Roy Assaf Trio - Second Row Behind The Painter
(One Trick Dog Records UPC 888295063746. CD Review by Andy Boeckstaens)
Israeli pianist Roy Assaf went to Boston in 2003 to study at the Berklee College of Music, where he met the likes of Richie Beirach and Joanne Brackeen. Since graduating, and moving to New York in 2006 to continue his studies at the Manhattan School of Music, he has played with the Dizzy Gillespie All Stars, the Mingus Big Band and David Sanborn.
Assaf is now in his early 30s, and Second Row Behind The Painter is the début recording by a trio that worked together for around a year before going into the studio last September. The CD is unusual because a series of sets – almost five hours altogether - were taped like a live performance, and the result combines the immediacy of a gig with the clarity of a studio album.
The first pieces by Assaf set the bar very high. The title track has a quasi-classical beginning before a flexible beat is introduced by bassist Raviv Markovitz and Jake Goldbas on drums. The former, who has appeared with Joe Lovano and Makoto Ozone, is prominently featured throughout the set. Goldbas has experience alongside Patti Austin and Dave Brubeck, and his ear-catching hand-drumming makes a distinctive impact on several selections.
Babel is even better than the opener. It has tremendous momentum and beautiful harmonies, and other-wordly bursts of electric piano combine with bells and percussion to add variety to a finely-honed creation that is already bursting with drama.
Frank Loesser’s Never Will I Marry - a rarely-heard melody from the unsuccessful 1960 Broadway show Greenwillow - and It’s a Dance by Michel Petrucciani are attractively impressionistic. A more traditional feel pervades Kvar Acharei Chatzot, a gentle ballad by the renowned Israeli songwriter Naomi Shemer.
Despite the “live” approach, there is a bit of studio tweaking, the details of which were kindly explained to me by the lead engineer, Dev Avidon. The synthesizer on Con Grew is straight out of a ‘70s sci-fi action movie, and its soaring whine tends to overwhelm the underlying piano and rhythm. Markovitz and Goldbas whip up a stonking groove on the longest track, folk-lore, where Assaf’s rollicking, Billy Taylor-ish piano is processed in parts with a Moog filter.
Three uncredited interludes are, presumably, improvised. Interlude #1 is the most meaty, and would succeed as the basis for a fully-fledged composition. The others are shorter, less interesting, and dominated by the harsh backbeat of a snare drum that initially emerges on a quirky version of I Got It Bad.
The trio is unadorned for the closing, magnificent Budvar. It starts with big chords and goes through changes of pace and mood before blossoming into gorgeous raw straight-time, when all three musicians sound at their most confident, relaxed and free.
It’s a great conclusion to an album that is very good by any standards. Second Row Behind The Painter is an impressive showcase for the group, and Assaf deserves special recognition for his compositions as well as his instrumental artistry.