Omer Avital

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OMER AVITAL - celebrated by critics as, “extraordinary” (New York Times), “roaringly inventive” (Jazziz), and, “one of the most exciting musicians to come onto the jazz scene in the last 20 years” (Downbeat), he is a visionary composer, virtuoso musician, and gifted bandleader whose genre-defying ensembles are providing audiences around the world with swing and spiritual sustenance in equal measure.   
Born in the small town of Givatayim, Israel, to a Jewish family with Moroccan-Yemenite roots, Avital's hearty musical-spiritual appetite led him in high school to intensively explore the be-bop sounds of Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk. After spending a year with the Israeli Army Orchestra, Avital made his way to New York City where studied jazz at the New School for Music and encountered first-hand the openness, vitality, and depth of the American jazz tradition. Avital's hard work paid off in New York as he quickly established himself as one of the most promising bass players of his generation, performing, recording and touring with legends such as Barry Harris, Walter Bishop, Roy Haynes, Jimmy Cobb, Jimmy Lovelace, Bill Saxton, Al Foster, Kenny Garret, Billy Hart and Rashid Ali. Excelling as a composer, arranger, and bandleader, Avital was a regular fixture at Smalls jazz club during its heyday in the 1990's. In 1997 the Impulse Label! recorded and released the album Jazz Underground: Live at Smalls, featuring the Omer Avital Group along with five other bands. Avital was signed to Impulse! as a bandleader in 1998 and in short order, he recorded his debut album, Devil Head. Unfortunately, the label soon consolidated with Verve and thanks to internal politics, the music never saw the light of day. Undeterred, Avital went on to record and release Think With Your Heart (2001), as well as numerous albums in which he featured as co-leader and sideman with some of New York's top jazz artists, including two albums with Rashid Ali, famous for his 1960's recordings with John Coltrane. 
Avital's body of work from the 1990's would be sufficient to guarantee his place among the outstanding players on the New York scene in the 90's as well as among the top Israeli artists of his generation. But Avital is the kind of artist who is always searching for new sources of vitality and who is willing to do the hard work necessary for expanding his mastery over the various aspects of his craft, and from 2002-2005 he stepped away from the New York jazz scene, moved back to Israel and undertook a period of intense study of European classical music, Arab music in both its classical and folk forms, Israeli pioneering songs known as Zemer HaIvri, and North African and Middle Eastern piyyut, Jewish traditions of sacred song, particularly of the Moroccan and Yemenite varieties. That said, Avital didn't completely cut himself off from jazz during this period, and together with some like-minded Israeli jazz musicians who happened to be old friends, he found the time to establish Third World Love, a quartet dedicated to making a distinctively Israeli sound that became one of Israel's most successful jazz outfits ever, recording and releasing Third World Love Songs (2003), Avanim (2004), and Tel Aviv Sketches (2006). 
Revitalized by his musical retreat, Avital returned to New York City in 2005 and began releasing much of his work from the 1990's, including Asking No Permission, (2006), Arrival (2006), The Ancient Art of Giving (2006), and Room To Grow (2007). For the next three years Avital played at clubs like Fat Cat and Smalls, traveled with his quintet to Europe, and together Third World Love released New Blues (2007). But Avital was still digesting material from his period of study, and in 2008 the various elements that constitute Avital's artistic personality ― American, Jewish, Israeli, Arab, and European ― came together, elevating his work to a new level and producing a unique sound that brought otherwise disparate elements into a compelling and unprecedented musical dialogue. 
First, in 2008 Avital composed his Bass Concerto, My heart is in the East and I am in the ... A confession of an Arab-Jew in Eretz Israel, in which he refined and extended Mizrahi music, popular tunes written in Israel by Jews from the Arab-Islamic world and sneered at by the Israeli cultural establishment, into high art. The concerto was performed that year at the Jerusalem Theatre and dedicated to Omer's father, Eliyahu, who passed away in 2007. In 2008 Avital also recorded Debka Fantasia, an audacious interpretation of Israel's pioneer songs, recasting the rhythms and emphasizing the music's Arab elements. Debka Fantasia was released to critical acclaim in 2009. In addition, in 2008 Avital composed Song of a Land, an extended meditation on land and culture in the Middle East that refined and elaborated traditional Jewish, Arab and North African elements. Song of a Land was performed in 2009.  Most significantly, in 2008 Yair Harel invited Avital to play at the Jerusalem Piyyut Festival with the great Moroccan performer of piyyut, Rabbi Haim Louk. Avital had been listening to cassette recordings of Louk for years but had never met the man (he didn't even know if Rabbi Louk was still alive), and he jumped at the chance to play with one of his artistic idols. The trial run at the 2008 piyyut festival was a rousing success, and as a result, Harel and Avital established The New Jerusalem Orchestra (NJO). The NJO was invited to open the Israel Festival in 2010, and the result was Ahavat Olamim, or "Eternal Love," an extraordinary blend of soul, tradition, innovation and first-rate musicianship that marks a turning point in the development of a uniquely Jewish-Israeli culture and a Yerushalmi, or Jerusalem-based, sound. A two-disc recording of Ahavat Olamim was released in 2011. 
But even while Avital was hard at work unifying musical worlds he was also staying busy on other musical fronts. In 2010 he recorded the sophisticated musical conversations of Yes! with his long-time jazz collaborators Ali Jackson (drummer for the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra) and Aaron Goldberg. The disk was released in 2012. 
In 2011, Avital released three albums, the funky, Middle-Eastern grooves of Yemen Blues, the passionately swinging Free Forever, and the blues-inflected Live at Smalls. 
In 2012, Avital's hard-charging, reflective and joyful offering, Suite of the East, originally recorded in 2006, was listed on Downbeat's best CD's of the year, was recognized by TSF Jazz (France) as Album of the year, and was picked as one of NPR Music's Top 10 Jazz Albums of 2012.  That same year Third World Love came together to release its fifth album, Songs and Portraits. 
In 2012 Avital and Harel also rejoined forces as the NJO performed its second musical project, Makam Yerushalem, at the David Citadel in Jerusalem. The performance was ecstatically received in the Israeli media ("As Exciting as the Coming of the Messiah",7340,L-4278776,00.html), and the NJO is scheduled to perform in Jerusalem in both May and September of 2013.  Avital continues to perform in jazz settings in the United States, Europe, and Israel, but in a sign of things to come, he was appointed Musical Director of the New Jerusalem Orchestra in 2013.  

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"It’s understandable but unjustified to assume that Avital Meets Avital, the debut collaboration between classical mandolinist Avi Avital and jazz bassist Omer Avital, is a commercial ploy."
Review: Omer Avital – New Song (2014) — November 5, 2014, Something Else Reviews
"These songs — all composed by Avital — are finely crafted synthesis of Middle Eastern, Afro-Cuban and American soul-jazz that’s world music without being self-consciously so. Maybe it’s because Avital brings an ebullient attitude to the music, not overcharged, but it’s hard not to “hear” him smiling..."
"Bassist Omer Avital came from Israel to New York in the early '90s and found himself among the top tier of straight-ahead modern jazz performers."

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