Hour 10: Israeli Ex-Patriots in New York – Omer Avital, Anat Cohen, Avishai Cohen, Yonathan Avishai, Gilad Hekselman and Idan Morim

Anat Cohen

Fueled by the arrival of Israeli ex-patriot guitarist Roni Ben-Hur in 1985 and bassists Omer Avital and Avishai Cohen in late nineties, a network of Israeli musicians have steadily filtered into New York over the past twenty years. Several have risen to the highest levels of acclaim.

A dozen years ago, Andrew Gilbert wrote a prescient article in Jazz Times, “The Israeli Jazz Wave: Promised Land to Promised Land,” saying “One reason the Israeli wave has garnered considerable attention is because it seems so unlikely. A tiny country with a population of 7 million packed into a territory smaller than New Jersey, Israel can claim few direct ties to the New World’s African diaspora. Yet after Cuba, no foreign country’s citizens are playing a more visible or essential role on the New York scene these days. The causes are many and complex, from immigration patterns and Israel’s hardboiled culture to the country’s vaunted education system, which has embraced jazz to a remarkable extent. Just about everyone associated with the Israeli scene harbors a theory or two explaining how and why the country has become such a vital outpost for jazz talent, though even the musicians themselves are somewhat puzzled by the way the music has flourished thousands of miles from its point of origin.”

Jazz from Israeli ex-pats, Omer Avital, Anat Cohen, Avishai Cohen, Yonathan Avishai, Gilad Hekselman and Idan Morim in this hour of Jazz at 100 Today!

Omer Avital
Bassist Omer Avital was recognized as a major emerging talent in New York in the nineties. When a record deal went sour, he returned to Israel, studied the oud and immersed himself in Middle Eastern rhythms. After his return to New York in 2005, he resumed his active participation in the New York scene and in 2011, he played both oud and bass on pianist Lynn Arriale’s release Convergence. Although it was recorded in 2006, it wasn’t until 2012 that Avital released his wonderful disc Suite from the East, which Thomas Conrad of JazzTimes described as “…a deep organic fusion of Middle Eastern and North African music with current cutting-edge jazz.” Pianist Omer Klein, then a thirty-year-old recent arrival from Israel, brings a beautiful mystery to Avital’s composition Sinai Memories.

Dance of the Rain. Lynne Arriale Quartet
(Bill McHenry-ts, Lynne Arriale-p, Omer Avital-b/oud, Anthony Pinciotti-d). From Convergence. Motema. 2011.
Sinai Memories. Omer Avital Trio
(Omer Klein-p, Omer Avital-b, Daniel Freedman-d). From Suite of the East. Anzic 2012.

Anat Cohen
A native of Tel Aviv and a graduate of Berklee School of Music, clarinetist Anat Cohen made her debut in 2006 and has recorded notably in quartet and tentet settings as well as with her brothers trumpeter Avishai and saxophonist Yuval in the group “3 Cohens.” Perhaps her best small group work is on the 2012 disc, Claroscuro. On AllAboutJazz, Dan Bilawsky wrote, “The unrestrained enthusiasm that Cohen beautifully exhibits in [previous releases] is replaced here by a more deliberate and controlled balance of highs and lows, ups and downs….and light and dark. Claroscuro is a colorful date that confirms what’s already been said about Anat Cohen on numerous occasions: she’s one of a kind.”

Anat Cohen’s 2017 release Happy Song was her debut with a ten-member ensemble. The title tune is a delightful affair exemplifying the energetic and positive spirit of this on-going ensemble.

Anat’s Dance. Anat Cohen Quartet
(Anat Cohen-bcl/ss/ts, Jason Lindner-p, Joe Martin-b, Daniel Freedman-d). From Claroscuro. Anzic. 2012.
Happy Song. Anat Cohen Tentet
Nadje Noordhuis-tp/flh, Nick Finzer-tb, Owen Broder-bs/bcl, Anat Cohen-cl, Vitor Gonçalves-p/acc, James Shipp-vib/per, Sheryl Bailey-g, Rubin Kodheli-cel, Tal Mashiach-b, Anthony Pinciotti -d). From Happy Song. Anzic. 2016.

Avishai Cohen
In 1997, trumpeter Avishai Cohen was a finalist in the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz International Competition, by the time he made his ECM debut with 2016’s Into the Silence, he was a veteran with a characteristic tone, often compared to that of Miles Davis when playing ballads. Into the Silence captures a suite of contemplative compositions that he wrote following his father’s death in 2014.

