REVIEW: Liran Donin's 1000 Boats – 8 Songs Album launch at the Vortex

L-R: Maria Chiara Argirò, Chris Williams, Liran Donin,
Josh Arcoleo, Ben Brown
Photo credit: Chris Pintegne

Liran Donin's 1000 Boats – 8 Songs Album launch
(Vortex, 31 May 2018. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

When is an album launch not an album launch? Most of the time, it turns out, particularly in comparison to Liran Donin's 1000 Boats. Playing to a packed house at The Vortex, this was an intimate and honest homecoming for an exciting new record, full of proud descriptions, profusive thanks, and a no-nonsense set-list taking the crowd straight through the album from start to finish, with the occasional verbal digression.

I Can See Tarifa collects its thoughts with Maria Chiara Argirò's piano wash and Liran Donin's pensive bass, before dropping into a punctuated horn theme laid onto an Afrobeat backing. In many ways a statement of what Donin stands for musically, this is organised dual saxes over a drilled rhythm section – pop sensibilities for hooks and drive, with space for improvisation over rich and changing chords. Intensity without chaos.

An opening song about family origins in Morocco, it was closely followed by a rock anthem for grandparents Annette and Maurice, and infectious looped improvisations for daughter Alma Sophia. With simple bass grooves, and clarity in phrasing, Donin isn't shy about settling into a sound, and structuring a band around it.

What's interesting to see is that, while the close personal relationship between fellow Led Bib member alto saxophonist Chris Williams is clear, the spine of 1000 Boats is Donin's partnership with Ben Brown on drums. Whether it's the four-on-the-floor hi-hat smash of Gal and Osh, or the cool trio groove of New Beginnings, Brown and Donin are at the core of much of the album.

At its heart 8 Songs is about identity: friends and relationships. It's Donin paying personal respect to his family background, and his family future. And while he glows when talking about his kids, he willing addresses what he perceives as the elephant in the room when discussing his Israeli heritage. Tel Aviv to Ramallah describes the short journey west to east from the Israeli cultural capital to the Palestinian de facto one, calling on the variation in traditions, scenery and populations along the way through the contrast between Williams' alto and Josh Arcoleo's swaggering tenor, switching between individual raw squawls, impassioned improvisation and intermediate unison melodies. It's a rich road of stop-starts, martial drums and solo tom snaps – underlain with a level of dis-functional discord.

But while relishing in the disconnect, Donin hasn't given up on resolution. FREE is an optimistic finale – a rolling dance tune, doubled horns and a sung anthemic melody. The rest of the album draws on the relationship between the back line, led by barn-storming bass, and brings to mind the momentum of Phronesis, and the coordinated saxophones the power of Polar Bear. FREE rises to Kamasi Washington climaxes, looping and building with a choral flair.

As was made clear, this was an evening with Donin – not a gig, but an album launch. And album launches require special thanks. Acknowledgements were given in a heartfelt structure, and with the promised Bar Mitzvah-style pomp. Thanks went to the Vortex (venue, volunteers, sound desk); the musical team (technicians, producers, mixers); visual production (photographers, graphic designers); promoters (PR, bookings, bloggers); capitalists (committed album investors); and finally, family and friends. Between the scripted thank yous and the excited, unrehearsed patter are nuggets of wisdom: making an album is a “pain in the arse, but worth it”, there are “more important things than emails”, and that “The Vortex is not just for Christmas”.

8 Songs is a warm, open record. It's rich and engaging, and when played live drops with a real, heavy thrill. Liran Donin has clearly lived the production process, and come out the other side exhausted and relieved. Everyone else should just be exhilarated.

LINK: CD Review of 1000 Boats – 8 Songs by Peter Slavid

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