Breathing - CD review by Bridget A. Arnie (All About Jazz)

When a CD is released, one of its most revealing aspects—and that of the artist's mindset during the recording process—is the title that has been assigned. With a title like Breathing, there are several things that can be presupposed: first, maybe the artist recorded the album in a stiflingly hot space and the title was chosen for its irony; second, perhaps making the music was as effortless a process as breathing; or third, it's possible that the process of creating the music was so essential to life that it ranked as being, in the artist's mind, as necessary as the need to breathe. Whatever rationale, Jerusalem-born drummer Dan Aran's debut as a bandleader is a breath of fresh air.

What sustains Aran's proverbial breathing is the support he receives from a highly skilled group of musicians, along with a good selection of music. Featuring only four of his own compositions, Aran's approach to recording is that of a man with no ego or pretense—the best music gets featured here whether it was composed under Aran's pen or someone else's. With standout performances occurring on "Sun Bath," "Schnozel," "I'm So Blue," "Riva," "I Concentrate on You," "Tenderly," and "Gul Lihibib" the music is understated yet present. There are no overly dramatic flourishes or grand gestures played on the recording, in fact, Aran probably has the softest stroke of any drummer on the jazz scene today, but with contributions from a talented band of musicians that includes pianist Art Hirahara, trumpeter Avishai Cohen, bassist Matt Brewer, trombonist Jonathan Voltzok and tenor saxophonist Eli Degibri, he has fashioned a solid supporting cast that helps make the music hard to ignore.

Aran and his band rise to every challenge and don't disappoint, regardless of the context. Some songs are played in a more traditional manner ("I'm So Blue" and Cole Porter's "I Concentrate on You"), while others feature interesting additions that uniquely change tradition, such as the inclusion of Gili Sharett's bassoon on "Tenderly." Aran's original music is performed in a manner that merges his creative vision with his heritage and respect for jazz history on "Sun Bath," "Schnozel" and "Riva," while "Gul Lihibib" is performed with a Middle Eastern flair.

Recordings like Breathing are good reminders of what's great about jazz. When artists have a vision for their music, and a respect for where the music has been and where it's going, that artist gives the jazz body one breath, one chance at life. Jazz cannot survive on the success of one artist alone; it is a community. Jazz is a culture that represents life, and needs artists like Dan Aran to help it breathe a little easier.

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Dan Aran's "Breathing" by David R. Adler

The following review appears in the December 2009 issue of All About Jazz-New York

Dan Aran
Breathing (Smalls Records)

By David R. Adler

Dan Aran’s Breathing arrived with a short, dour note from Luke Kaven, head of Smalls Records, on the shaky future of indie-label jazz. That’s not news, and yet Breathing underscores the stakes involved for artists whose work is too fine to go undocumented. Aran, an Israeli-born drummer, is such an artist.

Breathing is very much a jazz record but not a straightforward band date. There are many musicians on the roster, some playing only small roles, although Aran relies on top-tier pianist Art Hirahara to anchor every track except one. Bassists Matt Brewer and Tal Ronen handle five tunes each. Trumpeter Avishai Cohen, saxophonist Eli Degibri and trombonist Jonathan Voltzok all make substantial contributions. Degibri plays gruff tenor on Arnie Lawrence’s midtempo “I’m So Blue" and takes up soprano for Aran’s “Riva," a Trane-like waltz. Cohen’s solo on Ornette Coleman’s “The Blessing" is a burst of lucidity, the album’s improvisational centerpiece.

But it’s the subtle textures and tone colors — Nir Felder’s mix of acoustic slide and fuzztone guitar on the rubato second half of the ballad “Sun Bath," Gili Sharett’s lonely bassoon on the melody of Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate on You," Brewer’s 5/4 bass feature on “Tenderly" — that give Breathing its radiance, its flavor of surprise. Aran’s writing, too, is disarmingly pretty, pure in melodic focus. He opens smartly with “Sun Bath" and the evocative tone poem “Shnozel," and closes with “Yemini Pne," a loping, unorthodox two-chord vamp that gives way to a brighter sequence in ¾, framed by a joyous staccato line and dueling solos from the brass.

