Album reviews

Ariel Bart – ‘In Between’

Ariel Bart In Between
(Ropeadope Records. Album Review by Jane Mann)

22-year-old Ariel Bart is a chromatic harmonica player and composer from Israel. In 2019, she played on American free jazz bass player William Parker’s Migration Of Silence Into and Out of the Tone Worlds, and on The Center Will Hold by American avant-garde jazz trombonist Steve Swell. In Between is her first CD with her own jazz quintet. She took up her unusual instrument at seven, carried on through secondary school, performed her military service with the Israeli Defence Forces as a musician, and then went to New York to complete her studies. She has just graduated in Jazz Performance from The New School University.

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She joins a very small band of jazz chromatic harmonica players – including Toots Thielemans, Karen Mantler and Stevie Wonder. Alongside jazz, she is fond of what she calls “Middle Eastern flavours” – she has played with the Jerusalem East West Orchestra, which performs the music of the Middle East, Andalusia and Maghreb on a mixture of Western and Middle Eastern instruments. She loves the music of Anouar Brahem, the Tunisian oud player, and is just discovering Turkish music. She also listens to Keith Jarrett – the piano is her second instrument, and the one on which she composes.

The combination of instruments in her band of talented young players is unexpected – a traditional jazz piano trio plus a frontline of cello and chromatic harmonica. That pairing of cello and harmonica sounds good, especially when the harmonica sound is at its most accordion-like. Bart composed and produced all the music.

There are no sleeve notes for reference, but the pieces come across in the main as melancholy and contemplative, even when the rhythm section players are doing their delicate but complicated thing. Bart has a gift for a nostalgic melody, for tunes suffused with great longing and sadness. Her clear tone is beautiful and haunting, and the music is light and accessible.

Many of the tracks sound to my ears like soundtracks to imagined films. Stranger on the Hill, for example, is like a short overture during which the cello, piano and harmonica pass between them a fragment of a song, lightly embellishing it as they go, until the theme resurfaces fully-fledged (in my mind as the imaginary titles roll).

The Year After has another lovely melody – the harmonica leads but the band are completely interwoven in the musical whole. Special mention here for the intricate duetting between Bart and pianist Moshe Elmakias. He is Israeli too, an exact contemporary of Bart’s who also spent his mandatory military service as a musician – this would appear to be an excellent finishing school for honing musical technique.

Greece-based cellist Mayu Shviro gets to showcase her considerable skill on the short track Intro. Born in Israel of Japanese and Iraqi ancestry, Shviro has a special interest in modal music, and in Arabic, Turkish and Azeri musical forms, and you can hear some of those influences here. Israeli bass player David Michaeli, who has a parallel career in jazz rock with a band in Tel-Aviv called Shalosh (recorded by ACT), plays elegant chamber jazz here. By contrast, Brooklyn-based but Israel-raised drummer Amir Bar Akiva has a fascination for Latin rhythms, as well as traditional Israeli ones – his playing here is subtle and precise. All these different specialisations, but shared sensibilities, make for an extremely sympathetic band. The little tugs in different musical directions result in interesting collaborative work.

I am curious to see what comes next as Ariel Bart continues to develop her musical voice and expand her compositional range. She is planning to study for a Master’s Degree in Europe, as soon as it is feasible, so with any luck we might get a chance to hear her and her lovely quintet play live in the not too distant future.

LINK: In Between at Ropeadope Records

and on Bandcamp

In Between is released on 20 May 2021

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