Ori Kaplan: Le Magus (2002)
There's a variety of assumptions to be made from saxophonist Ori Kaplan titling his new CD Le Magus. The suggestion could be that Kaplan is a sorcerer, one of the wise men who traveled to Bethlehem to greet the newborn Jesus or the twisted, manipulative millionaire of the John Fowles novel. In a sense, though, any of those could point to the same thing: that with his new release, you should give up on having expectations of Ori Kaplan.
The disc finds him somewhere between his previous jazz-leaning discs and the cabaret of his work with Gogol Bordello. While crossing that terrain of camp and circus music, Kaplan might have found the Kamikazee Ground Crew, Roy Nathanson or Steve Bernstein. But the land is wide, and the villages small. There is plenty of ground to cultivate, and to dismiss this as another kitschy, klezzy downtown disc would be selling it short.
The last decade of downtown jazz in no small part has been about finding new roots for the American improvisation tradition. Sephardic sounds no doubt emerged victorious, and are now as much a staple of New York jazz as southern blues once was. Alone, that would prove sterile. But jazz is about musicianship, and Le Magus is a case (not the only one) where musicianship shines and tradition remains the foundation, not the summation. The quintet which includes drummer Geoff Mann's mandolin and pianist Andrew Bemkey doubling (tripling?) on organ and clarinet is further augmented by Marcus Rojas' tuba, Steve Ulrich on guitar and Eugene Hutz contributing some unforgettable vocals.
If a soundscape for a shvitz is all it takes to fill your heart, Le Magus will no doubt suffice. But if you're one who's always looking for the next new voice in old traditions, Le Magus contains that too. The band also includes Tamir Muskat on drums and Adam Roberts on bass, along with the leader's alto and powerful baritone.
This review first appeared in the September 2002 issue of All About Jazz: New York .