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Thursday, August 21, 2014

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Israeli quartet gives lesson in improvised jazz

Tags: Arts Feb. 9 print issue
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Ori Dakari performs at Trane Studio. [Ronnie Friedman photo]

Toronto’s Trane Studio was packed recently when the Ori Dakari Quartet made their way onto the stage, to play the first show of a scheduled three-city Canadian tour, with stops in Edmonton and Calgary.

Jazz enthusiasts sat in anticipation, watching as the Israeli band commenced into graceful, unprecedented, improvised jazz. The result was a charming and tranquil evening of unscripted jazz.

Guitarist Ori Dakari made a name for himself in the so-called “radical Jewish culture” scene of New York, where he moved in 2007. His debut CD, Entrances, in 2009, was released on composer/producer John Zorn’s Tzadik Records.

On Entrances, Dakari, playing the roles of lead guitarist and composer, was accompanied by three musicians he met in the United States – alto sax player Uri Gurvic, drummer Eric Doob and bassist Takashi Sugawa. Entrances made a strong impression on the international jazz community. With his fellow instrumentalists, Dakari went on to perform in Thailand, Serbia, Russia and Israel before making his way to Toronto for his Canadian debut.

At Trane Studio, the foursome wasted no time in displaying the range of their influences and styles, transitioning from contemporary jazz to Middle Eastern tambour, from relentless bass solo to a North African-inspired medley.

Each member displayed his own brand of musical prowess at least once throughout the evening, standing at the forefront of the group’s unified musical direction. Two enjoyable moments of merit, respectively, were when Gurvich brought out the flute and when Doob fashioned upbeat, African-embraced rhythms with the bongos.

The sessions were intimate and intense, the musicians playing together in earnest, developing off one another’s melodies. The Middle Eastern sets were high-spirited, with Dakari leading the way as the ensemble presented their interpretation of Israeli music, fused with jazz in its core. It was certainly an enlivening experience, though thoroughly as endearing were the softer, more subtle moments throughout the evening. Various solos transpired, with some instances of discernible North African medleys. Exotic would be one way to characterize the session, and during the finale, it could even be called experimental.

Jazz is a broad term. As such, scholars have had difficulty defining it, though they have agreed that it remains in a state of perpetual metamorphosis. Though the majority of their set remained within the confines of contemporary jazz, the Ori Dakari Quartet managed to give a little something extra to the traditional-jazz pundit. They offered fans the good fortune of sitting in a relaxed, casual venue lit by candles, while the music urged them to dance the horah. A rare occasion indeed.

Born and raised in Kfar Saba, Dakari was acclaimed as an “outstanding musician” by the Israeli army and the Israeli ministry of culture when he was only 18 years old.

The quartet was brought to Toronto by the Ashkenaz Foundation, which has brought an exceptionally diverse lineup of musicians to the city. It has promised more spirited shows to come in 2012. Mind you, this evening of fruitful, Israeli swayed jazz will be hard to top.

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