Itamar Borochov – Arba
(Greenleaf Music. Album Review by Adam Sieff)
Arba is the first new album in five years from the Jaffa-raised trumpeter Itamar Borochov. He’s been a New York City resident since 2007 when he enrolled at The New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music (who have a deep and historical connection with Israeli jazz). He’s a founder member of the band Yemen Blues and was awarded the LetterOne Rising Stars Jazz Award (European Edition) in February 2021. Itamar is the son of composer and bassist Israel Borochov, the leader of the East West Ensemble (‘considered the Peter Gabriel of Israel’) and his brother is the double bassist Avri Borochov.
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Arba (meaning ‘four’ in Hebrew) was recorded over two days in April 2022 at Brooklyn’s Big Orange Sheep studio with pianist Rob Clearfield, double bassist Rick Rosato and drummer Jay Sawyer. The tracks were produced by Matt Pierson, recorded by Michael Perez-Cisneros and mixed and mastered by Chris Allen, and are now released on Dave Douglas’ Greenleaf Music.
The nine compositions were written during what was supposed to be a brief return visit to Jaffa in 2020 that thanks to the pandemic, turned into a year before Borochov could get back to New York. At the heart of this music is his study of the Maqamat, the ornate system of modes that anchors Arabic music, as well the influence of the music he absorbed at his Sephardic synagogue (with its roots in medieval Spain and Portugal) and American jazz music. His main instrument is a custom-built quarter tone 4-valve trumpet built by David Monette, with which he can play ‘the notes between the notes’ that are vital to the Maqamat.
The melodies are all strong and memorable, this is inclusive music that invites the listener in with warm, round tones in an intimate setting. The atmospheric opener Abraham quickly builds from an ancient theme into Borochov’s breathtaking trumpet solo with the other musicians ratcheting up the intensity – you can almost feel the hot wind of the chamsin on you face. Bayat Blues suddenly switches up from Clearfield’s piano reminiscent of a Vagif Mustafa Zadeh piece into something that’s hard swinging from Rosato and Sawyer with Borochov flying on top.
Clearfield’s sparing use of Hammond organ and electric piano gives subtle variation to the overall sound where it’s needed, especially the latter on the poignant What Broke You? But what took a while to fully appreciate were Borochov’s vocals, both wordless or lyrical. Following an impassioned beginning on the powerful Ya Sahbi (My Friend) his voice eventually blends into his trumpet and his brother Avri’s oud. But after a while it all started making sense, as it especially does on the wordless Who Shall Grant Me Flight which ends far too soon but sets up the closer Farewell with its strong sense of a positive future.
Borochov is a spectacular trumpeter with a voice that’s distinctly his own, and unites the sounds of Israel, the Middle East, North Africa and American jazz music into a beautiful and seamless whole. His upcoming two nights at The Pizza Express Jazz Club promise to be very special.
Release date: 8 September 2023