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A winning debut for a fine ensemble with a distinctive sound.

Music Review: The Roy Assaf Trio – ‘Second Row Behind the Painter’

Second Row Behind the Painter is the debut album by the Roy Assaf Trio. Israeli pianist Assaf joins forces with bassist Raviv Markowitz and drummer Jake Goldblas for a dynamic program made up mostly of Assaf originals, with a classic or two thrown in for good measure, delivered with a distinctive sound palate. As the Assaf websiteRoy Assaf points out, the trio has worked to develop a sound of their own: “They have been striving to create a sound that belongs to them. A sound that can challenge them artistically and conceptually but at the same time relates to many people.”

If the new album is any indication, they have succeeded. Perhaps it is the colors Assaf coaxes from his piano, but the best way I can describe the sound they have come up with is what I imagine a composer like Erik Satie would sound like had he been leading a jazz trio. In melody after melody, those composed by Assaf, as well as those composed by others, what I hear (not always, but most often) is Satie complemented with bass and drums. It’s not so much that the pianist hogs the spotlight; bass and drums take their opportunities to shine. It is more that they all seem to buy into the distinctive soundscape. And it makes sense that they should, it is a defining soundscape.

They open with two originals: the title song, which sets the Satie tone for what’s to come, and “Babel,” which plays with some more exotic rhythms. Frank Loesser’s “Never Will I Marry” and Michel Petrucciani’s “It’s a Dance” follow, cementing the opening colors. Compositions like Assaf’s “Con Grew” and “folk-lore” provide an opportunity for the trio to show its other side, as does the elegant interpretation of Israeli composer Naomi Shemer’s “Kvar Acharei Chatzot.”

The album includes three interludes which seem to be improvised pieces worked out at the recording session, which took place over three days. There is a short take of the Duke Ellington classic “I Got it Bad” and the set ends with Asaaf’s “Budva,” a dramatic climactic piece.

Second Row Behind the Painter is a winning debut for a fine ensemble with a distinctive sound.

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