Sax player Danny Markovitch and guitarist Dani Rabin have, until now, worn their ethnic origins fairly lightly. Based in Chicago, their previous albums have been blistering jazz-rock fusion workouts with influences ranging from the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Jeff Beck to Alice Coltrane via African rhythms, Latin jazz and the blues. Apart from the occasional use of Middle Eastern scales there has been little to suggest that these guys were actually brought up on Israeli folk music and klezmer, the celebratory dance tunes of Eastern European Jews.
On Israeli Jazz they bring those influences to the fore, with a collection of instrumental tracks clearly inspired by the traditional music of their youth. That’s not to say we’re talking Fiddler On The Roof here – the volume controls are still turned up to 11, Rabin’s guitar work is still faster than a speeding bullet and his interplay with Markovitch’s sax makes for a unique mash-up that sounds both manic and controlled at the same time.
But there’s clearly more emphasis this time around on the structures and scales of Israeli folk music. Opener The Old Ways combines a marching beat in 6/8 from drummer Blake Jiracek with a plaintive, sinuous melody on solo sax that almost has a vocal quality, like a doina, a Romanian shepherd’s lament. Then guitar and bass join in, using the lament’s minor chords as a basis for an extended nine-minute improvisation showcasing Rabin’s lightning-fast fretwork and ability to find something new to say in every bar.
A similar approach is taken with Moscow Mule, which opens with a faster tune that wouldn’t be out of place at a Jewish wedding celebration. Rabin takes over on guitar to give in a crunchy metal edge before Jon Nadel speeds things up with a bit of funky bass under Markovitch’s busy sax.
Swamp House takes a slightly different tack, opening as a bluesy stomp before Markovitch cleverly weaves a traditional-sounding melody through it, while Pirate Punch is a slow, bluesy lament that Rabin drenches with tinkling notes before some frenzied chordal thrashing reminiscent of King Crimson’s Sailor’s Tale. Magic Burro is a strange mash-up of a Jewish wedding and a Spaghetti Western, showcasing Markovitch’s sprightly soprano sax, that suddenly lurches into a lovely, winsome little tune in 5/4 that nods to Dave Brubeck.
And, finally, there are two tracks that, to me, have very little to do with Israeli folk but are wonderful, astonishing pieces of music. The first, Arkansas Jumper, is like the Dixie Dregs crossed with Frank Zappa and then played at 78rpm (for those of you old enough to remember that setting on your gramophone). Fiendishly complicated riffs are played in unison by sax and guitar at speeds that should surely generate enough heat to reach the melting point of brass.
Then there’s the title track, a solid rocker that showcases Danny and Dani’s ability to play fast interlocking phrases that sound more like Jean-Luc Ponty’s violin in the Mahavishnu Orchestra than guitar and sax. There is little folk here that I can detect but there’s plenty of rock and almost freeform jazz and, despite its name, is actually more like the Marbin we have come to expect from previous albums.
I have to say that I came to this album with a little bit of prejudice. I feared the band’s reliance on strict folk forms and structures would inhibit the musicians from really taking flight. And I feared, I have to say, a bit of ‘If I Were A Rich Man’ cheese, deedle-eedle-eedle-um.
Thankfully, Marbin use the genre as a launching pad, not a straitjacket, to mix my metaphors. They have lost none of their attack and fire, none of their ability to combine virtuosity with an irresistible groove. What they have added are intriguing, other-wordly melodies and a goofiness, a sense of humour that makes listening to their music so much fun. Come to this album with an open mind you will be rewarded with some intense, beautiful, uplifting jazz-rock-folk-blues-prog.
01. The Old Ways (9:26)
02. Swamp House (8:32)
03. Arkansas Jumper (6:45)
04. Moscow Mule (6:56)
05. Pirate Punch (9:51)
06. Magic Burro (8:45)
07. Israeli Jazz (7:40)
Total Time – 57:55
Dani Rabin – Guitar
Danny Markovitch – Sax
Jon Nadel – Bass
Blake Jiracek – Drums
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.S.A./Israel
Date of Release: 15th March 2018