Omer Klein ©Brett Delmage, 2014
Omer Klein ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Omer Klein and Haggai Cohen-Milo
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Ottawa, Canada
Wednesday, April 9, 2014 – 7:30 p.m.

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One piano. One double bass. And they so filled the Fourth Stage to the walls with melody and layers of sound that nothing more was needed.

This show was pianist Omer Klein's debut performance in Canada. He made the most of it with an exhilarating and intense presentation, which clearly showed his strong and longstanding connection with bassist Haggai Cohen-Milo. The two were in constant visual and musical communication, trading off the lead and reacting to each other's ideas – important given the amount of improvisation they included in the music.

Klein was touring to support his latest album, To the Unknown [Plus Loin Music, 2013], and started the show with the first two pieces from that album. “Fear of Heights” began with repeated circling patterns and then developed into a flowing, classically-influenced melody, almost like a lullaby. “Bliss” started off in a jazzier mood, with a strong initial riff on both instruments; it then added more texture with flurries of notes, glissandos, fast repeated riffs (bass against piano), and staccato interludes – accented by occasional foot stomps from Klein.

The title of “Modesty” reflected the fact it was based on seven different modes – but also that it was a “modest attempt” by a composer to understand he can't come up with a better melody that would be produced by improvisation, Klein told the audience. The actual composition is just a list of chords and a bass line, without a specified melody, he said; the version he played wasn't going to sound like the piece on the album. This version opened in a more quiet, stately manner, and the melody progressed thoughtfully, exploring variations, before slowly diminishing into a stream of individual sparkling notes.

Klein studied jazz at the New England Conservatory of Music, and privately with renowned pianists Danilo Perez and Fred Hersch. His compositions and improvisational style are clearly in the modern piano jazz tradition: multi-layered, strongly improvisational, and unpredictable with contrasting melodies and rhythms. In fact, he noted that he often doesn't even pick which song to play next before he sits back on the piano bench.

But he also has a strain of Israeli folk music in his background, and that was clearly visible in “Niggun” (the Hebrew word for song), from Klein's earlier album, Heart Beats [Smalls, 2009]. Its strong forward momentum was immediately apparent; it reminded me of a folk dance (despite its 11/8 time signature). The initial strong, resonant patterns on both bass and piano developed into a bright, appealing tune; it then became more syncopated and staccato, before returning to its folkloric feel and ending with a flourish, and strong applause.

Cole Porter's “What is This Thing Called Love?” (the only non-original) was given a contrapuntal treatment, with Klein contrasting the melody with an opposing bass line on piano. It was an upbeat deconstruction of the standard, with lots of verve, and accented and vibrating notes.

Klein closed with “One for the Road”, also from his latest album, which started as a romantic ballad with some melancholy undertones. It then progressed into a series of explorations, some quite intense, while never losing track of the lovely melody.

The moderate-sized audience appeared to be absorbed by and enjoying the music throughout, nodding their heads in many places and frequently strongly applauding. No surprise: the music was both accessible and stimulating, and rewarded intent listening.

Klein chatted frequently between songs, explaining their origins and what he was trying to do with them, and getting the audience laughing with friendly banter. It was an absorbing, well-paced and varied concert – a good introduction to Klein's talent – although at 70 minutes long perhaps a bit short.

    – Alayne McGregor

Set list:

  • Fear of Heights
  • Bliss
  • Modesty
  • Niggun
  • What is This Thing Called Love? (Cole Porter)
  • One for the Road

Ottawa was the first stop in a cross-Canada tour for Klein and Cohen-Milo:

  • April 9 – NAC Fourth Stage, Ottawa
  • April 10 – Jazz Bistro, Toronto
  • April 12 –  The Bassment, Saskatoon
  • April 13 – Beth Jacob Synagogue, Regina
  • April 19 – The Yardbird Suite, Edmonton
  • April 20 – Char’s Landing, Port Alberni
  • April 23 – Hermann’s Jazz Club,, Victoria
  • April 24 – Alliance Francaise, Vancouver

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