Friday, September 19, 2008

Within Worlds with Omer Klein and Friends

Omer Klein gave us a new piece last night that really went beyond my expectations of what a young composer might come up with for jazz combo plus string quartet. It was a wonderful mixture of instruments but not a huge glut of styles as many
“crossover” pieces often become. Nor was it an extension of either his keyboard or the rhythm section. Rather, it was an engaging, very tightly composed work of about ten minutes that featured a lively dance-like theme with some nice improvised solo passages for piano and bass most prominently.

While listening to it I was reminded of something that Omer said earlier in the concert while commenting on a tune he titled ¾ Mantra. He something along the lines of: “sometimes my ideas for pieces come to me in very small packages yet end up being the ones that become the longest ones in concert.” What reminded me of this was precisely the tightness of the composition of Septet, which firmly established its presence from the first measures—a swingy little triplet passage that left me thirsting for its return. Omer’s use of a bit of middle eastern tang also put me in mind of Chick Corea’s Temple of Isfahan, which I’ve tried—in vain—to secure for performance later this season in a series entitled Writing Jazz where we have a concert of composed responses to jazz ending in a new work by David Rakowski (that I just got and looks fantastic). We will also have a concert with another jazz pianist, Jonathan Batiste, entitled Rag’s Riches, where he will explore ragtime in his own way while sharing the concert with Imani Winds, who will play arrangements and originals by jazz composers.

The gift of this piece commissioned by the America-Israel Cultural Foundation is one of true value and astonishing prescient given the fact that I solicited it in no way from anyone. There is definitely something in the air with our young jazz greats branching out into just—well—music without label or other baggage as they freely write what they want to with the instruments that spark their imaginations. Other lagniappes this season will be when Omer Avital (the bass player last night) graces the stage with new works for an expanded ensemble alongside the recently commissioned work from Ryan Cohan and his expanded ensemble in a series of concerts supported by Chamber Music America that highlight their jazz members’ composition projects. They will be the one mentioned above as well as an evening with Joel Harrison, Oliver Lake and Wendy Sutter; and Jamie Baum’s Ives Suite will be featured alongside Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko’s explorations in free jazz.

The direction we are taking at Merkin is to shed light on what’s happening on the ground in New York’s creative music scene through surveys of artists, composers and genres to give our audience the most comprehensive look at music today. See you at the concert!

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