by Ian Mann
September 28, 2023
His use of vocals on this current album, in conjunction with his increasingly distinctive trumpet playing, has resulted in something unique.
Greenleaf Music GRE-CD-1103)
Itamar Borochov – trumpet, voice, effects, Rob Clearfield, piano, Rhodes, Hammond B3 organ, Rick Rosato – double bass, Jay Sawyer – drums, percussion,
plus Avri Borochov – oud (track 3)
In 2018 I was introduced to the music of the Israeli born, New York based trumpeter, composer and bandleader Itamar Borochov.
In October of that year I favourably reviewed Borochov’s then current album “Blue Nights”, which was released on the French label Laborie Jazz. The album personnel included Rob Clearfield on piano and Jay Sawyer at the drums with the bass chair occupied by the leader’s brother Avri Borochov, who also doubled on oud. For this latest release Rick Rosato has taken over on bass while Avri limits himself to a brief guest appearance on oud. “Blue Nights” album review here;
Suitably impressed by the “Blue Nights” recording I subsequently enjoyed a live performance by the Borochov quartet at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Holborn, the line up featuring Clearfield, Sawyer and the Dutch musician Nicolas Thys on double bass. This was a superb live performance that even surpassed the album and which captured the full power and majesty of Borochov’s playing. My review of this live performance can be found as part of my Festival coverage here;
The rest of the band were also superb and I subsequently reviewed Clearfield’s solo piano album “Wherever You’re Starting From”. Review here;
Borochov’s latest album sees him moving to fellow trumpeter Dave Douglas’ Greenleaf Music record label. “Arba”, the title of the new record is the Hebrew word for “Four” and the album follows “Outset” (2014), “Boomerang” (2016) and, of course, “Blue Lights” (2018).
The following biographical details are sourced from my “Blue Nights” review;
Originally from the cosmopolitan port city of Jaffa Borochov (born 1984) brings the influence of Sephardic sacred music to jazz, particularly the use of Arabic scales. He first heard this music in his local synagogue and has since broadened his range of musical influences to include the ‘maqams’ of the greater Middle East and North Africa. The ‘maqam’ is the mode of Arabic Music, hence the resemblance of some of Borochov’s music to the modal jazz of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and others.
In addition to his Jewish, Arab and North African influences Borochov has also immersed himself in the realms of jazz and bebop, increasingly so since moving to the US. Borochov began playing trumpet at the age of eleven and has absorbed the jazz trumpet lineage of Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham, Clark Terry, and Booker Little through to Wynton Marsalis, Jon Hassell and Arve Henriksen. He has also been open to the influence of other jazz instrumentalists such as saxophonists Ben Webster, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy. His musical mentors since moving to the US have included such jazz veterans such as trombonist Curtis Fuller, vocalist Betty Carter and pianist Barry Harris.
Borochov also cites the influence of Weather Report plus such non-jazz artists as diverse as Edith Piaf, Nasrat Fatah Ali Khan and Prince. The trumpeter is interested in the similarities between different musical cultures, traditions and genres and brings something of that fascination to bear in his music.
“Blue Nights”, despite its many influences, is primarily a jazz record - as distinct from a ‘world jazz’ record. The core instrumentation is just trumpet, piano, double bass and drums, that of a classic jazz quartet. Borochov’s frequently quoted remark helps to put things into context;
“I have to be real. If John Coltrane was informed by his father being a preacher I had to do the same thing. Lee Morgan brought gospel and I’m bringing Sephardi synagogue music.”
The music on “Blue Nights” combined jazz with musical elements sourced from the Middle East and North Africa, ranging from Israel through Yemen to the Gnawa tradition of Morocco. There was a definite air of spirituality about the music that drew on the inspiration of Miles Davis and John Coltrane in addition to Borochov’s Sephardic upbringing and the influence of the maqam.
In 2020 at the beginning of lockdown Borochov went back to Jaffa and was unable to return to New York for over a year. His album liner notes describe this unsettling experience and the measures he took to counter it;
“I was in my homeland but away from my home, with nothing more than a small suitcase and my trumpet. The world was in turmoil and I found solace by taking a deep dive into the world of traditional maqamat and devising new ways of adapting it to the trumpet. My main companion for months was a custom built Monette quarter tone four valve instrument, which liberated me to explore this music in a powerfully authentic way and brought a sense of freedom in an otherwise locked down existence”.
“Arba” represents a compilation of some of the music that Borochov composed during this period. He describes the album as;
“A love song, not without pain, but ultimately celebrating an emergence through a time of hopelessness and loss to discover the steady radiance of a life source within, to accept the simple beauty of existence”.
Of the music itself he says;
“It embraces elements that make up my own life path – a musical language which originates from the stirring Middle Eastern sounds which have surrounded me since my childhood by the Mediterranean and traces my journey to the energy infused streets of New York”.
The personal nature of the album, allied to Borochov’s immersion in traditional maqamat forms, has resulted in Borochov featuring his singing voice on disc for the first time. Mainly deployed wordlessly it proves to be a surprisingly effective instrument and adds depth, drama and authenticity to the music. It represents an extension of his writing process, which usually sees him composing at the piano and singing vocal melodies that are subsequently transferred to the trumpet.
