Guitarist Ori Dakari's music fuses the seemingly disparate worlds of modern jazz and the folk and ethnic musics of North Africa and Eastern Europe.
The first thing I noticed on his debut CD, Entrances, was the ease with which Dakari's compositions and improvisations incorporate all of these influences without watering them down or sounding gimmicky or cute. The music on Entrances, while somewhat less iconoclastic and more earnest than most of the offerings from the Tzadik label, is a passionate, soulful and thoroughly enjoyable listening experience. The young Israeli sticks to a clean jazz guitar sound, unadorned by electronic effects, and his composing - though clearly informed by the traditional music of his homeland - is rooted in the mid-60s/early-70s indie jazz ethic that sprung up during the most adventurous days of the Blue Note label and was carried forward by the great Black-owned and operated independents such as Strata East. The hard-hitting, incantatory "Sun," for example, reminded me of some of McCoy Tyner's work from the early 70's. Middle eastern soul-jazz, anyone?
Dakari's band on "Entrances" is comprised of gifted young musicians he encountered in the US over the past few years. This was my first experience hearing any of them, and I came away quite impressed. Drummer Eric Doob (now gigging with saxophonists Miguel Zenon and Paquito D'Rivera), saxophonist Uri Gurvich (whose own fine debut CD, "The Storyteller," was also issued by Tzadik in 2009), and pianist Mika Nishimura - like Dakari - have all studied at Berklee, while bassist Takashi Sugawa has played with Gurvich in a variety of settings in New York. They prove to be quite simpatico with Dakari's unique musical vision, and provide numerous inspired and creative contributions throughout "Entrances."
Entrances is a well-calibrated mix of fiery up-tempo tunes and mellower, more reflective pieces - all composed by Dakari. The opening track, "Beresheet," has a bit of each: it opens with a lovely minor-keyed rubato motif that transitions into a driving Latin-ish 4/4 before tumbling into a Klezmer-like breakdown. Doob's drumming stands out - he handles the piece's changing rhythmic accents and multiple tempi with effortless grace, while accentuating improvisations by Gurvich, and Dakari with well-placed and beautifully-executed fills. Doob works well with bassist Sugawa, who, like Doob, is a high-energy presence throughout this fine CD. Gurvich's saxophone work is soulful and easy to like - he has a pleasant, broad tone and builds his solos slowly and thoughtfully, though not without surprises. I especially enjoyed his work on 'Besora' - where he's accompanied only by Doob and Sugawa's pulsing Latin-derived rhythms. Nishimura is featured prominently on a few of the slower pieces. "Tzabar" benefits from her gentle touch on the Fender Rhodes, and her acoustic piano solos on "Rememberance" and "Zehut" are intelligent and pleasant to listen to.
Entrances is an impressive debut by a fine young guitarist and composer who has a lot to say. I am already looking forward to the follow-up!