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by Ian Mann

September 28, 2009


An excellent album from a precocious young piano talent and a formidable rhythm team

Israeli born pianist Yaron Herman is now based in Paris and this latest release on the French Laborie label is distributed in Britain by Proper. The 28 year old also spent some time in New York City where he met the ace American rhythm section that graces this record, bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Gerald Cleaver.
I’ve not heard Herman’s previous release “A Time For Everything” but the album was noted for it’s cover versions of unlikely pop material such as Britney Spears’ “Toxic” evoking comparisons with The Bad Plus. Herman has taken a step back from the covers repertoire here, a brooding version of Bjork’s “Isobel” is the only modern pop song in this collection. The bulk of the material is original, mainly from the pen of Herman although bassist Brewer also contributes two memorable compositions. In a diverse and eclectic mix there is also a version Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” plus investigations of two Israeli pop songs from Herman’s youth.
Herman also unveils his classical leanings with three of the tracks featuring the string quartet of Pierre Colombet and Gabriel Le Magadure (violins), Matthieu Herzog (viola) and Raphael Merlin (cello). The string players appear on the opening title track, the most obviously classically influenced item on the record, sounding something like a piano sonata.

Brewer and Cleaver don’t enter the proceedings until track 2, an innovative look at “Con Alma”  that emphasises the beauty and lyricism of Gillespie’s melody and strips away the Latin clichés sometimes associated with the piece.
But the real meat of the album begins with the urgent, churning Herman original “Vertigo”. Here the improvisatory spirit and the high level of interaction between the members of the trio truly comes into focus for the first time. Herman’s lightning runs are brilliantly supported by the rhythm section. It’s thrilling stuff.

The first of the Israeli tunes Alexander Argov’s “Lamidbar” is nearly as fine with Herman’s Jarrett style improvising to the fore (he even sings along at times). Brewer and Cleaver offer energetic but sympathetic support-both are hugely impressive throughout the album and once again this is invigorating listening.

Herman lowers the temperature with the abstract ballad “Perpetua” which re-introduces some of his classical tendencies. Although less frenetic than it’s immediate predecessors it’s still thoroughly absorbing, again reminiscent of Jarrett at times, and seems to develop organically. The piece shows that Herman can tell a story, he’s not all about flash and wilful eclecticism. 
The string quartet return for Bjork’s “Isobel” adding dark textures to Cleaver’s insistent drum groove as Herman picks out the melody before moving on to improvise more expansively. It’s a highly effective pop/jazz/classical hybrid, brooding and distinctive. 

“Joya”, the first of Brewer’s two contributions is a reflective ballad with a beautiful melody. Appropriately the bassist features himself here, demonstrating a huge tone and a considerable lyrical gift. 

“Lu Yehi”, written by Naomi Shemer is the second Israeli pop tune to be investigated by Herman. It is presented as a piece for solo piano with Herman’s sparse playing bringing out the beauty of the melody and making good use of the spaces between the notes. There is a classical discipline about his playing here that contrasts nicely with the headlong rush of his improvising on some of the earlier trio pieces, notably “Vertigo” and “Lamidbar”. 
Herman’s “Twins” opens with a solo bass introduction from the excellent Brewer before the trio hit an almost E.S.T. like groove. They improvise on and beyond this in yet another convincing example of group interaction.
Brewer’s “And The Rain”  is another example of the bassist’s excellent compositional skills. It’s a lovely tune, almost hymnal at times, but at just over two minutes tantalisingly brief. Cleaver’s occasional use of tuned percussion is a delightful detail in this charming miniature. 
The closing track Herman’s “Rina Balle” features the trio working alongside the string quartet . At a little over eight minutes it’s the album’s lengthiest track and the earlier stages feature a typically lyrical but technically brilliant Brewer bass solo. The strings are simultaneously lush and brooding and one of the violins is featured as a solo instrument before Herman himself picks up the reins with a rhapsodic solo that eventually fades away leaving the album to end on a reflective note. “Rina Balle`” is an an ambitious, discursive track that successfully combines Herman’s jazz and classical influences.

“Muse” is a consistently interesting album with some superb playing from all of the main participants. The album has received some criticism for being too wide ranging with Herman never settling on a style. There may be some validity in this but for me Herman’s ambition and versatility is something to be encouraged. He has a huge imagination to go with all that technique and “Muse” is never, ever dull. Herman may go on to make even better records but on the whole this is an excellent album from a precocious young piano talent and a formidable rhythm team.

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