Of Cohen’s 2017 release Cross My Palms with Silver, Karl Ackerman writes, “If trumpeter Avishai Cohen’s ECM debut, Into The Silence was a work of deeply personal content, Cross My Palm With Silver plays out with the same emotional impact, but on a global stage. Cohen composed the five pieces on this album in his native Israel, while contemplating the impact of political division on the human psyche. His hope is that the music contributes to a healing process.” The closing piece, 50 Years and Counting presumably refers to the uneasy politics of the aftermath of the capture of East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 war.

In 2019, Avishai Cohen and his regular collaborator pianist Yonathan Avishai joined forces again, this time in a very open and confidently contemplative duo setting. The power of their reunion is succinctly illustrated by their gentle treatment of Duke Ellington’s Azalea.

Quiescence. Avishai Cohen Quintet
(Avishai Cohen-tp, Bill McHenry-ts, Yonathan Avishai-p, Eric Revis-b, Nasheet Waits-d). From Into the Silence. ECM. 2016.
50 Years and Counting. Avishai Cohen Quartet
(Avishai Cohen-tp, Yonathan Avishai-p, Barak Mori-b, Nasheet Watts-d). From Cross My Palm With Silver. ECM. 2017.
Azalea. Avishai Cohen – Yonathan Avishai duo
(Avishai Cohen-tp, Yonathan Avishai-p). From Playing the Room. ECM. 2019.

Gilad Hekselman and Idan Morim
Guitarist Gilad Hekselman moved to New York in 2004 to study at the New School. The Israeli connection brought him quickly into collaboration with Anat Cohen, in whose quartet he continues to work. He has recorded a series of well-received releases including the 2012 release Hearts Wide Open, of which Jazz Times’ Carlo Wolff writes, “Not only does Hearts Wide Open showcase a guitarist with unusual command of touch and dynamics …, it establishes Hekselman as a writer fluent in a diverse, enthralling jazz vocabulary.”

Idan Morim is another Israel born guitarist who came to New York to attend the New School and stayed. His 2019 debut release, I.M., presents nine of his crisp compositions with a quintet that includes sensational young trumpeter Adam O’Farrill.

Flower. Gilad Hekselman Trio
(Gilad Hekselman-g, Joe Martin-b, Marcus Gilmore-d). From Hearts Wide Open. Chant Du Monde. 2011.
Wildfire. Idan Morim Quintet
(Adam O’Farrill-tp, Michael Gilad-p/key/synth, Idam Morim-g, Almog Sharvit-b, Colin Stranahan-d). From I.M. Outside In Music. 2018.

The presence of Israeli players in the New York jazz scene was perhaps a novelty twenty years ago. Many of these players are now firmly established in the first tier of jazz musicians, making music that sometimes reflects their Middle Eastern heritage, but always is deeply steeped in the international jazz tradition.


Gilbert, Andrew.  (2008, May 1). JazzTimes.  The Israeli Jazz Wave: Promised Land to Promised Land.  https://jazztimes.com/features/profiles/the-israeli-jazz-wave-promised-land-to-promised-land/

Conrad, Thomas.  (2012, July 24).  JazzTimes.  Omer Avital: Suite of the East.  https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/omer-avital-suite-of-the-east/

Wolff, Carlo.  (2011, March 1).  Jazz Times.  Lynne Arriale: Convergence.  https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/lynne-arriale-convergence/

Bilawsky, Dan.  (2012, October 16).  AllAboutJazz.  Anat Cohen: Claroscuro.  https://www.allaboutjazz.com/claroscuro-anat-cohen-anzic-records-review-by-dan-bilawsky.php

Thackara, Geno.  (2017, October 5).  Anat Cohen Tentet: Happy Song.  https://www.allaboutjazz.com/happy-song-anat-cohen-anzic-records-review-by-geno-thackara.php

Sullivan, Mark. (2016, February 5).  AllAboutJazz.  Avishai Cohen – Trumpet: Into The Silence.  https://www.allaboutjazz.com/into-the-silence-avishai-cohen-ecm-records-review-by-mark-sullivan.php

Ackerman, Karl.  (2017, April 28).  AllAboutJazz.  Avishai Cohen – Trumpet: Cross My Palm With Silver.  https://www.allaboutjazz.com/cross-my-palm-with-silver-avishai-cohen-ecm-records-review-by-karl-ackermann.php

McKinney, Michael.  (2019, December 16).  AllAbout Jazz.  Avishai Cohen And Yonathan Avishai: Playing The Room.  https://www.allaboutjazz.com/playing-the-room-avishai-cohen-ecm-records

Wolff, Carlo.  (2012, January 10).  Jazz Times.  Gilad Hekselman: Hearts Wide Open.  https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/gilad-hekselman-hearts-wide-open/

Bonomi, Claudio.  (2019, July 9).  AllAboutJazz.  Idan Morim: IM.  https://www.allaboutjazz.com/im-idan-morim-outside-in-music-review-by-claudio-bonomi.php

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