Eli Degibri – Israeli Song – Anzic Records

by | Apr 13, 2011 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Eli Degibri – Israeli Song – Anzic Records ANZ-3002, 56:45 ****:

(Eli Degibri – tenor and soprano sax; Brad Mehldau – piano; Ron Carter – bass; Al Foster – drums)

With Israeli Song, Eli Degibri accomplishes the rare feat of creating a record both genuine and sweet. To play sweetly for the duration of an entire record without sounding saccharine or strained requires players profoundly comfortable in their own skin—as is the case with the musicians Degibri brings together. 

Here Degibri stands with giants, filling out his rhythm section with Brad Mehldau, Ron Carter, and Al Foster. He calls Israeli Song “the story of a little dreamy boy” hearing each one of these musicians for the first time and wanting to take Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson’s place alongside them. Degibri makes full use of this opportunity, devoting at least one song to playing duet with each of his accompanists. The warmth that permeates this record and the way each player takes the time to savor the session makes clear Degibri’s respect is returned.

The resulting eleven songs favor accessibility and feeling over pushing artistic boundaries to challenging new places.  If you have any friends or family you have been trying to rescue from the black hole of smooth jazz or easy listening, this record provides an excellent bridge into the heavier stuff (and away from listening to music that makes the majority of the world cringe). The group avoids dissonant modernism and the harsher strains of contemporary jazz exploring instead the beautiful and melodic within the tradition. 

Israeli Song opens with “Unrequited,” a Mehldau composition, which is the closest to hero worship Degibri goes. While it is one of the stronger tracks on the album, it also sounds like it belongs on a Mehldau record, with nothing to mark it as a Degibri’s own.  The interactions between Mehldau and Degibri provide some of the best moments on the album—Degibri soaring high above the fullness of Mehldau’s two-handed lines, the piano supporting the horn only to dizzingly drop away then meet it again from a different direction. Degibri’s compositions shine the most in this format and the two songs played with just Mehldau—”Liora” and “Israeli Song”—feel the most realized, with the two musicians classical influences here demonstrating European art music’s roots in the devotional.

Degibri pens the majority of the rest of the songs, which mix the language of traditional jazz with the occasional pop and R&B phrasings. He almost manages to rescue “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from the realm of instrumental clichés, as its impossible not to enjoy him playing over Ron Carter’s masterful accompaniment on the bass.

All in all, Israeli Song is an enjoyable affair, best suited for a sleepy Sunday afternoon. If you are willing to relax into it and put aside your most critical of mindsets, it well rewards you.

  Unrequited, Mr. R.C., Judy The Dog, Jealous Eyes, Manic Depressive, Bebop, Liora, Look What You Do To Me, Third Plane, Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Israeli Song

— Robin Margolis

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