After 15 years in the US, Degibri returned to Tel Aviv, Israel, a long flowing with Jazz milk and honey. He hired and honed the talents of pianist Gadi Lehavi and drummer Ofri Nehemya and added to them the talents of his longtime friend and collaborator, bassist Barak Mori. With this group, Eli Was prepared to record. Indeed, he did already with the 2013 release of Twelve. Now, the quartet strikes again with Cliff Hangin’ (Degibri Music DR1007).
The album opens with The Troll, a lovely and lyrical piece introduced by sweet piano work from Gadi Lehavi. The tenor sax joins the piano, bass and drums and you realize you’ve heard something unlike anything you’ve heard before. Yes, many sax players have the skills and the talent but Eli Degibri has…something else. His phrasing is cool and his intensity is palatable. Then drummer Ofri Nehemya steals your attention only for Eli to regain it yet again.
Cliff Hangin’ follows after and the change is extraordinary. It was not the music I expected from the title. There is a beauty in the changes and the quartet are in such singularity that physics takes over the acoustics and you are drawn into it inexorably.
Lehavi’s piano is quick and absolutely on target. His solo is just brilliant. Then the alto sax takes over again with such compelling emotion, that the voice even seems to break in the telling.
Even Bees Do It is the very image of Rimsky-Korsakov with the frenetic little critters buzzing everywhere. Musically speaking. From soprano sax to piano with dancing bass and drums below, the melodies are fun and vivid.
Kind of Blues is exactly that. The tenor sax is back in Eli’s hands and the artists take a pace slower and more deliberate. Bassist Barak Mori has the cool swing with Nehemya going.
Virtuosity is not even in question. There are lots of cats with the technical chops but Eli Degibri has the soul…and the Soul. And he has found the finest musical brothers to make his vision real.
Kind of Blues ends so righteously. Just fabulous.
Suki the Cat, which follows, is a great bit of fun. There is certainly a playfulness but also an emotion that cuts through the speed and such to create an image of adorable felinity.
Twiced was written by Eli and Barak Mori. Barak leads off the piece and is joined by the fine piano. Eli’s sax then mirrors the melodic line before taking it on by himself. The is one of the best groove pieces on the album and that is saying a lot.
Just when you think you can’t get enough of Eli, Gadi Lehavi’s piano takes a big swing for the fences and knocks it out of the park. All the while, Barak Mori is hammering away with Nehemya. Swinging.
The action is so furious that you get a good yell from one of the artists that only makes your smile even broader.
The soprano sax is back for Ocean View. Placid and peaceful, the pace is not slow, by any means. Still, it is an idyll of tranquility that is obvious even in the midst of activity. Despite waves and creatures of the shoreline, the viewer is above it all and enjoying every minute of it.
Nehemya’s snare rim-shots are energetic and all of the artists are putting their hearts into it. The piece closes with the gentleness that began it.
SheshBesh offers some cool work from Eli. Again, the artists cover a complex of rhythmic variations that is like trying to escape Dr. No’s lair. These friends, compatriots and bandmates are in telepathic lock-step, it seems. They are amazing.
Momento Fugaz features Shlomo Ydov on vocals and guitar. You’ve got to love this one. The acoustic guitar is warm and wonderful. Eli’s tenor sax and Gadi Lehavi’s piano are a splendid melodic triad with the guitar. The chord changes are quiet but profound. Palmas are a cool finishing touch for the piece.
The Unknown Neighbor is slow and sweet. I swear to all the powers that be, the opening is the same chord changes as a tune from Disney’s Mary Poppins, albeit at about 1/4 the tempo. [Sorry if I’m wrong, Eli!]
With all of that, however, the song is incredibly moving. From a touch of melancholy to bits of brightness, the track is astounding.
The album concludes with What Am I Doing Here. Everyone gets a voice in the piece. The bouncing bass of Barak Mori is right on it. Lehavi’s piano is just a wonder and Nehemya’s drums are so, so fine. Eli Degibri is wonderful. The ending is so full of joy and life. It is one of those uplifting themes that you hope never ends. He most assuredly saved the best for last. With a tweak of your nose at the very end.
Cliff Hangin’ is one of the most rewarding and satisfying album I have heard in the last decade. Eli Degibri is more than a brilliant saxophone player, more than a stunning composer. There is something about Eli the person that commands attention and affection. There is something in his heart that reaches the listener. This was an incredible experience in listening and in life.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl