May 4 Release Features Christian McBride
Aaron Goldberg, Greg Hutchinson
and Special Guest Roy Hargrove
“Aaron, Christian, Greg and Roy, in my opinion, are a few of the giants of their generation,” says Yotam. “I was very honored to have them on the record. We have have forged a special chemistry together. And I think you can hear that on the album.”
His strongest, most expressive and fully realized outing to date, Yotam’s third recording as a leader stands as a notch above his previous two outings, 2004’s The Arrival(recorded when he was still living in Jerusalem) and 2009’s Next Page, a solid organ quartet date featuring Sam Yahel, Willie Jones III and Chris Cheek.
From pure bop numbers like Dizzy Gillespie-John Lewis vehicle “Two Bass Hit” and the Clifford Brown staple “Daahoud” to Brazilian flavored originals like “McDavid” and “Bye Y’all” to the angular, Monkish “Blewz” and the lyrical gem “Fresh Love Song,” Yotam and company cover a wide range of musical styles on Resonance. Hutchinson provides the authentic reggae one-drop feel on the Monty Alexander original “Renewal” while McBride contributes some stirring counterpoint on Yotam’s darkly beautiful, chamber-like number “Merav,” which he named for his girlfriend and dedicates to two significant compositional influences in Benny Golson and Clare Fischer.
Yotam and his all-star crew come out of the gate swinging hard with a supercharged rendition of Dizzy’s bop anthem “Two Bass Hit.” Right away, the guitarist showcases his superb facility, flowing over the changes while slyly dropping in quotes from Dizzy’s “Manteca” and “Ooo-Bop-Sha-Bam” in the middle of his impressive solo. The whole band provides crisp execution and great drive throughout and everybody gets a solo taste here, including an outstanding bowed bass solo from McBride and a furious traversing of the kit by Hutchinson.
While Yotam does have an affinity for swinging full-bore in the bop and post-bop idioms, he is quick to point out that there are other aspects to his musical makeup that he wanted to address on Resonance. “I love playing bebop but I wouldn’t say that is where I come from,” he says. “When I was in high school I used to study a lot of bebop tunes. For three or four years I would only listen to bebop, but I’m not this way anymore. Nevertheless, it let its mark on me. And in the same way that I studied to become a bebop player, I became a Brazilian music fanatic for the last three or four years. I’m playing gigs with Brazilian cats now. I guess that’s the best way to learn.”
“McDavid” is a vibrant bossa nova number that has Yotam supplying some authentic Brazilian styled comping and also features another killer solo from McBride. “This is probably one of my only happy tunes,” says Yotam. “Most of the tunes I write tend to be kind of sad. So I fooled everybody on this one.”
The mysterious sounding minor key ballad “Merav” is a delicately beautiful number that has Hutchinson playing coloristically on the kit and also features Yotam nonchalantly double-timing the tempo on his outstanding solo. A brisk run through the bop staple “Daahoud” showcases Hargrove’s brilliant trumpet playing while Yotam supplies some Wes Montgomery styled octave work on “Renewal,” written by another of Yotam’s mentors. “For the last year or so I’m very fortunate to have been working in Monty Alexander’s band,” he explains. “He’s a great influence. I kind of fell in love with this piece of his and decided that I wanted to play it on this album.”
“The Most Beautiful Girl” is a romantic ballad underscored by Hutchinson’s gentle brushwork. Yotam and Goldberg turn in particularly lyrical solos here. The guitarist explains that the tune is one he remembers from his childhood. “That’s an Israeli childrens song that I grew up on and that I really like to play on gigs. So it’s a song from my past that I’ve embraced more recently. I think I was really amazing to bring that piece from my childhood in Israel to the session and let those guys play it and see what happened. And I like the results.”
From that sensitive number, Yotam and crew launch into the aggressively angular “Bye Y’all,” whose title has a double meaning. As Yotam explains, “This song has a north Brazilian rhythm from Bahia called baiao, so it’s a kind of play on words that way. Thelonious Monk, whose playing was a kind of influence on this tune, also has a piece entitled ‘Bye Ya.’ So it’s also a play on words there.” The urgent “Blewz” opens with a tricky, Monk-ish head featuring some tight unisons between Yotam and pianist Goldberg. The piece resolves to a 12-bar form that has Yotam blowing with the audacious facility of a Pat Martino, another huge influence during his development as a player.
The minor key lament “Fresh Love Song,” Yotam’s interpretation of an Israeli pop tune from the ’70s by Shlomo Gronich, has him doubling throughout on an exotic-sounding stringed instrument. As he explains, “It’s a fretless, 11-string instrument and it sounds like the Arabic oud, so I call it the ‘goud.'” Yotam adds, “It’s a tune I love and I think I kind of took it to another place. I just hope the guy who wrote it is going to be happy with the way it came out here.”
Yotam’s take on the Joe Henderson classic “Mamacita” (from the 1967 Milestone album, The Kicker) gives everyone in the band, including special guest Hargrove, a chance to stretch out on solos. And the album closes on an introspective note with the chamber-like meditation “Kineret,” which has Yotam providing some Djangoesque filigrees along the way. “It’s the Hebrew name for the Sea of Galilee,” he explains. “It’s a very peaceful sounding number that kind of reminds me of the Sea of Galilee. And it’s really dedicated to the Brazilian composer Chico Buarque.
Born and raised in Tel-Aviv, Israel, Yotam started playing guitar at the age of 10, focusing mostly on rock and blues. He was soon after accepted into the prestigious Alon High School for the Arts, where he studied jazz with such great teachers as Walter Blanding and Amit Golan. During his high school years, Yotam won many local competitions and was heralded as a very promising young guitarist. At age 18, he joined the IDF (Israel’s Army) and served as a musical director, arranger and lead guitarist for three years. During his military service he gained recognition and began playing with many of Israel’s top jazz musicians.
At 21, Yotam won the prestigious “Israeli Jazz Player of the Year” competition with his trio and was asked to perform at Italy’s renowned Umbria Jazz Festival. The same year, Yotam released The Arrival on the Fresh Sound New Talent label. The success of his highly acclaimed debut album enabled him to tour extensively throughout Europe and the Middle East.
In August of 2005, Yotam received a scholarship to further his jazz studies at the New School in New York City. Less than a month later, he was selected as one of 10 top guitar players to participate in the semi finals of the distinguished 2005 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Guitar Competition. In 2009, in addition to releasing his second release, he toured with the Sam Yahel Trio, opening for Steely Dan in major concert halls.
Since then he has played in many of the city’s great venues with great jazz artists like James Moody, Benny Golson, Curtis Fuller, Louis Hayes, Jimmy Heath, Frank Wess, Junior Mance, James Spaulding, Pat Martino, Antonio Hart, Slide Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Stars to name a few.
At age 28, Yotam has already made some significant inroads on the New York jazz scene. He shows great promise for the future, and Resonance is a huge step in the right direction.