Saturday, June 21, 2008

Don't Mess With the Zamir

I think that listening to new albums by artists who I've never heard of is one of my favorite things to do as a critic; counter-intuitively, I find that I actually wind up having much odder and specific expectations of what their albums will sound like than when I listen to albums by artists whose work I know well. Take Daniel Zamir, for example. I found out about his new album by looking at the Tzadik website (John Zorn's Tzadik label is probably my favorite indie other than Pi, although a lot of their releases are contemporary classical) and finding that the rhythm section was made up of some of my favorite downtown players: Joey Baron, Uri Caine, and Greg Cohen. I found the album online, but before listening to it I figured I may as well check out Zamir's myspace for any clues as to who he is; it turns out that Zamir is an Israeli orthodox Jew, and that his biggest influence (as a musician) is "Torah." And to top it off, the songs had titles like "You Are my G-D" and "Let Me In Under Your Wing." "Ugh," I said, "not another Jewish 'A Love Supreme'," and put off listening to the album so I could sit around and (happily) hear Esperanza Spalding complain about her love life for the fiftieth time.

I couldn't have been more wrong about "I Believe," Daniel Zamir's new album. As opposed to being "Another Jewish 'A Love Supreme'," it's a funky Jewish "Tales From the Hudson;" an accessible Mike Brecker record by a hacidic, soprano saxophone wielding technical monster. The second track, "Poem 51/52," exemplifies the aesthetic of the album perfectly. After a funky, straight-ahead head with a dash of klezmer, Zamir plays a passionate, note-intensive solo that manages to sound killin' in spite of it's wearing technique on it's sleeve. Uri Caine follows with a piano solo that sounds like it could tear the heavens apart; as straight as Caine ever plays with anybody, this solo shows off his chops in a modernist jazz setting as well as anything he's played with Dave Douglas. Greg Cohen also takes a melodic solo, and Joey Baron anchors the proceedings with the off-kilter charm you would expect from his playing with John Zorn and Bill Frisell over the past twenty years.

Other highlights on the album include the aforementioned "Let Me Under Your Wing," which gives Zamir a chance to show off his saxophone pyrotechnics in a three minute solo without accompaniment, and the opener, "7 Midot," which introduces Zamir's intentions on the album with a bang. The only major flaw with the album as a whole is the fact that occasionally the songs blend together; I can't remember the difference between "Poem 54 (770)" and "Poem 10," and a lot of the ideas in Zamir's various solos tend to cross over due to a tendency to put everything he knows into each improvisation. While the former is a problem for the album, you hardly notice the latter due to Zamir's ability to drum up (divine?) excitement during his solos.

On a whole, "I Believe" is a very good album, and showcases Daniel Zamir as a major talent, and one of the leading voices in what I like to call the "Jewish Jazz" movement. He has yet to deliver an album as brilliant as Avishai Cohen's "After the Big Rain" or Anat Cohen's "Poetica," and his compositions and performances aren't quite as mind-blowing as those of Masada or the Bar Kokhba Sextet (both run by John Zorn, his mentor), but "I Believe" is still an extremely promising showcase for Zamir's work. Recommended.

Next time I'm tempted to have a review of Girl Talk's "Feed the Animals," mostly because I can't stop listening to it and attempting to pick out samples... I know, I know, it isn't jazz by any stretch of the imagination, but who cares? Music is music... On the other hand, I could review a concert by Marc Ribot, Anthony Coleman, and Brad Jones. Check back next time!

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