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Andarta by Roy Assaf and Eddy Khaimanovich

Roy Assaf and Eddy Khaimovich take the customary steps for a jazz ensemble's debut record on Andarta. Re-harmonized standards? Check! Guest spin from an established soloist? Check! Lopsided balance favoring the instrument(s) of the band leader(s)? Check! Over-the-top attempts to demonstrate a unique voice in composition and improvisation? Check! Despite this paint-by-numbers approach to composition and production, the record is a yeomanÍs effort. Assaf is a capable composer. The strongest tracks are his compositions. Khaimovich plays bass with a managed aggression; his tone is sharp and attacking, while staying warm and engaging at the same time. And the two leaders have surrounded themselves with able sidemen and an excellent guest soloist in Roy Hargrove.

The two standards that open the record, "All of You" and "You DonÍt Know What Love Is," suffer from a common desire on the part of young musicians to tinker. Standards shouldn't be such a difficult proposition. There's no need to reimagine every aspect of a standard with each new performance. Assaf's arrangement of each track attempts to be clever, but winds up sounding pretentious. His milquetoast and kitschy arrangement of "You Don't Know What Love Is" places the band in a difficult position. The arrangement is based on a down-tempo groove that strives toward a hip-hop/R&B feel, but feels more like the type of contemporary piano pop of artists like Daniel Powter, Ben Folds, or Keane. The rhythm is square, a light lilt approximates a bit of swing, and even Hargrove taking the head can't rescue the amateurish pop arrangement. There is a hint of complexity in the use of a more complicated harmonic vocabulary at the end of each phrase, but this just comes off as an ill-stated interjection of "Look, Ma, I learned a new chord!" Khaimanovich is the only musician to take on the arrangement successfully, playing a fluid chorus that dances around the head without overtly playing it.

Hargrove's guest playing on the three tracks is characteristically sound. He plays melodically inventive lines with an enveloping timbre. He only stands out insofar as sounding like the best soloist in the ensemble, but doesn't draw too much attention to himself. Instead, the record draws the listener's attention mainly to Assaf, who is at home playing his own compositions. "On the Way" features a circular, engaging head that draws the listener in and is melodically simple, despite the textural indications otherwise. Assaf and saxophonist Robin Verheyen handle the melody, with Hargrove adding a third layer every so often (despite the group playing mainly in unison). However, Assaf's playing as accompanist is rote. He doesn't so much prod his soloists, as provide a palette for the soloist to work against. At times, Assaf's playing seems content to revel in the composition without engaging other members of the band.

The mix does not help the band's sound, most obscuring Khaimovich's contributions. I initially blamed the lack of audio fidelity and the distorting bass on the fact that I immediately converted the tracks to compressed MP3s and placed them on my iPod. But even after checking the disc on a number of media, from a portable boombox to a high quality speaker system, the mix remained poor and Khaimovich's aggressive playing continued to crackle through any number of speakers I attempted to listen through. It's a shame, as Khaimanovich is a driving and inventive bassist, pushing his soloists and leading the listener through the changes.

To round out the ensemble, Verheyen's playing is solid if unspectacular, and drummer Ronen Itzik often performs in a completely undramatic and disengaged manner, as if he's in a different room from the other musicians. Indeed, Itzik's playing is the low-point of the record. On the whole, the record is uneven and lacking in chemistry among the ensemble, but nonetheless, demonstrates Assaf's bright presence as a composer, and Khaimanovich's forceful playing as an improviser and accompanist.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Roy Assaf and Eddy Khaimanovich
  • CD Title: Andarta
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Record Label: Origin Records
  • Tracks: All of You, You DonÕt Know What Love Is, Stuv, On the Way..., The Saga of Imaba, Waltz for T, Andarta
  • Musicians: Roy Hargrove, (trumpet on tracks 1, 2, 4), Robin Verheyen (saxophones on tracks 1, 3-7), Roy Assaf (piano), Eddy Khaimovich (bass), Ronen Itzik (drums)
  • Rating: Two Stars
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