Jazz remains a vital component of Borochov’s sound and is part of a music that attempts to reach beyond generic and geographical boundaries, as the trumpeter explains;
A song has no genre. This is part of my intention : a song can be perceived in different ways like a multi-dimensional holographic event. It could work as a traditional Middle Eastern song, a jazz tune, something more in a singer-songwriter vein. I’m trying to write something that you can view from all these angles, with the song at the centre”.
The album was recorded in Brooklyn in April 2022 following Borochov’s return to New York and features Borochov’s regular American working band. It was produced by the vastly experienced Matt Pierson.
Album opener “Abraham” opens with the sounds of Borochov’s whispering trumpet and Clearfield’s gentle piano arpeggios. Sawyer adds crisp but sensitive cymbal embellishments before the piece gradually begins to gather momentum, acquiring a certain type of majesty as Borochov solos fluently. There’s a hint of Miles and maybe Tomasz Stanko in his sound and he’s also capable of reaching into his instrument’s upper registers. Clearfield solos lucidly on acoustic piano while Rosato and Sawyer provide sensitive accompaniment, the drummer impressing with the subtlety and detail of his playing. At Pierson’s suggestion the climax of the piece features Borochov’s voice, variously multi-tracked to create a widescreen choral effect, or as a solo muezzin like wail. Either way it’s highly effective and demonstrates his considerable ability as a singer.
Constructed along similar lines with a trumpet / piano duo opening “Dirge” is a lot less dreary than its title might suggest. Indeed it’s downright beautiful as lyrical piano combines with mellifluous trumpet and typically sensitive rhythmic accompaniment, with Sawyer deploying a mixture of brushes and sticks. Clearfield solos expansively and lyrically as the music again gradually gathers momentum. The sound becomes more dramatic as the leader takes over on trumpet, eventually soaring into the upper registers once more as the rhythmic momentum continues to build. There is no singing here, but there is always an understated vocal quality about Borochov’s trumpet playing.
A dramatic roll of the drums introduces the powerful “Y Sahbi”, which features Borochov’s impassioned singing of the lyrics of a one word poem. This is a piece that is emphatically a “song” and the singing covers a wide tonal range, sometimes reaching into the falsetto register. The leader’s trumpet playing is as powerful and impassioned as his singing, with the impressive Sawyer drumming up a storm behind him. Pierson weaves both voice and trumpet into the mix at one point as the music builds towards an apparent climax. However this is only the first part of the song and an extended, gentler second section features the soloing of Avri Borochov on oud, blending effectively with the sounds of voice and trumpet.
“This is my first album not to feature my older brother Avri on bass, but I’m happy that I could include him playing oud on ‘Ya Sahbi’, so there’s still that connection”, explains Borochov.
Unaccompanied piano introduces the gentle and poignant “What Broke You?”, with Clearfield joined by the ruminative whisper of Borochov’s trumpet. Clearfield’s subsequent piano solo is sparse and lyrical, but just when you think this is going to be a duo performance subtle bass and brushed drums are added as Borochov resumes the lead on trumpet.
Written in 7/4 “Wabisabi” features Borochov’s singing of a wordless melody, underscored by Clearfield’s sensitive piano accompaniment. The intensity increases with the eventual addition of bass and drums as Borochov moves to the trumpet, soloing powerfully and passionately.
“Bayat Blues” is based on the scale known as ‘maqam bayat’ and sounds authentically Middle Eastern at first, before switching to a kind of ‘double time swing’ as both Clearfield, on piano, and Borochov solo powerfully, expansively and impressively.
Borochov adopts a softer trumpet sound on “Truth”, a piece with the feel of a jazz ballad but underpinned by the quietly complex patter of Sawyer’s hand drumming. Borochov first met bassist Rosato when the pair were studying at New York’s New School under the tutelage of pianist Barry Harris. Rosato takes his first solo of the set here, a concise but melodic excursion on double bass. Borochov subsequently takes over on trumpet, with Sawyer’s hand drumming also featured more comprehensively.
The brief “Who Shall Give Me Flight” features Borochov’s expressive wordless singing underscored by Clearfield’s piano in a genuine duo performance.
Appropriately the album concludes with the anthemic “Farewell”, building from the now familiar piano / trumpet introduction via Sawyer’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers to a pensive Borochov solo, and then on to a celebratory, widescreen magnificence.
“Arba” builds on the success of “Blue Nights” to create an even more successful and convincing amalgam of jazz and Middle Eastern music. As an instrumentalist Borochov had already done much in terms of creating a sound of his own, his use of vocals on this current album, in conjunction with his increasingly distinctive trumpet playing, has resulted in something unique. Clearfield, Rosato and Sawyers all make superb contributions while Avri Borochov provides an enjoyable cameo on oud.
The Itamar Borochov Quartet is currently on tour in Europe with two London dates at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho on 5th and 6th October 2023. These will be performances that are well worth seeing, so catch them if you can.
2023 ALBUM RELEASE TOUR DATES:
29 Sep Paradox Tilburg,
30 Sep, LantarenVenster
Hnita - Jazz Club
Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho
London, United Kingdom
Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho
London, United Kingdom
Jazz Tibet Club
New York, NY
Further details at https://www.itamarborochov.com/tour
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