Itamar Erez’s new CD, Mi Alegria, is being launched with a concert at the Annex. (photo by Wolfgang Vogt)
Composer, performer and teacher Itamar Erez releases his new CD in a concert June 20 at the Annex. The title, Mi Alegria, or My Happiness, is a play on words: his daughter’s name is Mia.
Originally from Tel Aviv, Erez teaches guitar at Vancouver Symphony Orchestra School of Music and collaborates with renowned musicians from numerous cultures and musical traditions. His music is infused with the melodies, instruments and rhythms from across the Middle East and beyond.
Erez traces his love of music to his childhood home. His father was a pilot who brought many stories and gifts home from overseas trips – food, clothes, shoes and the music.
“You couldn’t get a lot of records. My father would always bring music with him,” said Erez in an interview with the Independent. “Really interesting music: Bartok, Stravinsky, Coltrane and Bach. I absorbed a lot of it.”
There was also live music in his home, he said. He tells these stories with ease, which is reflected in his style of composition, with its shifting, fluid themes and nuanced moods.
“At 6, I asked to play the piano, so we got one and my older sister and both parents took lessons. We’re all musical,” he said.
Added to all the different traditions in Israel, Erez got a well-rounded education in music, which shows in his eclectic repertoire.
“I remember the first piece I wrote that was performed in a theatre: a piano and upright bass duo. I was 16 or 17,” he said. “It was a magical experience to come out with my own music.”
The relationship between father and son, through music, is mirrored in his relationship with his own son, Yahli. The new album features a song written for his son, “Yahli’s Lullaby.”
“It came about when I was improvising in my room and my son was playing,” said Erez. “He was really listening and asked me what it was.”
Erez derives inspiration from a wealth of other sources: literature, history and myriad musical traditions. “My muse is constantly changing,” he said. “It alternates between world music and jazz, with a lot of classical music.” About Mi Alegria, he said, “this release is definitely going towards jazz.”
“I focused on classical composition at one time, and I felt limited,” he explained. “At some point, I just decided to let go of figuring it out. Something wants to come out, influenced by different traditions, meeting musicians from all over the world, like the Turkish musician I met.”
These influences can be heard on his new album.
“‘Samai’ is based on a Middle Eastern melody that I’m ‘quoting’ – a very traditional piece. The original is a folk tune based on a metre of 10/8; classical Arabic or Turkish tradition,” he said by way of example.
“In my daily practice, I play Bach. It’s really important to me, but not in concert because it’s not my tradition.”
Instead, he prefers to perform his own compositions. “I love the freedom of playing my own music because it doesn’t have to fit a standard of performance,” he said.
Erez writes down his compositions, but only when he needs to share them. When he is composing in the moment, improvising on the piano, “I rarely play a piece the same twice,” he said. “When you’re learning to compose and improvise, it’s important to try things out for hours, transcribing, figuring out what other musicians are doing … just getting lost in the sound.”
Of his new release, Erez said, “I’m super-excited. It’s been awhile since my last release and this is a really fresh new sound.”
For Mi Alegria, Erez worked with percussionist Hamin Honari, with whom he has been collaborating for several years, as well as musicians François Houle, Dani Benedikt, Celsa Machado, James Meger, Kevin Romain and Ilan Salem.
The piece “Tides” evokes the ocean so clearly, with eddies of rapid notes below the slower, tidal shifts in the music, with the cymbal taking the role of the surf, crashing on the shore. “Requinto” is a mischievous piece that moves quickly, with many rapid changes, including the sudden arrival of a sweeping clarinet solo – it calls to mind the swift footsteps of children chasing butterflies. “Shesh” is syncopated, laden with whirling rhythms and pregnant pauses. The intense, mesmerizing repetitions and rising tensions evoke the intelligence of Dave Brubeck or Moe Koffmann, while the wind section takes the listener to the Middle East and China.
The new album is fueled by Flamenco-sized passion but also the playfulness of Bach. The result is a work of both tremendous discipline and unbridled freedom. All in all, the mood of the album suggests so much of human experience and emotion, from joyous to the pensive, from comical to introspective and brooding, and beyond.
In addition to the concert June 20 at the Annex, with opening band the Giving Shapes, Erez also performs on July 11 at Hermann’s in Victoria and July 28 at Frankie’s in Vancouver, with his quartet.
Shula Klinger is an author and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at shulaklinger.com.