They’re a group of younger jazz stylists who can’t be overlooked.

Tracks: Left to Right; Broken Parts; Playsite; Game Song; Eyes Closed; Simple; Trauma; Mixing and Mixing; Your Morning

Personnel: Nitai Levi: bass clarinet; Yoni Kretzmer: tenor saxophone Shai Ran: bass;

Haim Peskoff: drums

—For New York City Jazz Record February 2012