CD REVIEW: Itamar Borochov – Blue Nights


Itamar Borochov – Blue Nights
(Laborie Jazz LJ47. CD review by Mark McKergow)

Trumpeter Itamar Borochov produces a feast of musical exploration on this, his third album, combining influences from across the Middle East and North Africa with a jazz quartet line-up. The result is rich, detailed and engrossing music with an individual sound.

Born and raised in Jaffa and Tel Aviv and based in Brooklyn, Borochov clearly has feet in several camps and he is making good use of these different cultures in his work. The music on Blue Nights forms a very coherent collection; it sounds simple at first, but there is a sophistication to the music making which surfaces and draws the listener in different directions. Eight of the nine tunes are originals, with a considerable focus on modal concepts which form the springboard for first-class contributions from all members of the quartet.

The opening Right Now is darkly atmospheric, with rolling piano figures from Chicago-based Rob Clearfield setting a late-night vibe. Borochov sustains the mood very well here, as throughout the album, moving from theme statement to improvisation without breaking step and continuing in thoughtful and spacious mode for the full six minutes. The ensemble works superbly together, quietly underpinning the music. The following Blue Nights starts in a similarly low-key way with bassist and brother Avri Borochov adding the plucked sound of the oud to the lilting texture, before the music gathers pace into a beating climax with high-pitched trumpet ululations shrieking apparently to the night sky.

Motherlands moves us into a new territory, drawing on the traditions of the Gnawa music of North Africa. Going back many centuries, Gnawa takes the form of hypnotically repeating phrases and is used in night-long community gathering of healing and prayer. The quartet is joined by the New York-based Innov Gnawa trio of vocalists led by Maalem Hassan Ben Jaffer, who play the traditional qraqebs (think metal castanets) as well as adding strong voice elements. A ‘maalem’ is the name given to a Gnawan master musician, and Borochov continues in this mode with his composition Maalem, with its unexpected syncopations and another finely sustained trumpet performance.

The album takes a nod towards more conventional jazz with Garden Dog Sleeps, Borochov’s cunningly concealed contrafact (new melody over an existing chord sequence) to On Green Dolphin Street – cunningly concealed as the rhythm section stay in character with the rest of the album rather than simply switching into latin/swing mode. Broken Vessels offers some space for the fine drum and cymbal work of Jay Sawyer to come to the fore for once, emphasising the contribution he makes throughout the album. The closer, Kol Haolam Kulo – Take Me To The Bridge, was written in the early 19th century by Rabbi Baruch Chait and, arranged by Borochov, offers a fine climax to the album, its driving rhythms subsiding into a gentle and delicate coda.

There is a lot of fine music making to be enjoyed here, and I was struck by the potentially very wide appeal of the music; Motherlands would surely do well on Radio 3, while Right Now is a shoe-in for China Moses’ late night Jazz FM show. It’s very well worth your time and attention.

Itamar Borochov is performing at Holborn’s Pizza Express Live on Tuesday 20th November 2018 as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. 

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