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The Mattan Klein Quartet's Long Run

by Robin Kidson

 

 

Mattan Klein

Mattan Klein
Photograph by Yossi Zwecker

 

The ever-adventurous British record label, Ubuntu Music, has recently released an album by Israeli flautist, Mattan Klein, called The Long Run. Born and raised in Jerusalem, Mattan Klein is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston and a well-known figure on the Israeli jazz scene as performer, composer, teacher and festival director. The recipient of various scholarships and prizes, he has performed at the London Jazz Festival and on other international stages. However, outside his native Israel, he has a relatively low profile. The Long Run is his seventh album as a leader but his first with Ubuntu.

The Long Run is billed as “Israeli-Brazilian contemporary jazz”. At first sight, this may seem a rather odd mix but then jazz in the twenty first century is an international affair played by musicians all over the world and absorbing all sorts of influences on the way. Little wonder then that interesting combinations and collaborations are constantly being thrown up. Of course, Brazilian jazz has had a major influence on the development of the music, most notably when the bossa nova was taken up by major American artists such as Stan Getz in the 1960s. Since then, Brazilian rhythms have become an integral part of jazz. Mattan Klein first encountered these rhythms listening to the music played by a well-established Brazilian community in Israel and has been interested in exploring them ever since.

All six tracks on The Long Run strongly reflect the influence of Brazil. By contrast, there is little specifically Israeli here – to this ear, anyway. The label “Israeli-Brazilian contemporary jazz” is perhaps better understood as Brazilian inflected jazz played by Israeli musicians. This isn’t to denigrate it – the music is hugely enjoyable and life-enhancing, and the players are superb: Klein on flute, Toki Stern on Fender Rhodes keyboards, Yoni Ben Ari on bass, and Israel-based Brazilian, Joca Perpignan, on percussion. You can see and listen to them in action playing Used To Be A Bossa in Tel Aviv in 2021:

 

 

 

 

Hermeto Pascoal

There is one Brazilian musician in particular whose considerable shadow hovers benignly over The Long Run and that is Hermeto Pascoal, who has clearly been an important inspiration to Klein. Born in 1936 in north east Brazil, Pascoal is an albino who had to spend much of his early years indoors to protect his sensitive skin from the hot Brazilian sun. This gave him plenty of time to learn to play various instruments beginning with the accordion. He started performing with various Brazilian groups in the 1960s, helping to establish a form of Brazilian jazz which wasn’t just bossa nova. He came to international prominence in 1971 when he played with Miles Davis on the Live Evil album. Three of Pascoal’s compositions were included on the record. The experience moved Miles to call Pascoal “the most impressive musician in the world”. Since then, he has led his own groups recording and touring widely. A prolific composer, he is also a charismatic performer, looking like a cross between a lion and a member of ZZ Top. Pascoal is a supremely talented multi-instrumentalist, playing everything from keyboards, saxophone and flute to the less conventional teapots and children’s toys – indeed, he has said that everything can be an instrument: “… wherever I am is an instrument. A chair is an instrument. A table is an instrument. There are so many instruments”.

 

 

Not for nothing is he known as ‘O Bruxo”, the Sorcerer. Here he is playing flute live at Montreux in 1979:

 

 

 



 
Mattan KleinFour of the six tracks on The Long Run are Mattan Klein compositions including Otem Reh(y) which is a specific tribute to Hermeto Pascoal. Like all the tracks on the album, it is an upbeat, tuneful piece which compels one to tap feet, shake that thing and start employing clichéd yet heartfelt adjectives such as “infectious”. As a specialist jazz flautist, Klein is a relatively rare beast. The flute has never really caught on in jazz and has often been seen by musicians as a second instrument to the saxophone. It’s not entirely coincidental that perhaps the best known jazz flautist, Herbie Mann, was also heavily into Brazilian music.

By concentrating on the flute, Klein has perfected a dazzling technique which is in full flow on Otem Reh(y). He improvises as if he was a bird having an intense conversation with someone or something. Yoni Ben Ari contributes a great solo on electric bass which includes some funky Pastorius-type slap bass and helps the whole piece establish a compulsive groove, a fitting tribute to Hermeto Pascoal.

The title track, The Long Run, is another Klein original which, according to the composer, “…reflects on how one must run long distances with heads held high. Only such a perspective can provide the energy and drive to sometimes overcome obstacles and challenges”. Energy and drive there is aplenty in a bossa nova which one imagines Stan Getz would have loved to play. The quartet is joined by guitarist Nitzan Bar who delivers a swinging solo as does Toki Stern on the Rhodes Fender keyboard – which incidentally sounds particularly effective on headphones. Klein’s flute is more free flowing than on some of the other tracks and the whole piece ends on a passage of collective improvisation which never strays into messiness. 

 

 

Here is a video of the ensemble playing the title track:

 

 

 

The other two Mattan Klein compositions are medleys: Luck-Key/Kind Of has a deceptively complex tune and rhythm which gently swings along in another foot tapping display. Klein’s flute is crisp and confident; there are solos from bass and keyboard and some nice interplay between the two. Azymotiv/Hakaza begins in a slower, more reflective mood with the flute having a slight middle-eastern tinge, the only part of the album where something of Israel perhaps can be heard. However, the beat quickly picks up and we are back to Brazilian territory with Joca Perpignan to the fore contributing interesting rhythms and percussive effects and a particularly arresting solo. The whole quartet play brilliantly together and the piece takes on a momentum where one feels it could almost play itself.

 

You can listen to Azymotiv/Hakaza here:

 

 


Jokes is by the keyboardist, Toki Stern and is bright, optimistic and quick. All the musicians need to show off their considerable virtuosity to keep up with the unrelenting beat. Stern’s keyboards are turned to conventional piano mode and the track gradually evolves into a joyous free-for-all where everybody just about hangs on.

The final track is by the master himself, Hermeto Pascoal. It’s called O Farol Que Nos Guia and has a beautiful, contemplative melody, not particularly Brazilian but universal in its appeal. Klein performs it fairly straight but most elegantly as a duet with Toki Stern. Like Otem Reh(y), it’s another lovely tribute to the genius of Hermeto Pascoal.

 

Listen to O Farol Que Nos Guia:

 

 

 

and by way of contrast, here’s Pascoal’s take on his composition .......

 

 


The Long Run serves a number of functions. First, it is a reminder of the debt jazz owes to the music of Brazil and that of Hermeto Pascoal in particular. Second, it showcases the health and vitality of jazz in Israel, and that the country is nurturing some fine young musicians. Third, it demonstrates that the flute in experienced and practiced hands can be a most expressive jazz instrument. Fourth, it hopefully brings the talent of Mattan Klein to a wider, more international audience. But finally, and most of all, it is an uplifting and joyous listening experience, just the job for troubled times.  

Even at 85 years old, Hermeto Pascoal is still going strong. Coincidentally, he is touring Europe this summer. UK dates include:

            2nd May – St Georges, Bristol
            5th May – Barbican, London
            10th May – Stoller Hall, Manchester
            13th May – St Andrews and Blackfriars Halls, Norwich

 

The Long Run is available on Amazon - click here. Mattan Klein’s website is here, and there is more information on the Ubuntu website here.

 

Mattan Klein Quartet The Long Run album

 

 

 

 

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