Published 5/5/11 DownBeat Magazine
by John Ephland
All About The Beauty
Checking out Shauli Einav's debut recording, Opus One (Plus Loin Music), one wonders
how this gifted saxophonist might fit into the current wave of talented, young Israel musicians on today's jazz scene. Think Avishai Cohen, Omer Avital and Anat Cohen for starters.
"I used to dance in an Israeli folk dance group," Einav recalls, thinking about growing
up in Israel. "My father was their accordionist and my older sister also danced there." As if to make a connection with Opus One, he adds, "I think that Israeli folk music has influenced my compositions."
To anyone taking a Blindfold Test on any of the nine pieces composed and arranged by the leader, Opus One would come across as a smartly played, swinging and evocative jazz album. Even with titles like "Hayu Leilot," "Shavuot" and "Jerusalem Theme," there's no obvious way to hear this music other than as something straight out of the Big Apple.
Some of that might be because Einav relocated to the States after he served in the Israeli army and earned his bachelor's degree from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. He then received a master's degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. From there it was on to New York City in 2008, where he has made a name for himself. Four reasons why the 29-year-old Einav garners attention in a crowded field are his mentors: Walt Weiskopf, Dave Liebman, Harold Danko and the late Arnie Lawrence. A saxophonist and top-flight educator, Lawrence moved to Israel in 1997 and founded the International Center for Creative Music in Jerusalem. As a common denominator among many of his peers, Einav says, "Arnie influenced almost every new Israeli jazz musician that has come to New York since the '90s."
Asked about the players who join him for Opus One, Einav is effusive about everyone on
board. "In each one of these musicians I see integrity, honesty and kindness," he says. "When the people are like that, in addition to being superb musicians, you cannot go wrong."
Speaking more specifically, Einav notes, "I've known Shai Maestro since we were very
young, and it has been amazing for me to see how well he's done in his career, taking the piano chair with the Avishai Cohen Trio for the last five years. Joseph Lepore, in addition to being one of the busiest bassists in town, was one of the most welcoming people that I've met. Johnathan Blake is one of my favorite drummers, and he's usually playing with other great Israeli musicians, such as Omer and Avishai. After a referral from a friend, I met [trombonist] Andy Hunter a few weeks before the recording. I was not disappointed, to say the least."
The music on Opus One reflects the same friendly vibe that Einav describes when speaking of his bandmates. From the bop-oriented "Kavana" to more straight ahead swing with "The DameIin" to ballads like "New Era Ballad" and "Naama," the cohesion of the tight rhythm section coupled with the Einav/Hunter front line sets the stage for some very intriguing solos, especially from the leader, whose maturity and style indicate a great amount of heart and soul. That spirit is also reflected in the arrangements and compositions, which combine sophistication with memorable melodies.
When Einav refers to "delivering a message to the world," he's mainly talking about the lessons he learned from Lawrence. "Opus One, for me:' Einav explains, "is like a book of short stories. Each tune has its own story but at the same time they connect to each other. I tried taking the listener on a trip into my own life. I called it Opus One because it is a compilation of works collected through my last two years since coming to New York City."
Even if one weren't aware of Einav's background, the quality of his playing and writing
make him a noteworthy young talent, regardless of how his music might get classified.
"Categorizing is really hard and sometimes contradicts the music," Einav notes. "So I'd just say that it's all music. And like my mentor Arnie Lawrence liked to say, 'It's all about the beauty.' At the same time, I understand that by knowing the backstory, one can really connect more to the artist, which means a great deal to me."
SUBSCRIBE TO DOWNBEAT MAGAZINE