The one big departure — an explicit nod to Aran’s ethnic heritage — is “Gul Lihibib," Aharon Amram’s hypnotic 7/8 theme, involving cameos by flutist Itai Kriss, trumpeter Ben Holmes and pianist/accordionist Uri Sharlin. The Middle Eastern vibe is fleeting, however. Aran’s work is steeped first and foremost in straightahead jazz, and yet the forms and contours are every bit his own.

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Bill Milkowski review of Dan's new CD. Jazz Times, December 2009 issue

Israeli drummer-composer Dan Aran is joined by several of his talented compatriots, including trumpeter Avishai Cohen, Tenor Saxophonist Eli Degibri, pianist Uri Sharlin, bassist Tal Ronen and trombonist Jonathan Voltzok, on his superb debut as a leader.

A sensitive colorist on the kit, Aran takes a Zen-like approach on mesmerizing, ECM-esque fare like "Sun Bath","Shnozel" and the entrancing "Riva".
Other highlights include a cover of Ornette Colman's "The Blessing"; a relaxed reading of Cole Porter's melancholy " I concentrate on you" featuring basoonist Gili Sharrett; The meditative, folkloric number- Gul Lihibib with Aran on Darbuka and Itai Kriss on Flute; and a swinging "I'm so Blue" (by Aran's mentor Arnie Lawrence) featuring some slick brushwork.

Review of Dan's new CD from Michael G. Nastos, (All Music Guide)

Drummer Dan Aran can certainly claim stylistic allegiance to several factions of modern jazz, from the progressive to ethnic fusion and neo-bop. But it is Dan Aran the composer and theorist who also stands out on this, his debut as a leader, teamed with various-sized groups and instrumentations that showcase the depth and breadth of his fertile imagination. As a rhythmic navigator, he challenges the norm with either extremely complex charts or adapting simple equations of swing into slightly embellished or peaceful pulses. A younger crowd of N.Y.C.-based musicians joins him, most notably trumpeter Avishai Cohen alongside trombonist Jonathan Voltzok, saxophonist Eli Degibri on three cuts, Matt Brewer or Tal Ronen on bass, and the very fine pianist Art Hirahara throughout. There's a large quotient of soul in this music based on patient virtue, and the steadfast belief that even though all of the notes have been played, they can still have new depth and meaning. The four tracks featuring the two brass players represent the most bluesy pieces, including the slow, sighing six-beat-in-five-note strains of the opener, "Sun Bath," with delicate yet intricate, cascading stairstep lines over the processed, looped electric guitar of Nir Felder -- a beautifully developedobjet d'art. An outstanding finale, "Yemini Pne" really digs deep into the midnight blue spectrum via Hirahara's uptown late-night musings that merge into a modal groove with a stunning, jamming horn discourse that bumps the sleepy mood up several notches. A soft and gentle "Shnozel" recalls the sonic footprint of the great large ensembles of Woody Shaw that featured Slide Hampton or Steve Turre, where a slowed version of Ornette Coleman's "The Blessing" also gives sway to the notion of where these musicians received major information and inspiration. Another Aran original, "Riva" sounds like a waltz or 6/8 amalgam of "Nature Boy" and "Midnight Sun." Ronen's contribution to the date, "Para Ezequiel" is a straight piano-bass-drums trio waltz, nothing fancy except a slight tango inference encouraging Hirahara's romantic stance. David Amram's multicultural theme "Gul Lihibib" is unearthed, a 7/8 Middle Eastern/Yiddish snake charmer/belly dance composition accented by the exotic flute of Itai Kriss and Uri Sharlin's accordion, while the bassoon of Gili Sharett is woven through a tango ballad version of Cole Porter's "I Concentrate on You." This is a recording deserving of several repeat listenings to hear the unfolded layers of sound and ideas that are more subtle, or not readily discernible upon first blush. It's that rare album that grows on you with each spin, a rare commodity in the modern jazz era of copyist populism and well-worn standard fare. For an initial outing, it's an outstanding effort, and comes with a hearty "two thumbs up" recommendation. Michael G. Nastos, All Music Guide

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Dan's CD review by Greg Edwards

Dan Aran, Lynch Pin of Israeli-American Jazz

OK, so there IS an Israeli-American jazz scene. What better day than Yom Kippur to bring it up? Drummer Dan Aran is an important part of it. His new album Breathing (Smalls) makes that clear. He can play some solid drums, lead a middle-sized ensemble from the drum stool, and make use of the talent around him as well as his own in choosing a program of originals, standards and roots music finely arranged and performed.

