2 Hello Who Is It? (Hekselman)
3 My Ideal (Robin/Whiting)
4 I Fall in Love Too Easily (Styne/Cahn)
5 Suite For Sweets (Hekselman)
6 When Will the Blues Leave (Coleman)
7 The Summer of Laughs and Tears (Hekselman)
8 Breathless (Hekselman)
9 I Should Care (Cahn)
10 My Second Childhood (Caspi)
Total time: 58:43
|Gilad Hekselman (guitar), Joe Martin (bass), Ari Hoenig(drums); recorded M/D/06 Live at Fat Cat, NYC|
Paul Cox, Luke Kaven
Remember the name Gilad Hekselman, because you’re going to be hearing it a lot from here on. He’s already made a big impression by winning the 2005 Gibson Montreux International Guitar Competition at the Montreux Jazz Festival. But now here is his debut recording for all to hear.
Gilad Hekselman was born in Israel February 3, 1983 in Kfar Saba, and he grew up in Alfey Menashe. He began on piano at age six, and guitar at age nine. From ages 12-14 he performed regularly on two television programs on the Children Channel in Israel, where his fellow musicians introduced him to playing jazz. He attended Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts, a national magnet school also attended over the years by a number of notable Israeli jazz musicians. Several graduates of Yellin – including Omer Avital, Avi Leibovich, and Eli Digibri – migrated to New York in the mid-1990s, attended The New School, and ultimately became frequent performers at Smalls. Hekselman, who arrived at The New School in 2004, and who has been recently featured at Smalls, is the latest to become a part of that legacy.
Gilad describes this part of his life as being split between worlds of East and West, tradition and the future, and even day and night. But he finds a kind of unity – musical and otherwise – in just that, and so we have the paradoxically conjunctive title SplitLife. The range of compositions and moods suits the title. There are three traditional standards (“I Should Care,” “My Ideal,” and “I Fall In Love Too Easily”), one blues via Ornette Coleman (“When Will The Blues Leave?”), one timeless ballad by one of Israel’s national treasures, Matti Caspi (“My Second Childhood”), and five striking originals by Hekselman (“Purim,” “Suite For Sweets,” “The Summer of Laughs and Tears,” “Breathless,” and “Hello Who Is It?”).
This is warm-hearted music, with generous spirit. Almost anyone can understand it. For some of us who perhaps spend too much time in the basement, the ray of sunshine is uplifting. Never mind that Gilad has all the instrumental skills of a true virtuoso. What makes his notes worthy is in the sincere and expressive way he can render a tune. His focus is completely on the musical moment. He’s all the way there. He’s never showing off, never overplaying, never playing “over” his accompanists. His originals are very pretty, with wide dynamics that follow a dramatic arc. He knows how to bring out power in the softer passages and how to build to a musical climax. On standards he phrases with a depth that belies his age.
His musical influences are diverse. Guitar enthusiasts might compare Hekselman with guitar masters such as Pat Metheny, Kurt Rosenwinkel, John Scofield, or Peter Bernstein. And I think many will agree with me that he will be added to that list in short order. But as much as Gilad respects other guitarists, he points to pianists Bill Evans and Ahmad Jamal (as well as John Coltrane) as his principal influences, and he carries some of a pianist’s sensibilities into his music. The way he accompanies himself reflects the pianist’s notion of left-hand/right-hand independence. Sometimes he’ll use piano voicings that are uncommon on guitar. Aside from having influences in the music of his native environs, Gilad studied North Indian classical music with sarod player Sanjay Sharma, acquiring in the process a distinctive rhythmic emphasis in his music.
Gilad and his quick-witted accompanists interact on more or less equal terms in a continuous three-part, six-way conversation. Bassist Joe Martin and drummer Ari Hoenig have been two of the key developers of this fluid and fleet style of playing in recent years, which draws distally from the classic Bill Evans trios and later Miles Davis quintets. This contemporary style is characterized by rapid and subtle changes in mood and style woven in with a continuously shifting rhythmic background. Here, the interplay is so natural, you’d think the group had been performing together for years.
Joe Martin, one of the foremost bassists of today, is no stranger to the contemporary guitar trio. He is of course famous as a regular member of Kurt Rosenwinkel’s group. But he’s also been all around the contemporary scene, flanked by artists such as Aaron Goldberg, Mark Turner, Chris Potter, Michael Kanan, Ben Monder, Jeff Ballard, Eric Harland, Jorge Rossi, and of course, Ari Hoenig. Martin is always attuned, always in the groove. For satisfaction, I keep going back to listen to “When Will The Blues Leave” at the opening of the guitar solo, where the bass line swings hard and mean. Joe helps to give the music its heart. By turns he can be lilting, melancholic, rhapsodic, or anything in between, and the feeling is always sincere.
Ari Hoenig (who made his debut as a leader on Smalls Records in 2004 on the CD The Painter) has become a world standard bearer for drumming in the contemporary piano/guitar trio as reflected in his work with pianists Jean-Michel Pilc and Kenny Werner, and guitarists Jonathan Kreisberg and Lage Lund. This record affords an unusually good opportunity for listeners to catch Ari’s astounding brushwork. [Does this guy have every bristle trained?] There are a few passages where the music calls for the brushes to play an ostinato, and Ari makes every hit count, shifting almost imperceptibly, for example, from Calypso to Flamenco when the occasion calls for it. From brushes, Hoenig progresses to the sticks, and when the occasion calls for it, to the full Category Five storm, stage left.
This group originally appeared at Fat Cat starting in January 2006 as the Gilad Hekselman Trio. So enthused was Hoenig afterward, that he suggested relaunching the group as a fellowship co-led by all three, performing original material from all three members of the group. That group may come next. But first we decided that this would be a good time to spring Gilad on the rest of the world as a surprise. The results should cause a stir.
The producer would like to give special thanks to Debbie Millman, Jeffrey
Brown, Tom Currier, and Marcy Granata for their gracious assistance in
making this recording possible.