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Daniel Zamir


One must quickly admit that our knowledge of the rich Jazz scene in Israel is still in the beginning stages. Names like Avishai Cohen or Gilad Atzmon have been instilled in the minds of listeners for years in this country, yet behind these internationally celebrated artists lurk new discoveries. Just how many is not known at the moment. The 35-year-old saxophonist and composer, Daniel Zamir, has left behind this realm of the unknown. Over the past decade, he has become one of the most important virtuosos in Israel. With his 11th CD release, yet his first with a German label, comes the opportunity to get to know the man from Petah Tikva, one of the most amazing representatives of Jewish Jazz.

After completing his studies at the prestigious Thelma Yellin-School of Arts, Daniel Zamir headed off to New York for his coming-of-age years. While there he graduated from the New School in 2002. In this foreign land, he developed an increased interest for Jewish Hasidic traditions and the sounds from the Balkans. Here he is discovered by John Zorn, the “enfant terrible” of the New Yorker Jewish scene, and records with his band 3-studio and 1-live CD (2000-2007) for his label Tzadik. The most outstanding amongst these released works, is Children of Israel, arrangements about Israeli traditions in Jazz vocabulary, and on which not only Zorn cooperated, but also prominent guests such as Ned Rothenburg, Greg Cohen and Uri Caine.

In 2004 Daniel Zamir decided to return to Israel. It is here that he begins to collaborate with luminaries such as the bassist Omer Avital, drummer Daniel Friedman and pianist Omri Mor. The prelude to this new phase of his career, characterized by Jewish-Orthodox spirituality, is the 2006 production of Amen. This album advanced to the best-selling Jazz album of all time in Israel. His alliances crossed the boundaries of Jazz: Zamir’s stage and studio partners are also from the Rock and Pop sector. His collaboration with the Reggae star Matisyahu, who was also his guide on his spiritual journey, counts as one of his most prominent links, along with his participation in Sting’s Israel tour in 2006. Zamir, whose name appropriately means “song-maker”, continues to take an unusual path: and so in 2010 he records Israel’s National Anthem, Hatikva. In 2010 he is presented with the Prime Minister Award.  Never before has an artist of his age won this renowned prize. At the end of 2014 he goes on stage in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with the greats from Israel’s Pop scene like Eviatar Banai and Berri Sakharoff, to record his second live album. Today Daniel Zamir is the director and founder of the Mizmor Music School. It is the first academy on Israeli soil since 2000, with its main focus strictly towards Jewish music.

Being well versed from trios to large big-band collaborations, Daniel Zamir decided for his album, Forth and Back, to focus on making music in the form of a quartett. With his long-time companion Omri Mor on piano and colleagues Daniel Dor (dr) and Gilad Abro (b) the saxophonist is able to reach an intense level of abstraction, that centers on the music without any programmatic contributions getting in the way. As a consequence, the songs simply have different numbers as titles. One might suspect behind this, hides a mystical numerology, but his explanation is quite simple: “Music has a dimension that is greater and deeper than words. To give a song a name would mean to limit the associations that arise in the listener. In order to not steal this freedom from him, I have only given the pieces numbers according to their chronological creation or the beat style.”

Therefore one can be “primitively” immersed in the new works and give rise to a unique visual language. Zamir’s style plays on the singable folk elements and intertwines with orientalism, but never swivels into pure Jazz and is even lesser so on the natural Klezmer terrain. From this excitement the ensemble draws the nuanced coloration of the pieces – as can be shown in just a few examples: In the rhythmic, retroserrate, Uptempo-intro “36” emerges a fluent dialogue between alto sax and piano, an overflowing of solos, that towards the end drift into the open. All the while a persistent ostinato survives all adventurous rhythm changes. “4” delves heartily into the American tradition of Bebop, while in “11” the quartet winks with a downright exuberant breath towards Reggae. In “2” Zamir furthermore proves with an equally melancholy as airy melody, that he also harbors a soulful voice.

Daniel Zamir and his quartet are bringing, with their new work, Middle Eastern playfulness and wily virtuosity under one roof. They are proving, once more, that one should not underestimate Israel as a land of Jazz.


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