Years from now, when folks are remembering the early days of the West Village jazz haunt Smalls, bassist Omer Avital’s name will be as synonymous with the club as Bill Evan’s is with the Village Vanguard, and Thelonious Monk’s is with the original Five Spot Café.
– Time Out New York
The Ancient Art of Giving is an organic, live recording compiled from one night in January 2006 at Fat Cat in New York City, featuring Mark Turner (sax), Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Aaron Goldberg (piano) and drummer Ali Jackson. Goldberg and Jackson have been performing with Avital since 1995. “I returned to New York in 2005 after three years of living in Israel and studying composition. As soon as I came here I wanted to record an album with my old friends to document our musical history together,” says Avital. “Fat Cat offered me a residency and luckily, all of the musicians I wanted to play with were available. I’ve always wanted to make a classic quintet album and this was a great opportunity. We had a chance to perform the music, get the audience into it and create a vibe.” Ancient Art highlights some of Avital’s music from 1993 – 2005, including “Yes!,” the first composition he’d ever written and “Homeland,” the opening track composed in Jerusalem in 2005, “right before I moved to New York. It was written in one breath.” “Avital, in his mid-20’s, wrote stronger tunes than those of many bandleaders with twice his experience,” wrote Ben Ratliff for The New York Times. Arrival (Fresh Sound) is a project heavily steeped in Middle Eastern, African, Latin and funk / pop, all of which have influenced the sound of Avital’s bands. The album was conceived in New York, 2001 and finally recorded in 2006 with Jason Lindner (piano), Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Joel Frahm (sax) Avi Lebovich (trombone) and Jonathan Blake (drums). “I’ve been meaning to record a more “produced” and concise album for years. It’s important for me to touch people who are not necessarily jazz listeners.” “These albums are an homage to all of these musicians, who I’ve been friends with for over ten years,” says Avital. “We’ve played all over the world together and I’m so glad I’ve finally gotten the chance to record with them.”
From the liner notes:
This disk is a part of Smalls Records’ ongoing presentation of Omer Avital’s works, past and present. Here we feature some of his present work. But Avital is prolific, and it will require more than one release to catch up on his varied projects.
So here are some of the best players of this generation together in one group. And it’s no accident either. This is no gimmicky ‘all-star’ record where a bunch of big names are thrown together for the first time to make a record. The musicians in Omer Avital’s quintet have been down a long road together, and after more than ten years collaborating in diverse and overlapping combinations, they’ve made a significant mark on modern music both individually and collectively. We’ve had a number of those groups at Smalls over the years, and had the privilege of hearing some of these developments take place. All present here are of course famous bandleaders in their own right who really need no introduction at this point. All present have appeared in earlier Omer Avital groups. Mark Turner and Ali Jackson were original members of the seminal Omer Avital Sextet (and both are featured on the Smalls Records CD Asking No Permission / SRCD-0011). Turner and Avital both appeared in the Jason Lindner Big Band (as well as other Jason Lindner projects) together. Avital and Avishai Cohen go back many years. Both performed with Charles Owens in Owens’ long-running Friday night feature at Smalls. Both are principals of the Third World Love band (whose American debut is being released through Smalls Records this month). Omer Avital and Aaron Goldberg are, respectively, the ‘O’ and the ‘A’ in the long-standing OAM Trio, which also includes Spanish drummer and notable ‘M’, Marc Miralta.
Here Avital puts forth seven originals, and they are nicely programmed here like separate movements of an extended piece. As with much of Avital’s work, there is a sense of dramatic sweep, and an episodic structure. The tunes have graceful introductions, and run from wistful melodies to red hot refrains. There are lots of hooks for improvisation, and everybody gives his all. The overall feel is balanced, and it has the drive of a classic acoustic jazz quintet. The tone is optimistic, but it is a knowing optimism. It is in keeping with the enigmatic title. The ancient art of giving is an idea that is manifest in the simple act of offering tea. Or it is in taming the desert to yield a bountiful harvest, and then sharing that harvest with your neighbor. It is both life giving and life affirming.
Luke Kaven, June 2006