My heart sank a little when, given this album to review, I saw it was “heavily infused” with Latin stylings and the artist has a long-time passion for world music. I ignored the email for about three weeks, unenthused, because as a listener, I have managed in my decades of music listening to largely ignore Latin jazz and world music. Neither genre gets my juices going.
On finally playing it, however, this new album by Israeli pianist Ari Erev - whose work is new to me - pleasantly surprised. It’s not a Latin jazz album. But the infusion of Latin jazz and world music sensibilities is, like a well steeped cup of Earl Grey tea, subtle enough to provide a pleasing aroma without overwhelming the palate.
In part it’s listenability is due to the evident quality of the guests on this album playing alongside his core bandmates of Assak Hakimi on bass and Gasper Bertoncelj on drums: flautist Hadar Noiberg, percussionist Gilad Dobrecky and saxophonist Yuvai Cohen.
Watch the album preview on YouTube here:
Opener Israeli Story provides a peppy start, with Nolberg’s flute to the fore over a shuffling rhythm which nods to the streets of Tel Aviv, driven by a subtle but persistent percussive backdrop and Erev’s piano. The composer generously gives plenty of space to Noiberg, giving him room to go to town.
A slow ballad like Childhood Scenes - introduced by Erev’s piano alone - is imbued with pathos and embellished with delicately subtle bass fingering by Hakimi, which moves the tune along at a leisurely pace as the trio just does what jazz piano trios should do: focus on making the most of the three instruments and foregrounding strong melodies.
As the album proceeds, the Latin jazz sensibilities and world music moods pop in and out - as on Falling in Place - but the superstructure to all the tacks remains jazz.
The opening bars of Old Friends throw a knowing nod to Monty Norman’s James Bond theme but the track is anything but explosive, with Bertoncelj’s brush work creating a suitably lightweight canvas onto which Erev’s paints with musical watercolours.
As well as playing Erev’s on compositions, there are a number of covers on the album. It can be a tricky thing when jazz musicians stray into other people’s territory and interpret the familiar in a new way, but a track like Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years is presented by the band with respect. All through the listener never loses sight of the original, but there are enough twists and turns and musical departures to treat this cover as a loving paean to a great tune, rather than a lamentable rehash.
With thirteen tracks of different moods, tempos and arrangements, there’s plenty to enjoy. Not every track worked for me - Saturday’s Coffee was luke warm, while Olha Maria, a cover of a ballad by a Brazilian composer, was nice enough but actually felt unsurprisingly ‘un-Latin’. But, these are personal quibbles.
The last track - Po - with the introduction of electric bass and a Camembert-soft melody from Cohen’s saxophone - is the strongest and Erev’s soloing skills - economical, not overly theatrical, but heartfelt - are on display here.
Over the last sixteen months, we’ve all spent far too much time close to home. While it’s no classic, there’s enough in Close to Home to reward spending an hour or so of your time at home, just sitting down, being entertained.