The ensemble on this disk is in continual flux, but generally there is a front line of several horns (Avishai Cohen on trumpet being one of the most accomplished), plus some special sound color instruments here and there, like accordion and bassoon.

The music is contemporary with some bop underpinning now and then and some roots, like on the final cut, "Yemeni Prie," a very nice 7/8 timed piece based on Yemeni traditional music.

That's the basics of it. For the specifics, you just need to listen to it a few times and you should find yourself falling in with its varied program and its delightfully solid musical qualities. If you want modern contemporary in the new mainstream and you have had enough of the cliches that can be repackaged and regurgitated from the Jamey Aebersold practice books and music-minus-one CDs, here are a group of folks who know that it's not enough to get the changes right and learn to string the "correct" cliches together flowingly. Not to take anything away from the Aebersold books. They are great. But they are like Wittgenstein's idea of philosophy. It is a ladder to get you somewhere. Once you've climbed up there, you don't need the ladder anymore. And that's when the real work begins. Dan Aran and his colleagues are way past the ladder and working on what comes after, what you put into the music after you get the basics down, with very successful and listenable results.

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Breathing by Dan Aran CD review by Chris Kelsey

Israeli drummer Dan Aran takes a more contemporary tack on Breathing (Smalls 0045). Aran – a student of the late saxophonist (and founder of the New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music) Arnie Lawrence – is notably un-drummer-like in his leadership. He’s a laid-back team player, disinclined to put himself out front. Could be that he’s with out ego, or that he’s content to let his tuneful compositions and enlightened arrangements serve as the focus. If so, mission accomplished, because while he’s convened a large group of fine players – the most well-known of whom is probably trumpeter (and fellow Smalls habitué) Avishai Cohen – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Aran seems fond of gently grooving Latin rhythms and the occasional odd meter, both of which suit his tasteful, ECM-ish drumming style to a “T." The music exudes calm, even at its most agitated (which really isn’t very). Like most of the Smalls catalog (and unlike the Roland album), it doesn’t look back, but rather pulls the listener along in modest, well-considered increments. There’s plenty of room in jazz for music like that. If we’re lucky, Smalls will continue to deliver it – in some form – well into the future.

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Review in Hebrew of Dan's new CD Breathing

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Great review of Dan's new CD by Pamela Espeland

It’s rare (for me) to open a new CD by an artist I don’t know, pop it in the player, and leave it in for most of the day, backing up to hear tunes over again, not wanting to skip anything. I did that with Dan Aran’s Breathing, one of the most beautiful recordings I have heard in a long time.

Who’s Dan Aran? A New-York-via-Jerusalem drummer, one of that fascinating crowd of serious, well-educated, grown-up Israeli musicians who have moved to NYC in recent years. (Read more about that here.) Born in 1977, a drummer since 11, educated at the Rubin Academy of Music high school in Jerusalem and the New School University in NYC (from which he graduated in 2004 with a BFA in performance), he has played with bassists Avishai Cohen and Omer Avital, jazz vocalist Stacey Kent, pop singer Natalie Merchant, and many others. He seems to divide his time between NYC and Israel; I don’t believe he has made it to the Midwest yet, unlike Avital and Cohen, guitarist Gilad Hekselman, pianist Omer Klein, and trombonist Avishai Lubovitch. (Note to all JCCs and synagogues who bring Israeli jazz musicians to Minneapolis/St. Paul: Put me on your mailing list and I’ll show up.)

Breathing is Aran’s first CD as leader, just out on Smalls Records, which Chris Kelsey reports is “surviving, but just barely." Smalls, the NYC jazz club in the West Village with which the label is associated, has been a home-away-from-home for many Israeli musicians.

