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Roy Mor
After The Real Thing

by Howard Lawes

 

 

 

Roy Mor

 

The reality of life in Israel during the recent episode in the endless struggle between Israel and Palestine was highlighted when Tel Aviv resident, pianist Roy Mor was forced to postpone a chat on Zoom while he travelled to a location less threatened by a Hamas launched rocket attack. We caught up later and were able to discuss the inspiration for his music and his debut album as a leader entitled After The Real Thing.

 

An introductory video for the album.

 

 

 

Like most young Israelis Mor spent time in the military after completing his schooling, he also attended university where he gained a degree in Philosophy and subsequently became a software engineer, but music had always been a passion for him. While Mor had studied classical music he also explored other genres including electronic music such as the work of Kraftwerk and Prodigy, Arnie Lawrencecomposing for theatrical productions, performing as a pianist with The Israeli Big Band at major festivals and also with his own ensemble. In the early 2000s he had met alto saxophone player Arnie Lawrence.  Lawrence, who moved to Israel in 1997, was born in the USA and played in the bands of Louie Bellson and Chico Hamilton. He is perhaps better known for his work in education at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in Manhattan and subsequently at the International Center for Creative Music in Jerusalem. 

 

Arnie Lawrence

 

Using his own savings and charitable donations Lawrence provided an opportunity for young people of all backgrounds to excel as jazz musicians and had the ambition that by creating music together they would develop trust and respect for each other. He also hoped to enhance the reputation of Israel as a country with great jazz.  Although the International Center for Creative Music in Jerusalem is no longer operating, Roy Mor pays tribute to his mentor - "Arnie's spirit lives on in the many teens he taught there who are now well known international musicians, including Omri Mor (my brother) and many others". In the album notes Roy Mor also pays tribute to another educator, Amit Golan, an Israeli pianist who following a career in New York, set up a Center for Jazz Studies at The Israel Conservatory of Music.

 

Having caught the jazz bug Roy Mor decided, as other Israeli jazz musicians have done before him, to seek his fortune in New York City and completed his studies at The New School, where Arnie Lawrence had been a tutor and which had become, over a number of years, a focus, along with Smalls Jazz Club, for expatriate Israeli jazz musicians such as Amos Roy Mor After The Real ThingHoffman, Anat Fort and both Avishai Cohens (trumpeter and bassist).

It was in New York where Roy found the "The Real Thing", the vibe and music scene that he was after and he clearly enjoyed his time there - the college where he won a number of prizes, making friends and performing at gigs and jams with other like-minded and extremely talented musicians from schools such as the Manhattan School of Music, City College, Juilliard and Queens College. Two more mentors from Mor's New York time who are mentioned in the album notes are Israeli pianist and organist Sam Yahel and double bassist Reggie Workman who is well known for his work with John Coltrane and Art Blakey.

Roy returned to Israel in 2015 but visited Canada and participated in the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in 2016. He performs regularly in Israel and abroad leading trio, quartet or sextet formats or collaborating with Abate Berihun in a new project called Addis Ken (meaning 'new day'). Although his new album, After The Real Thing, was recorded in New York, the title suggests that Roy Mor's musical journey continues and a whole new chapter has started, performing and composing music inspired by Israeli multiculturalism and his own Middle-Eastern roots. Thus there are interpretations of traditional Israeli songs, some beautifully rendered versions of well known jazz standards and original compositions that either hark back to New York clubland or have a distinct sound of the Levant.

 

Tracks 2, After The Real Thing and 7, Speak Low, have a piano trio format with Marty Kenney on bass and Peter Traunmueller on drums.  The title track lays down an irresistible 7/8 groove which has a 2nd line New Orleans feel demonstrating Roy Mor's talent for melodic composition as well as assured improvisation, while Speak Low (Kurt Weil) is a gentle, reflective song of love. 

 

Listen to Speak Low.

 

 

 

Tracks 1, The Echo Song (Yohanan Zarai) and 8, Do You Know the Way (Efraim Shamir) are traditional songs and feature the fabulous oud of Amos Hoffman, the tunes are very evocative and will surely bring a tear to the eye of all who recognise them from earlier times. Hoffman's oud also features on track 3, Jerusalem Mezcla (Roy Mor) which is a celebration of the diversity of culture of the inhabitants of Jerusalem (mezcla means 'mix') and the Arabic origins of the instrument are highlighted along with some frenetic piano from Mor, this is a really wonderful piece of jazz music inspired by the Mahane Yehuda Market which apart from Mor and Hoffman features Myles Sloniker on bass and Itay Marchi on drums. 

 

Listen to Jerusalem Mezcla.

 

 

 

Track 4, Nikanor, is named after the street where Roy's parents live in Jerusalem and features Davey Lazar on flugelhorn and Mor on Fender Rhodes, the sweet tones are unmistakably nostalgic.  Track 6, Solar Reimagined (Roy Mor) and Track 9, The Follower (Roy Mor) feature Amos Hoffman but this time on guitar.  The original Solar was a Miles Davis classic while this version has more of a Middle-Eastern feel and an interesting duet between piano and guitar.  The Follower features a chromatic style, one note following another, characterising one who has faith.  The last track is a return to the piano trio format with Joel Kruzic on bass and Jeremy Dutton on drums accompanying Mor's piano, the song is The Nearness Of You (Hoagy Carmichael) and was played live at an unnamed club in New York City, no doubt evoking memories for Roy of the wonderful times he enjoyed there, the friends he made and the great music everyone created together. 

 

Listen to The Nearness Of You.

 

 

 

This is a very nice album, full of variety by a pianist who deserves to be far better known in the UK than he is now - although a European tour is planned it is far from certain that the UK will be included. Israel is so often in the news for other reasons but Roy Mor's wonderful music has universal appeal that he would love to share with us.

After The Real Thing was released on the 21st May on the Ubuntu label - click here for details and samples.

Click here for Roy Mor's website.

 

Roy Mor

 

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