Editor's info: Guitar and oud player Amos Hoffman, who has been performing and recording as a member of Avishai Cohen's band for more than two decades, will release Evolution, his debut CD on Cohen's Razdaz Recordz, on March 25 2008.
Since relocating to his native Israel in 1999 after years on the New York jazz scene, Hoffman has spent the time since the release of his last CD (2006's Na'ama, on the Israeli label Magada) further pursuing his passion for combining jazz with Middle Eastern music. The result of this multi-cultural fusion is Evolution, a ten track exploration of melodies and rhythms that incorporates compositional and improvisational elements common to both musical genres. 'I tried to achieve a unique sound that combined some African rhythmic influence played by percussion and contrabass, with Middle Eastern melodies played by the oud and flute,' explains Hoffman. 'The most important thing for me was that the positive vibe and round, warm groove would continue throughout the record.'
Hoffman is joined on Evolution by his long-time friend and musical associate Avishai Cohen, who performs on contrabass and piano and contributes vocals. 'Amos to me is a great example of a free spirit, with a strong artistic direction,' says Cohen. 'I'm a fan.' Rounding out the CD's line up are two of Israel's most prominent musicians - ethnic percussionist Ilan Katchka and flautist Ilan Salem.
Hoffman first learned to play guitar at the age of 6, and took up the oud a few years later. After attending the prestigious Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem, his search for new musical experiences led him first to Amsterdam, and then to New York City, where he performed and recorded with both legendary jazz musicians such as Denis Charles, Evelyn Blakey, and Jumma Santos, as well as with emerging jazz artists such as Jason Linder, Omer Avital, Sam Newsome, Jay Collins, Jorge Rossy, Duane Eubanks, and Avishai Cohen. He also began a more formal study of Middle Eastern music with Lebanese oud and ney player, Bassam Saba.
Hoffman can be heard on numerous recordings, including Ben Wolfe's 13 Sketches (1997,) Jay Collins' Cross Culture (1999,) and Sam Newsome's Sam Newsome and Global Unity (1999.) He has worked with bassist/composer Avishai Cohen for several years, playing both guitar and oud on Cohen's Continuo (2006,), Colors (2000,) Devotion (1999,) and Adama (1998.)
Evolution is Hoffman's third solo release, following The Dreamer, released in 1998 on the Spanish label Fresh Sound/New Talent, and Na'ama, which he released in 2006 on the Israeli label Magada.
All About Jazz: This is the second recording by Israeli guitarist Amos Hoffman that features him as an oud player, following Na'ama (Magda, 2006). Hoffman, who began playing the guitar when he was six years old and the oud a few years later, studied with Lebanese oud and nay player Bassam Saba, while he was living in New York.
For this recording Hoffman recruited good friend and prominent Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen, after playing on Cohen's recent recordings, veteran Israeli percussionist Ilan Katchka and flautist Ilan Salem. All ten compositions are by Hoffman, and feature him as a composer with a rich sense of melody who enjoys stretching Middle-Eastern scales and African rhythms. He clearly knows how to articulate infectious themes on the oud, as featured on 'Enayim,' 'Silence' and 'Hamsa.'
But that is where Hoffman's proficiency on the oud sounds shy of a necessary sense of experimentation that could ornament and color his melodies. As 'Enayim' reaches its early climax when a rhythmic interplay between Cohen and Katchka takes the lead, Hoffman takes the back seat and opts for the original theme instead of exploring the rhythmic pattern. On other tracks, such as the fast 'Exploration,' Cohen, whose use of the bow here is masterful and imaginative, sounds keen for more adventurous development while Hoffman opts for a more elemental reading of the theme. Cohen takes the lead on the romantic 'I met you,' as a vocalist and pianist, and Hoffman sounds more at home as a sideman than a lead player. Other compositions, such as 'The Wheel,' sound as if Hoffman consciously chose to tread on predictable and familiar rhythmic roads.
Hoffman's solo oud improvisation on the traditional maqam scale 'Takasin Bayati' is one the most exceptional and impressive tracks here. His playing still lacks the brilliant ornamentation of genre-bending oud players such as Rabih Abou-Khalil and Dhafer Youssef or the poetic sense of Anouar Brahem but his development of the scale is reasoned and beautiful. This is also heard on a romantic oud-piano duet with Cohen, again on the piano, where they don't attempt to reference Middle-Eastern scales or rhythms and instead they just enjoy playful interplay. By Eyal Hareuveni
Amos Hoffman with Avishai Cohen
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