I first encountered Vancouver-based guitarist and composer Itamar Erez in a concert at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, California years ago. He was performing on solo nylon string guitar as part of Brian Gore’s International Guitar Night tour series. I still remember hearing Itamar’s beautiful microtonal laced melodies and his confident powerful guitar playing.
Over the years, we kept in touch and I’ve always been a fan of his music. Even his short Facebook videos often are filled with immense musicality and virtuosity.
When Itamar told me about his latest album, I was very grateful for the chance to listen and review this CD prior to the official release.
Mi Alegria, a 9-track album is an eclectic journey through Itamar’s diverse influences and experiences. A mix of both solo and recorded ensemble performances, the album is a powerful musical statement from this creative musician.
The opening track, Requinto opens with an intense groove before breaking into a solo section with Francois Houle’s clarinet and Itamar’s nylon string guitar bebop & blues laced phrases trading with rhythmically precise runs into the restatement of the melody.
Track 2, Samai is more spacious to contrast the opening creating a textural opening before the piano establishes the contrapuntal groove leading into the rhythmic pedal in the bass played by James Meger. The melody creates a mini universe before the bass solo enter with tasteful textural support in the background. The piano gradually leads back in with a piano solo taking over the space again. There is really nice conversational playing throughout the last minute of this almost 7-minute track.
Endless Cycle, continues the atmosphere of the album by moving on with the rhythmically driven vibe of the album. Some albums are driven by a mood, some music is driven by an emotive melody, this album by Itamar is centred by the rhythms. As Itamar plays the melody, the focus is still on the powerful groove.
Choro Sentimental brings the nylon string guitar into the centre with beautifully played solo guitar. The accents in the scalar melodies along with the harmonic colour changes bring a nostalgic and yes, sentimental mood to the piece.
The title piece of the album, Mi Alegria features tasteful energetic solos from Ilan Salem on flute and Itamar Erez himself on piano.
Improvisation no. 1 continues the flow of the album with strong melodies with forward motion. These are beautifully answered with piano countermelodies, tasteful moody chords along with the conversational bass and drum support.
Yahli’s Lullaby begins with a reflective melody that is eventually doubled with the clarinet. Written for Itamar’s son, Yahli – this piece is a delicate piece tells the story in an elegant simple manner with each restatement of the melody.
The energy goes up again with Shesh, going back into driving phrases battling each other polyrhythmically. A highlight of the piece is the solo melodic riff provides a bed for the soloing towards the end of the piece.
The closing track of the album is Tides. A layered guitar provides the foundation for the the sparse but still rhythmic guitar lead melody. A real atmospheric piece, this piece is a fitting way to close the album.
All in all, this is an interesting rhythmically driven album that showcases Itamar’s work as a composer, improviser, guitarists and pianist. The interplay between the musicians are a highlight too, having a good balance between planned compositional and improvisational sections. A blend of different genres and influences, this album is a great piece of work from Itamar Erez.
TLDR: For fans of jazz & nylon string guitar (and jazz piano too), this is an immensely beautiful album that both entertains and challenges the listener.
Mi Alegria by Itamar Erez will be released on June 20 2019. For upcoming CD launch shows and more details, visit the official page here: https://www.itamarerez.com/mi-alegria
Itamar’s music holds a depth and sensitivity that touches listeners deeply.
It blends the delicateness of Middle Eastern music, the freedom found in jazz and the passion of flamenco, creating a unique sound all his own.
Recipient of the 2014 ACUM Prize for Special Achievement in Jazz and the prestigious 2014 Landau Prize, Itamar Erez is an internationally renowned composer and guitarist who has shared the stage with such musicians as Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Tomatito, Avishai Cohen, Jean-Louis Matinier, Zohar Fresco, and others.
Itamar has released two CDs with his quartet The Adama Ensemble, “Desert Song” (2006) and “Hommage” (2010). His most recent release, “New Dawn” (2013), is a duet collaboration with Yshai Afterman (percussion), with special guest Antonio Serrano (harmonica). Itamar performs internationally and gives workshops and masterclasses, teaching his unique approach to music and guitar playing.
In recent years, Itamar performed in Canada, USA, Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Cyprus, Israel, India, Tunisia, Colombia & Surinam. Itamar made his Carnegie Hall (NY) debut Apr 2018 performing with the Omar Faruk Tekbilek Ensemble with Ara Dinjkian & Brian Keane as special guests.
Among the venues and festivals that Itamar played throughout his career were: Barbican Hall (London UK), Sydney Opera (Sydney, Australia), the Jerusalem Jazz Festival (Israel), Oman Opera House, The Megaron (Athens, Greece), Schauspielhaus Leipzig (Germany), Amsterdam Jewish Music Festival (Holland), the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, and others.
Itamar is currently working on new material for his next CD, and is on the guitar faculty at the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra School Of Music. His new book “Exercises & Etudes, an Advanced Method for the Fingerstyle Guitarist” was released March 2016.
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