The ‘sound of surprise’, writes Mike Collins, is a description often attached to jazz since American writer Whitney Balliett used it in the early 60s. It sprang to mind as London Jazz News spoke to the Israeli-born pianist Roy Mor about his debut release under his own name, coming out on Ubuntu Music.
The album was recorded in New York before the pandemic. Mor brought together musicians he’d played with in different settings over a number of years, and worked on tunes he’d composed and arranged over that period.
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‘I’m very happy with it’ says Mor with a smile and then adds, ‘I didn’t expect it to sound like this’. There’s a suggestion of him remembering a younger self, and imagining what they might think of what he has created. After The Real Thing brings together people and music from years of moving from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv to New York and back to Israel, with a return to New York for the recording. Mor himself uses words like ‘eclectic’ and ‘journey’ to describe it adding ‘It’s all me.. but there’s a common thread’. As he reflects, there’s a delight in what he hears and recognition the journey has taken some unexpected turns, the sound of surprise.
That journey took him from philosophy studies and then software engineering in Israel, to following his heart with a scholarship onto the jazz programme at the New School in New York, years gigging and working in the midst of all that the city’s creative hot-bed had to offer, and then a return to Israel. His playing and writing is steeped in the bop and post bop tradition and the album has imaginative takes on a couple of standards, Speak Low and The Nearness of You.
There’s another strong flavour though. A clutch of originals draw on styles from North Africa and the Middle East, as well as adaptions of two popular Israeli classics in The Echo Song and Do You Know The Way. The instrumentation is an important feature of the sound on these tunes with Amos Hoffman playing oud on three of the tracks. Mor offers gnawa music as reference point for the more static harmony, with looping sequences and a propulsive rhythmic feel. On tunes like Jerusalem Mezcla and Nikanor this vibe is laced with sections with more conventional harmonic movement and exchanges between instruments. The experience of playing on them led one collaborator to compare them to an epic biblical story.
Mention of a ‘biblical sound’ evokes a rueful grin from the composer pianist. ‘It’s how someone described it’, he says, ‘ and it says something about what’s different about the music’. There’s no doubt that this is a very personal album, unmistakably rooted in jazz with a sound that’s reflective both of Mor’s influences and his musical partners.
‘The people were all important to me’ he emphasised, ‘they are friends, we share a history of playing and gigging’. Guitarist and oud player Hoffman who appears on a string of bass player Avishai Cohen’s albums, was a key figure. They have a long-standing collaboration and it was Hoffman who suggested playing Oud on some of Mor’s compositions. ‘I was thinking of him when I wrote Jerusalem Mezcla, Mor says. Bass player Myles Sloniker was an associate from his New School days, drummer Itay Morchi now resident in New York, Mor first met as a 16 year-old in Israel. ‘They are all so versatile’ said Mor. There are different configurations on the album. Hoffman plays guitar on two tracks, Davy Lazar guests on flugelhorn on one, and there are a two trio numbers with hot New York rhythm section Marty Kenny on bass and the Austrian-born drummer Peter Traunmueller. ‘When you’ve been on the bandstand with people and something happens musically, it changes things between you, you’ve shared something mysterious’ he reflected. It was those relationships, connections and music, of which they’d all played selections, that he brought to the recording.
The connection with Ubuntu, forged originally through another band, the Addis Ken Project, means the resulting album will see an international release. Plans to tour the Roy Mor Group to play the music live are understandably on hold currently, but hopes are high for a European tour in October.
After the Real Thing is released on 21 May 2021
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LINKS: Roy Mor’s website
Categories: Features/Interviews (PP)