Avi Avital - Avital Meets Avital (Deutsche Grammophon)
On his latest recording, mandolinist Avi Avital dives into his Israeli roots exploring his Moroccan ancestry. He says it's the nature of his instrument that allows him to stretch beyond musical boundaries.
"When I realized I'm beginning a career as a classical mandolin player, there were no examples, and so, it forced me to be very creative of what I do and to be always on an exploration. I always liked to listen to and to play a little bit [of] different genres of music and some of them I get confident enough, even, to go on stage with them."
So, you've explored the music of Bach and Vivaldi and you traveled between worlds and now on your new recording, your fourth release, you're returning to your homeland with, perhaps, an unlikely musical companion. Tell me a little bit about this jazz bassist with whom you've teamed up.
"Omer Avital, the bass player with whom I collaborated on this project, is a jazz musician and composer. He lives in New York but is obviously from Israel. We share the same family name but, disclaimer, we're not blood-related. However, the fact that we have the same family name is also not completely a coincidence. Avital is a typical surname of Moroccan Jewish families. So, both of us were born in Israel but in our ancestry, my parents came from Morocco. His father came from Morocco. We have that tradition. We have that culture, that mentality, that music we grew up with which is similar and very special.
There are a lot of Moroccan Middle Eastern music references to it. You can't really call it jazz, you can't really call it classical music but it's all original music that we both composed, that reflect this mixture and this cultural baggage that we all collected in our own journey."
Eight of the nine pieces on this recording were written by one of the two Avitals. Tell me a little bit about how these works came to be. Did you each kind of go in your own quarters and start writing or did you start composing together?
"At the beginning of the process, the creative process, I spent a week at Omer's house in Brooklyn, improvising and listening to music. That was a week-long of just getting to know each other. That was a first time for me to really write this in the style and to compose in general.
Some of the pieces Omer wrote in the past. Like the ballads. Ballad for Eli that he wrote for his father after he passed away about 10 years ago, and Lonely Girl. Two beautiful ballads that he couldn't really play with any of his jazz projects that he usually makes. It just didn't fit in a jazz project. So, they were kind of lining the drawer and then when I came that week to New York and played to him on the mandolin, he says, 'OK this is this is what the music was waiting for, this is a mandolin piece actually.'"
Let's talk about some of the specific pieces on this new recording. You mentioned the Ballad for Eli...Tell me about this piece now that we know that it was written for his father.
"You know, it's one of my favorite pieces in the record. It was a very special moment in the studio. I remember recording it with tears in my eyes, actually. It's a very emotional piece every time we play it. Omer wrote it for his father very briefly after he passed away 10 years ago. We're friends so you know him in this grief and it just...is so poetic. I feel that it summarizes in music, in notes, a relationship of a father to son."
On either side of that piece are works that you wrote...Avi's Song. Tell me about that. Is that for you?
"The name was the most difficult thing I've done in this writing experience. So Avi's Song was probably the first tune that I wrote in my life. It's in 11/8. It's in a typical Balkan rhythm which I like very much. I play a lot of Balkan music and I'm very attached to odd rhythms and that was the basis of that...of the tune. It's very rhythmical. But I couldn't find a name. I kept changing the name. The band stopped taking me seriously and they just called, 'let's do Avi's Song, let's record Avi's Song.' And I said 'you know what, just leave it Avi's Song. It's already there.'"
And then the final track was not written by either of you and it's actually a ballad. It really does have a folk song quality to it, the source and the sea.
"It's a ballad. It's a legend about a small fountain, a source of water which is sweet water. Water was sweet and shining in the spring days. But he had a wish. He wanted to be big. He wanted to become big like the sea and to carry golden bridges and sheep and to be mighty and with no borders. And so, he asked the God of rivers, make me big, make me the sea and the God of rivers accepted the wish and led him to the sea. Of course, once the fountain reached the sea, the sea swallowed him, lost its sweetness and lost his song. And I resonate with it as a mandolin player."
Listen to an extended version of Julie's conversation with Avi Avital on the New Classical Tracks podcast -- available wherever you get your podcasts.