REFLECTIONS UPON SIX IMAGES
François Houle, Clarinet
Galia Hai, Viola
Ora Boasson Horev, Double Bass
Yitzhak Yedid, Piano
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Composition by Yitzhak Yedid. ACUM
Recorded at the Klangforum Ensemble's Hall, Vienna, September 21st, 22nd, 2004
Recording engineer by Reinhard Buchta
Mixing engineer by Udi Koomran
Produced by Yitzhak Yedid
Executive production by Volker Dueck
Artwork by Jutta Obenhuber
Graphic design by Fuhrer, Vienna
Yitzhak Yedid is a quintessential product of his time, and his multi-cultural milieu. The 34-year-old pianist-composer was born in Jerusalem, Israel to parents of Syrian and Iraqi origin. That already places him at the heart of a cultural maelstrom sufficient to provide anyone with creative tendencies with a plethora of inspiring reference points. Yedid has been feeding off his roots and socio-cultural environment to great effect for some time.
His new quartet, Reflections upon Six Images, is a subtle synthesis of musical genres, colours, textures and energies. Following a clear continuum from his earlier works, it draws on numerous sources, from Bach to modern jazz, and from the blues to contemporary classical, with a handful of ethnic motifs and some Arabic and Jewish scales thrown in for good measure.
Reflections upon Six Images is a six-part composition, each depicting a different character from an imaginary world. The sections portray encounters, pictures, textures and fascinating confluences of varying cultures and styles - the genre spectrum spans and marries classical music with eastern- and Jewish-inflected styles, and incorporates pristine precise playing with unfettered and freely-roaming musicianship. The work traverses different and disparate characters, from an old man mumbling a silent prayer to the joyous shrieks of women at a Moroccan celebration (hafla), from a wild cult dance scene to a baroque-style ballroom event, from the harsh sounds of clashing voices to a solitary eastern-style voice, and from melodic Israeli folk songs to a dodecaphonic line.
Each segment is both part of a musical and thematic continuum while comprising a freestanding entity in its own right. Motifs emerge several times throughout the work, but never in exactly the same form. Pictures can unexpectedly emerge, to leave the listener contemplating their relevance to the storyline, but their place in the seamless sequence soon becomes clear.
Above all, Yedid is a storyteller and painter par excellence. Taken at face value, his work can be challenging and require the listener to sit up and take stock of what is evolving. Sometimes there is a palpable sense of foreboding with dark ominous colours shooting to the surface as, for example, the double bass plunges to the extremities of the lowest registers, or cacophonous mayhem can burst out briefly with abrasive textures erupting from the viola. Yet, these will often be moderated by the comforting, warmer tones of the clarinet, while Yedid lays out an accommodating contour by simultaneously venturing to both ends of keyboard.
As a multi-faceted vignette both of Yedid’s rich Jewish heritage and his life in the Middle East Reflections upon Six Images employs a commensurately expansive stylistic vocabulary. Here Yedid proffers contemporary sentiments with harsh textures but there are also mollifying, and somewhat ironic, references to the sumptuous tones of the baroque era. The span alludes to the genealogy of music over the centuries but also accentuates the contemporary relevance of Yedid’s new work.
All Yedid’s compositions to date, from Full Moon Fantasy (2000), through Tachanun (2001), Inner Outcry (2002), Myth of the Cave (2002) to Passions and Prayers: A Sextet in Homage to Jerusalem (2003) and his latest work, are as malleable as they are clearly structured. All allow him and his colleagues generous room for manoeuvre and, as Yedid says, this helps to keep the works fresh. “There are totally free areas in Reflections upon Six Images, but there are also places where I give the other musicians general guidelines – for example, to stick to a particular scale or sound range – but, within those parameters, they can do what they want,” Yedid explains. “They can move between octaves and sometimes even reverse the order of a particular passage, and play it from the end to the beginning. I’m often surprised in the middle of a concert by what the others are doing.”
Considering Yedid’s background, such a multi-pronged open approach is entirely understandable. Like many young budding artists of his generation Yedid was initially drawn to a mixture of classical music and contemporary rock and pop. However, he also had another important cultural reference point – bakashot. Bakashot is a liturgical form of song performed in synagogues, over several hours, by Jews originating from Syria. Yedid spent many a Sabbath night entranced by the synagogue choir, revelling through many a long session. Reflections upon Six Images, like his other compositions, occasionally alludes to a mystical religious experience and this serves to deepen and intensify the listener’s response.
Yedid began his artistic explorations in earnest at the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem following that with a stint, between 1997-98, under the tutelage of celebrated jazz pianists Ran Blake and Paul Bley at the New England Conservatory in Boston. Those influences feature in Yedid’s output and Blake’s keyboard approach is highly evident.
Despite the temptation to continue his artistic growth in jazz’s natural milieu Yedid opted to return to his cultural stomping ground. “I felt I had to work and create in my own environment,” he says. “This is where I get my inspiration – particularly from Jerusalem. All the things I grew up with are here, and they all come out in my music.” Since his homecoming Yedid has sought to marry straightahead jazz, classical music, improv and the traditional modes of Jewish folklore and the Middle East.
While Yedid’s music defies neat pigeon-holing, he readily identifies more with a jazz-oriented approach than anything else. Legendary reedman Eric Dolphy once referred to jazz as “human music” and Duke Ellington talked about “humanity”. While the human element and sensitivity to the things about him are central to Yedid’s art perhaps jazz bassist Charlie Haden’s thoughts reflect Yedid’s credo more accurately: “Don't think of yourself as a jazz musician,” said Haden. “Think of yourself as a human being who plays music.”
His affinity with jazz notwithstanding, Yedid’s choice of instruments for Reflections upon Six Images was not only dictated by his wish to accommodate a wide range of styles, emotions, genres and textures, but also by his intent to distance himself from the classic jazz sound. While he may be a jazz musician at heart – or at least a keenly improvisational artist – he wanted to break out of the instrumental mould of the traditional jazz trio or quartet. “I feel the jazz sound – not the artistry – has, in some way, reached its full potential,” he says. “The idea was to achieve a different sound from the instruments. I wanted the viola, for instance, because it’s not quite as low as a double bass or as high as a violin. Then there’s clarinet, which also gets away from the very jazzy trumpet sound. It also sounds Jewish and it has a pianissimo that no other [wind] instrument has. The double bass sounds like a cross between a cello and a viola. I wanted to have that instrumental freedom and breadth.”
Yedid is accompanied on Reflections upon Six Images by Canadian clarinettist Francois Houle, long-time collaborator Israeli bassist Ora Boasson-Horev and Israeli viola player Galia Hai. Although Yedid offers his cohorts generous improvisational leeway he does, however, demand a degree of comfort with all the music genres on which he, himself, draws. “I expect them to be familiar with the same vernacular. They should be well versed in classical music, contemporary classical music, baroque, jazz, folklore music, and even rock and pop. Even if they are not specialists in all those areas they have to know them well. Francois, Ora and Galia are proficient in all of these.” It is that mindset that makes all Yedid’s works, including Reflections upon Six Images, so rich and communicative, and so appealing.
Music writer and critic