Amit Friedman Sextet's Sunrise is one of those rare albums that I want to blast from the rooftops, convinced that if the whole damn world could just hear it, the planet would be a much happier place.
It's a majestic album that soars without forgetting to swing.
It's unlikely I'll be able to contain my enthusiasm in the words of this review. Pretty sure I'm not even gonna try.
It would be nice to give an objective review, even in the context that I?m an unabashed jazz advocate. It would be nice, but it's not gonna happen. I'm hoping that you overlook my grand statements and melodramatic metaphors, and take from this review that Sunrise is worth your time to listen to and add to your own music library. I'm hoping that you take from this review that Sunrise is an album that makes it nearly impossible for me to contain my exuberance, that this music instills in me a happiness that makes me want to go up to the rooftops and shout this album all across my wonderful new hometown. While I do often get excited about much of the music I hear these days, I want you to understand that this is one of those rare albums that transcends music, and makes me appreciate the gift of life and my opportunity to be alive to hear music like this.
Now let's talk about that music:
Your album personnel: Amit Friedman (tenor & soprano sax, flute), Amos Hoffman (guitar, oud), Omri Mor (piano), Gilad Abro (bass), Amir Bresler (drums), Rony Iwryn (percussion), Chen Shenar (violin), Avner Kelmer (violin), Noam Haimovitz Weinschel (viola), Maya Belzitsman (cello), and guest: Tamar Eisenman (vocal on final track "Sunrise").
Opening track "Sunrise," begins with bass performing a slow two-step as oud enters with a sonorous melody that percolates with happy dreams. Friedman steps up on sax, rousing the tune from its sleep, eyes fluttering open, arms stretching wide. When the string trio moves in, it's magical. Friedman builds off his repeated phrasing and joins up with the string trio's flight. And then he solos, drums keeping a decent trot at his side. Oh man, uplifting and light as a feather - such a rare and beautiful experience when a song can give the sense of flying away and watching the world from above.
The second track "Or" starts with oud spinning in twirling circles while piano wants to waltz. Sax brings it further into a waltz, and oud joins in. It's the sound of a heart beating. And then they start running.
Third track "Up and Down Interlude" begins with the string trio, giving way to a piano solo, with strings adding a little accompaniment. It's a sensation of the hurricane from within the eye, and bathed in sunlight. It leads right into the fourth track, an up-tempo piece. Friedman's soprano rises up in quick steps, then comes back down, over and over. Piano leads the charge from behind, maintaining a gallop even when it feels like their feet no longer touch the ground.
Fifth track "Bolero" is a slow dance for romantics, which teasingly lulls things to a calm just for a sudden shift up, way up, in tempo for the furious bop of "The Tales of Hoffman," which lets Friedman just rear back and blow on tenor. Everyone gets a chance to solo here. More importantly, this tune is more straight-ahead than the others, and gives some necessary contrast to the Middle-Eastern jazz styles, and some perspective on the genuineness of their beauty.
Seventh track "La Refarela" doesn't slow down the pace, but the Latin percussion blended with the skip & hop of piano keep things catchy and cool, and Friedman's infusion of Middle-Eastern stylings puts a polish on the song's complexities without letting things get muddled. The pairing of Friedman's whirling dervish solo laid over top of the bass maniacally pacing back and forth across the room is a nifty moment.
Another high water mark on this album begins with an interlude, the eighth track "The Archeologist Interlude", which opens with the string quartet. Using the sensation of flying as a descriptor for anything a string quartet does has become rather commonplace, but that's for good reason. It leads right into ninth track "The Archeologist", which has the piano repeating the phrasing of the strings, soprano sax joining in, and everyone else falling in behind. Friedman's solo here builds up from the lofty heights attained by the strings.
"Optimism (for Sonny Rollins)" transitions back and forth between a mambo and blues. From a sound perspective, it's a bit out of the flow of the album, but when viewed in the light that it's likely to bring a smile to anyone who hears it, well, that sets it plum straight with the emotional perspective of Sunrise.
"You Must Go" begins gently, offering a different facet of a repeated phrasing throughout the album. Light as a feather and carried blithely away by a warm breeze, even the increasing tempos and chanting do nothing to alter the delicate trajectory this composition takes. Float, flutter, descend, and float back up all over again. Enchanting.
The album ends with a love song. A return to opening track "Sunrise," this facet of that theme adds vocalist Tamar Eisenman to the mix. Accompanied by Friedman's lilting soprano, Eisenman's easy-going sonics succinctly put a casual touch on the album finale while still conveying all of the profound emotions that mark the album as something very special.
There have been some strong albums released thus far in 2012. It's always tricky getting too definitive with this kind of statement, but I've got to slot Amit Friedman's Sunrise near (or at) the top of my Best of 2012 (thus far) list. It's outstanding simply in terms of musicianship, but add to that the recording's transcendent emotional impact, and, well, I'm ready to shout this album from the rooftops. Compelled. Beauty has that effect on me.
Peace. And cheers.