Avram Fefer – Eliyahu (2011)

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Before even learning that multi-reedist Avram Fefer is a Harvard grad, I could detect a lot of intelligence in his playing style. Avoiding clichés, adapting to the music and injecting just the right amount of feel, Fefer is one of the most diverse sax players around, applying his skills to avant funk, trip-hop, jungle, drum ‘n bass, improvised music, modern jazz,and even Afro-Hungarian jazz. He’s honed these skills as a sideman and leader in small combos, and in big bands like Butch Morris Orchestra, Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber, Frank Lacy’s Vibe Tribe, Mingus Big Band and the David Murray Big Band.

With Eliyahu being his tenth album out and with accolades throughout the progressive jazz circles as well as having performed a staggering array of NYC’s finest jazz performers from Archie Sheep and William Parker to Jeff Tain Watts and Bobby Few (with whom he recorded four albums), Fefer should be much better known than I suspect he is. And all that his latest release Eliyahu does is confirm that feeling.

As with his prior record Ritual (2009), Fefer heads up a trio with a very strong line-up: Eric Revis (bass) and Chad Taylor (drums), both of whom have strong resumés of their own. Revis, late of the jazz supergroup Tarbaby, has appeared on numerous Branford Marsalis records as well as ones by Watts and J.D. Allen. Taylor is a major figure on the Chicago scene as one of Fred Anderson’s last drummers and one of the founding members of the Chicago Underground (see review of Chicago Underground Duo’s newest CD out March 13)

With credientials of the combined three, Eliyahu could have very well been one of those dense, abstract records, and a damned fine one at that if that’s your preference, but it’s not. Fefer & Co. instead goes the extra mile of constructing songs and performances that absorb their wide experiences and distill them into music that’s quite easy to accept. “Song for Dyani” (Youtube above) makes that case, with it’s breezy African rhythms served up with panache by Taylor while Revis plucks out the perfect groove to complement it. All Fefer has to do is make the melody sparkle, and he does with a big tone and a nimble inside-outside technique that calls to mind Joe Henderson. “Wishful Thinking” exploits an exotic groove of another kind, as Revis again works a bassline that Fefer can easily maneuver around with a little bit of grit and a lot of soul. “Appropriated Lands” puts a memorable melody on top of 3/4 time and funky improvising comes from both Fefer and Revis.

Even when the music gets more esoteric as it does on tempo-less tracks like “Eliyahu” and “A Taste For Love,” it’s still very musical and moves in a discernable direction. That’s the influence of Coltrane showing up, and it’s there again on the spiritual “Trued Right” right down to the Jimmy Garrison bass line.

Perhaps the best indication of when a record like this—sax/bass/drums, no piano or guitar—is connecting is when I consistently forget that the piano or guitar isn’t there. Eliyahu doesn’t yearn for any damned chordal instrument and besides, why mess with a good thing? Avram Fefer knows better.

Eliyahu was released last July on NotTwo Records. Visit Avram Fefer’s website.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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