Liner notes by Vincent Bessières:
New Song features a quintet which Omer Avital has led for many years, and which is a direct descendant of the ensemble with which Avital made a name for himself. However, this current group is imbued with the cultural heritage that the bass player took time exploring in the mid-2000s, when he returned to his homeland to reconnect with his ancestral roots – Yemenite on his mother’s side and Moroccan on his father’s. This Mizrahi (Middle Eastern Jewish) heritage has long been mistrusted in Israeli society because of the links it maintains, out of necessity, with Arab culture. Avital studied its folk songs, dance rhythms and rituals, and these fed his imagination in the same way that blues, gospel and soul had fed his inspiration before them. The titles of his songs demonstrate how he now looks to the East as well as to New York, toward the West as much as toward the Arab world, toward the solitude of the desert as much as the urban mêlée.
Duke Ellington led his orchestra in Caravan, Dizzy Gillespie spent a famous Night in Tunisia, and Yusef Lateef addressed a Prayer to the East. With Omer Avital, however, the integration of jazz with the musical traditions of the Arab world is more than just a convenient meeting. It is the fruit of the assimilation of two cultures, an assimilation so strong that New Song resonates with endless colors and rhythms, joyfully combining ritual music with Afro-American grooves, linking the phrasing of Eastern melodies with the fervor of gospel and the expressiveness of soul. From the trance of Gnawas to the funky warmth of the Jazz Messengers, Yemenite songs with the workshop spirit of Charles Mingus, his musicians are at one with him as they effortlessly and joyfully leap from one genre to another. Some share his dual culture – like the trumpeter Avishai Cohen, who sprinkles his playing with Lee Morgan-like accents, or pianist Yonathan Avishai, reminiscent of McCoy Tyner’s fascination with the East. Others have absorbed it over time – such as the soulful saxophonist Joel Frahm and the drummer Daniel Freedman, whose sticks act as musical hyphens linking previously incompatible rhythmic worlds.
For Omer Avital, jazz is a language of reconciliation which has allowed him, through a strange balance of demands and tolerance, to reconnect with his roots without falling into the anonymity of folklore, to take on the culture of his homeland without being forced to limit himself to it. Demands, because he knows, having learned his trade live on the stages of clubs rather than in conservatoires, that jazz does not let itself be carelessly fused with just any other style. Tolerance, because he knows that jazz is a language which allows all hybridizations so long as certain essential elements are preserved, and one into which music can be introduced that on the face of it has nothing to do with its tradition. As a true citizen of the global village, in New Song Omer Avital makes his homeland, and the contradictions within it, resonate with just one voice – his own – a voice which no-one could mistake for any other. His songs, new or old, speak to us as much of himself as of the world in which we live. And that is not the least of their virtues.