On the heels of his fantastic 2014 album, New Song, bassist Omer Avital delivers an enthralling performance on Abutbul Music, his debut for the Paris-based Jazz Village label. The program embraces hard-bop as its guiding spirit, but uses numerous other genres as touchstones, including Israeli folk music, funk, Afro-beat and various Latin styles. Avital, who studied Arab music theory during a three-year hiatus from New York in the early 2000s, navigates these diverse idioms with sure-footed poise, as does his agile quintet, which includes the inventive pianist Yonathan Avishai, the effervescent drummer Ofri Nehemya, the keen tenor and soprano saxophonist Asaf Yuria and the astute tenor saxophonist Alexander Levin.
The group impresses with its near constant ability to weave multiple grooves into a seamless fabric. Songs like “Three Four,” “Afrik” and “New Yemenite Song” move through various guises, switching rhythms and meters with a dancer’s precision. Others hone in on a single genre and explore it through Avital’s distinctly groove-filtered lens: “Bed-Stuy” incorporates hushed, Mingus-flavored swing, complete with a wailing sax refrain, and “Muhammad’s Market” is soul-jazz to the core, sounding like a lost track from a Jazz Messengers album. An emotional high point, Avital’s “Bass Hijaz” is an unaccompanied showcase in which the bassist explores ornate melodic cells with a searching, voice-like tone. The song—like the rest of Abutbul Music—is inviting and friendly, and listeners won’t want it to end.
– Brian Zimmerman, DownBeat Magazine, Editors’ Picks