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Recommitting himself to his instrument, Or Bareket crafts an artful, personal album steeped in family roots.
In the summer of 2019, bassist Or Bareket was at a coffee shop in Paris with pianist Yaron Herman, his friend who lives there, wondering what it would feel like, after years of 150-200 annual dates of whirlwind touring with other artists, to not be jet lagged and have a normal sleep cycle. Pondering how long it might take to restore his body’s natural circadian rhythm, the New York City-based musician mused that he would have to stay put for six months — never dreaming, of course, that just over half a year later, he would have months on end of no gigs due to the pandemic. The Jerusalem-born musician, who was raised between Buenos Aires and Tel-Aviv and immigrated to Brooklyn in 2011, chose to make the most of his downtime. He had worked for years in the bands of Leon Parker, Joel Ross, Ari Hoenig, Etienne Charles, Sam Yahel, Aaron Goldberg and Jean-Michel Pilc, among others, and now returned to actually practicing his instrument. Taking his artistry to the next level during quarantine led to an incredibly prolific period of composing and collaboration with a wish list of musicians. This resulted in Sahar (Enja), his masterful third album, which was produced by Ross. “As an improvising touring musician, I felt I was always learning about my weaknesses and felt I could do the deep work it would take to improve if I had a year off,” Bareket says. “I always feel I’m not practicing enough and there are gaping holes in my training. I took this time to practice more rigorously and methodically than I had done in a long time. This allowed me to close some gaps in my understanding of the bass, and as a composer I spent a lot of time analyzing scores and making charts and diagrams. “Thanks to this unusual but ultimately beneficial period, I feel like I am both a better bassist and composer than I was two years ago,” he adds. “I became more comfortable in my skin because I was forced during this time, and during the creation of Sahar, not only to find a way to fill my time without playing live, but to confront my musical identity. Once I could no longer be tired of the thing that gave me self-worth and a sense of self in the past, I had to figure out who I am and what is life and the world when I’m not doing gigs.” The lockdown offered a silver lining on a purely musical level, as well, allowing him to put together for the recording a unique ensemble of longtime colleagues and friends which helped fuel fresh sparks of freewheeling creativity. Bareket collaborated on his first two projects, Ob1 (2017) and 33 (2019), with musicians he grew up playing music with in Israel, all of whom had moved to NYC and went through the collective journey of repurposing their cultural traditions to play modern improvised music in the city. Many of those close collaborators either left before or during the pandemic. That vacancy, combined with the fact that musicians had stopped touring for months, convinced the 37-year-old Bareket to assemble a powerhouse group of rising twentysomething stars for Sahar: drummer-percussionist Savannah Harris, who had been part of the bassist’s band since 2018; multi-instrumentalist (tenor sax, EWI and organ) Morgan Guerin, known for his stints with Esperanza Spalding and Terri Lyne Carrington; and pianist/Fender Rhodes player Jeremy Corren, who plays with Joel Ross’ group Good Vibes. “Why were they the perfect band?” Bareket muses. “They’re all musicians I was connected to whose work I greatly admired and whom I had a strong rapport with. I knew If I could get them in a room together, the chemistry and magic would be incredible and create powerful results. I love the fact that we’re not a band that already existed. Sometimes, it’s hard to develop a new sound with musicians from different arenas, but I saw this as an opportunity to create a fresh dynamic with no preconceived notions of what we were supposed to sound like.” Considering that Bareket’s ancestral roots include Moroccan, Iraqi, Argentinian and Eastern European family lines, it’s no surprise that the title and concept of the album have distinct definitions in different languages. Sahar means “crescent” in modern Hebrew, while in various Arab dialects it translates to “just before dawn,” “early morning” and even “insomnia.” No matter how the term is interpreted — and, indeed the sweeping sax-and-cymbal-driven title track offers plenty of spacious contemplation — Bareket associates it with “the edge of night right before dawn, and the state of mind associated with that.” From his hypnotic, multilayered bass solo on the opening “Root System,” which taps into a cycle of growth and acceptance, through the somewhat rhythmically askew, increasingly frenetic “Hiraeth” (a Welsh word meaning a nostalgic feeling of loss), much of the album, in one way or another, connects with the skewed sense of time he felt during the pandemic — and the ways he attempted to reimagine or not think about linear time at all. Bareket likes the crescent image as well because it represents a more feminine energy, as opposed to the masculine energy associated with the sun, which is a traditional circadian marker. “I like to do a lot of reading about the mix of different cultures, as well as Jungian psychology and the importance of archetypes and symbols and how they connect to music,” he says. “If music is the language where different harmonic functions and qualities correlate to archetypal symbols, then the music on this album definitely has the moon-like energy that the title hints at.”Another important theme Bareket explores on Sahar is his connection to both of his grandfathers via tracks like “Hiraeth”; the intense, alternately hostile and whimsical “Oyen”; and the lilting and lyrical “Temperance,” reflective of acceptance, forgiveness and the spirit of moving on gracefully. Visiting Tangier when he was on tour with Etienne Charles helped him get in touch with the life story of his maternal grandfather, Rabbi Mordechai Marcos Edery, who had left there for a specific reason — just as his mother had left her home of Argentina, just as Bareket had left Israel for greener creative pastures in the U.S. While understanding the generational parallels, the bassist also had to accept certain missing puzzle pieces and the reality that Mordechai’s old neighborhood was now entirely rebuilt. During his visit, he learned of the passing of paternal grandfather Asher Bareket, who had moved to Israel from Eastern Europe while escaping a pogrom decades ago. Despite its solemn title, “A Lullaby for Troubled Ancestors,” Bareket offers a somewhat lighthearted anecdote about its inspiration: “It’s based on my experience of getting my grandfather Asher high. When he was old and frail, he was having difficulty sleeping and was scared. To help relieve his anxiety, I gave him a few drops of cannabis oil, which gave him a sense of relief he had never experienced before. The song is a meditation on how difficult and painful it must have been to exist as a man growing up in his generation, and how little access they had to such relief from life’s tensions compared to what we have now.” - Jonathan Widran
Featured photo by Maria Jarzyna.