Omer Avital – New Song – Motema Music MTA-CD-161, 60:18 ****1/2:

(Omer Avital – bass; Avishai Cohen – trumpet; Joel Frahm -tenor sax; Yonathan Avishai – piano; Daniel Freedman – drums; guest vocals — Mehdi Chaib)

With four CDs just this year, Israeli jazz bassist Omer Avital is a man on a mission. As part of an Israeli jazz renaissance that includes the three Cohen siblings (Avishai is the trumpeter on this CD), New York City has been the obvious destination for young Israeli jazz talent to hone their craft. Avital has made Smalls , the hot jazz club in Greenwich Village his after hours destination. As a bassist with chops that can add his talents to both mainstream and avant groupings, it has enhanced his standing in the Big Apple jazz circles.

Avital’s new CD, New Song, is quite special, as he has explored his roots deeply. Born to parents from Morocco and Yemen, Omer has brought in both Middle Eastern and North African rhythms into the mix. Adding hard bop, Afro Cuban, and soul jazz to the musical stew with accessible melodies has made this CD a sure winner. Avital wrote all the compositions and the joy expressed on these eleven tracks is deeply contagious.

The opener, “Hafla” has a Jewish folk melody that is expanded by Cohen and Frahm’s horns and a sparkling piano line by pianist Avishai. Daniel Freedman on drums pushes the pulse and it all comes together nicely in a danceable groove. The title track flirts with a Latin feel set by the drummer and the horns ensemble blend is rock solid.

“Tsafdina” adds an Afro-Cuban vibe to our world tour with Omer. Yonathan’s piano is in full synch with Freedman’s drums. It would make a great wedding dance as its rhythms are joyous and the repetitive vocals of Mehdi Chaib add to the effect. “Avishkes” is a tender ballad with Cohen’s burnished trumpet and Avital’s bass solo taking honors.

“Sabah El-Kheir (Good Morning)” begins with a Avital solo followed by a Frahm swinging solo that struts and the party continues with more joyful themes.

“New Middle East” melds jazz with Middle Eastern anthemic horns. “Maroc” features trumpeter Cohen channeling Miles before the tune morphs into North African jazz meets edgy NYC street drumming. It all works…

“Ballad for a Friend” brings down the energy to a heartfelt tribute to someone obviously special to Omer. Very moving. “Bedouin Roots” has a tender theme until mid-track and then ups the energy. “Yemen Suite” covers many bases and makes fascinating listening.

The closing number shows the playful side of Omer. “Small Time Shit” has the entire band in a choir (adding Pini Shavit) repeating the song title in a refrain. It’s a soul jazz shout-out showing Omer digging his stateside new home.

New Song is the real deal – a world music tour with a strong jazz roots.

TrackList: Hafla, New Song, Tsafdina, Avishkes, Sabah El-Kheir,New Middle East, Maroc, Ballad for a Friend, Bedouin Roots, Yemen Suite, Small Time Shit

—Jeff Krow