Once upon a time, jazz, an American creation, was confined for the most part within its borders. But that was once upon a time. Today, any barriers that once kept jazz within a prescribed realm have long since vanished, and the music Americans once embraced as their own has flourished around the world, performed with increasing awareness and dexterity by artists who have built upon the patterns created in the land of its birth to weave colorful and charming tapestries of their own that enhance and broaden the jazz tradition.
Saxophonist Amit Friedman is an Israeli whose first up-close taste of American jazz came when he was fourteen years old was and taken by his father during a visit to New York City to the Blue Note Club to see vocalist Jon Hendricks and organist Jimmy Smith. "When you play at the Blue Note," his father said to him, "I want to be your chauffeur and drive you there in a limo." Once back home, Friedman set about trying to make that happen, performing regularly with his groups and others, recording two well-received albums and becoming one of the better-known young jazz musicians in the country.
Along the way he learned to compose and arrange as well, adding two more potent weapons to his already impressive arsenal. On his third album, Unconditional Love, Friedman overlays contemporary post-bop jazz with a Middle Eastern vibe to produce a bright and pleasing mostly-quartet session on which he encamps for the most part on tenor saxophone. Percussionist Rony Iwryn amplifies the quartet on three numbers, oud player Amos Hoffman on two, and there are vocals by Joca Perpignan ("Alma") and Doron Talmon ("Stride by Stride").
Friedman lulls the listener into a sense of repose on the opener, "Home at Last," before an abrupt uptick in tempo at the 2:30 mark turns what had been a quiet journey into an all-out scamper on which Friedman and pianist Tom Oren set the pace while bassist Gilad Abro and drummer Yonatan Rosen make sure there are no imprecise turns. Having shown its mastery of the sprint, the quartet settles into a laid-back groove on "Mal-Mal" before turning up the heat on "Name Droppin.'" The title song, a melodious ballad with ardent blowing by Friedman, Oren and Abro, precedes the light and lyrical "Rill-Rool" (with Friedman on soprano) and swaggering "Blues for Jackito," an old-school swinger on which everyone shows his affinity for American-style jazz.
Joca sings well on "Alma," a smooth-flowing samba with a Brazilian flavor, as does Talmon on the warm-hearted "Stride by Stride." The gentle "Sunset" is sandwiched between, with Hoffman splendid on oud, before the quartet (Friedman, soprano) closes with Paul McCartney's rhapsodic "Junk." While it's a shame that Friedman's father didn't live long enough to drive him to the Blue Note, he would no doubt be pleased to know that his son is moving closer to that cherished destination with every day that passes and every note he blows.