Behind the gruff exterior that often enrobes the notes that float out of the saxophones [or the bass clarinet] of Avram Fefer lies a voice that waxes lyrical on the songful melodies that adorn the album Juba Lee. So, what sort of composer – and therefore musician – is Mr Fefer? Listening to the cyclic structure and sparse melodic rhetoric of the music of the album replete with long exploratory harmonic sojourns you will find an adventure-seeking Mr Fefer. Moreover, in the extreme and the microtonal smack and the refined tumbling rhythmic grooves of this ensemble and you will also find clear allegiances to the riches of bluesy DNA in the musicians who join Mr Fefer in the making of this musical palimpsest.
Drill deeper and it becomes clear that conceptual leaps of faith typical of a brain hard-wired into the mysteries of the outer edges of the intergalactic musical continuum inhabited by late-John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp, and an instrumental texture that betrays an interest in an outward-bound Albert Ayler and Eric Dolphy. The voice, however, is unmistakably Mr Fefer’s. He is minimalist, maximalist, Middle Eastern and yet unmistakably New York City street-hardened American. Ana composer Mr Fefer is conceptual, and wildly pastoral as he evokes the mighty elegance and rhythm of sand dunes, with welcoming caravanserai, and undulating camels. You will taste the grit and azure brilliance in his voice that is often sharp and informed by biting sardonicism, and yet can be heard to melt into his characteristic, lyrical, tender humanity.
We experience all of that in songs such as Bedouin Dream, Brother Ibrahim and Juba Lee. Weaving in and out of the skein of harmonies created by guitarist Marc Ribot, Mr Fefer truly shines when the parabolic lines leap and tumble around the growling rhythmic yaw created of bassist Eric Revis and in the swish and the rumbling thunder of drummer Chad Taylor. As a result of all this melodically and harmonically cursive elegance, hammered and refined in the fiery bombast of the rhythmists the quartet are always at their most sensitive and sophisticated from the standpoint of tone colour and ensemble exactitude. Meanwhile a song such as Gemini Time – unfolding in a kind of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic stream-of-consciousness, speaks to a suppleness in the musicality of these performers.
Of all the music released so far by Avram Fefer, he has never sounded so assured, lithe and well-balanced as he does on Juba Lee. This is music informed by outstanding suave passagework and eloquent long-limbed melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic invention. From Show Time, through Juba Lee [the song] to Sweet Fifteen [for G.T.], the music is skillfully-wrought, with elaborate, multi-motif near orchestral frameworks always in perfect perspective with appreciable textural and dynamic variety. A set not to be missed by discerning lovers of music.
Tracks – 1: Showtime; 2: Bedouin Dream; 3: Sky Lake; 4: Juba Lee; 5: Brother Ibrahim; 6: Love is in the Air; 7: Gemini Time; 8: Say You’re Sorry; 9: Sweet Fifteen [for G.T.]
Musicians – Avram Fefer: alto and tenor saxophones and bass clarinet; Marc Ribot: guitar; Eric Revis: contrabass; Chad Taylor: drums
Released – 2022
Label – Clean Feed [CF603CD]
Runtime – 1:03:25