Album reviews

Roy Mor – ‘After The Real Thing’

Roy Mor – After The Real Thing
(Ubuntu Music UBU0081. Album review by Adrian Pallant)

The evocative strains of the oud were the immediate allure of this attractive debut recording, as leader, by Israeli pianist Roy Mor. His album title references a venturous decision to both complete his studies and fulfil his career ambitions in the USA: “Looking back, I guess ‘going after the real thing’ for me was perhaps leaving a secure position with Microsoft in Israel and moving to New York to pursue my dream of being a musician in New York City, the mecca of jazz”. There, Mor worked alongside artists including Francisco Mela, Tyshawn Sorey, Stacy Dillard; and now back in his homeland, he leads his own trio, quartet and sextet.

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After The Real Thing sees the pianist exploring several of his original compositions – influenced by the people, places and experiences he has encountered in NYC, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – plus interpretations of classics by names such as Kurt Weill and Hoagy Carmichael. While seemingly a variable piano trio setting with bassists Myles Sloniker, Martin Kenney or Joel Kruzic, and drummers Itay Morchi, Peter Traunmueller or Jeremy Dutton, Mor significantly configures timbres of oud, electric guitar (Amos Hoffman) and flugelhorn (Davy Lazar) to illuminate these eleven numbers, fashioning an engaging sequence of swinging, hard-grooving and Middle East-inflected interest.

Perhaps least representative of Mor’s bop-founded jazz credentials is his opening arrangement of the late Israeli vocalist Rika Zaraï’s The Echo Song, written by her husband Yohanan – a simple yet enchanting folk-pop melody brought to life by those beautifully pliant oud sonorities and the pianist’s clear, sunny articulation. Similar in outlook is Efraim Shamir’s Do You Know The Way, whose breezy oud tune (quite the earworm) is freely improvised across by Mor. But alongside these relative ‘lollipops’ is resounding evidence of the pianist’s immersion in the intensive jazz venues of New York, presenting his own writing with impressive zeal. Jerusalem Mezcla – inspired by the capital’s multicultural Mahne Yehuda market – fizzes with rhythm and atmosphere, and key to this bustling propulsion is Itay Morchi’s prominent, clattering percussion, as well as Mor’s own high-flying improvisations.

Chirpy, bluesy After The Real Thing is a charmer of a piano-trio title track, infectiously swinging; and Playground’s brisk blitheness is accentuated by Mor’s deft, acciaccatura-detailed runs. Shuffling Nikanor features the agile though still mellow extemporisations of flugelhornist Davy Lazar (alas, his only appearance), proving how adaptable the leader’s colourful compositions can be. Indeed, such a chameleonic shift can also be heard in ebullient Solar Reimagined (preluded by piano miniature Daybreak) and the balladic piano elegance of The Follower as oud player Hoffman switches to both bubbling and luxuriant electric guitar expressions. The familiar and wistful lushness of Kurt Weill’s Speak Low is exchanged for something increasingly more vivacious, while the closing interpretation of Hoagy Carmichael’s The Nearness of You pulls into focus Mor’s sensitive romanticism at the keyboard in a live trio performance which coruscates with his characterful, improvisational swerves.

In an album overflowing with a warm, eclectic blend of jazz joie de vivre and Israeli spirit, Roy Mor has unequivocally arrived at his ‘real thing’ – for now. As he tantalisingly confirms, “The journey continues”; and with such an open heart and mind for artistic connectivity and collaboration, of that there seem little doubt.

After The Real Thing is released on Ubuntu Music today, 21 May 2021

FEATURE/INTERVIEW: Roy Mor – ‘After The Real Thing’

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