For Breathing, Aran gathered a fine group of mostly compatriots: trumpeter Avishai Cohen (no relation to the bassist, but brother to clarinetist/saxophonist Anat and pianist Yuval), saxophonist Eli Degibri, trombonist Jonathan Voltzok, flutist Itai Kriss, guitarist Nir Felder, trumpeter Ben Holmes, pianists Art Hirahara and Uri Sharlin, bassists Tal Ronen and Matt Brewer, and bassoonist Gili Sharett. They don’t all play together or this would be a big band recording, but appear in various combinations on various tracks.

Ah, the tracks. Four out of ten are originals by Aran, including the opener, “Sun Bath," which begins with a gentle summons by Cohen’s trumpet, layers on instruments (soft piano, plashy cymbals, bass, trombone, guitar), builds in intensity, digresses into a conversation between trumpet and trombone, then pauses, takes a breath, and moves into a ruminative piano-bass-guitar section that picks up speed (but not much) when Aran and the rest return. Another crescendo, another diminuendo, another digression, this time into big, chordy guitar. I’m never sure where this piece is going but it pulls me along. It’s more of a sunrise than a sun bath, changing colors moment by moment.

“Sun Bath" gives way to “Shnozel," an odd name for a slow, measured work of real beauty that sounds at first as if it might turn into “Moanin’." The spotlight is on Hirahara’s piano.

“I’m So Blue" shifts the mood to saucy and swinging. Degibri’s tenor sax takes the lead on this tune I know I’ve heard before—by someone named Lawrence?—but can’t find anything about. (If you know this music, please comment.) By now I’m completely won over by pianist Hirahara. Aran takes his first notable solos and I’m reminded that this is his CD as leader. Throughout, he seldom asserts himself; this is a group effort.

“Riva," an Aran original with a Middle Eastern flavor, features Degibri on soprano sax, who turns it over to Hirahara et al. midway and comes back to bring it home. Nice. “Para Ezequiel" by bassist Ronen is tuneful and lovely, Aran’s drums laying down a sweet Latin groove for Hirahara’s piano to dance on, and later Ronen’s bass in a moody solo. And here—five tunes into the ten on this CD—is where I know this is music I will likely play again and again. I won’t insult Aran and his bandmates by calling it “easy listening," but it’s oh so easy to listen to. (Meanwhile, my husband has wandered into my office twice to say "What's that?" "Who's that?" and "I like that.")

Ornette Coleman’s “The Blessing" comes as a surprise, simply because I didn’t expect to hear it in this particular mix. Any rough edges and occasional squawks from the pretty-tame-for-Coleman original on Something Else!!!! have been polished out, leaving the melody in the hands of Cohen and Voltzok—no sax on this track. The tempo is slower, more deliberate, giving the tune more space. (This version is also twice as long as Coleman’s.)

Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate on You" (which more jazz artists seem to be playing these days) is a showcase for Gili Sharett’s bassoon, which I would have liked to hear more of. You could (and should) slow-dance to this tune, at home in a Friday night, with the kids in bed and a candle or two flickering and the phone turned off and cocktails sweating on the coffee table…. Excuse me. Where was I?

Jack Lawrence and Walter Gross’ “Tenderly" begins with Brewer plucking the melody on his bass. Brewer leads on most of the 7-plus-minutes track, which resolves into a riff that cushions a playful extended solo by Aran.

“Gul Lihibib" is probably Breathing’s farthest-out track, the most exotic-sounding and least straight-ahead. I wasn’t able to learn anything about this tune or its composer, someone named Amram—perhaps David Amram? Comment if you know more. This is the only track to feature Uri Sharlin, who plays both piano and accordion above Aran’s deep, driving percussion.

In closing: Aran’s “Yemini Pne." At the start, a loose and lazy meditation. More nice work by Cohen/Voltzok and Hirahara/Brewer. A brief, exploratory solo piano transition into a lively second half and a spirited back-and-forth between the horns. Bright calls from the trumpet, closing thrums and rumbles from the bass and drums, a final exhalation from the trumpet, and it’s time to start over at track 1.

Let's hope that Smalls Records doesn't die, that Breathing gets air play, that Aran ventures west of the Hudson before too long, that good things happen for this deserving new release. It's a CD many people will enjoy if they have the chance to hear it.

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"Breathing" review on MASTER OF A SMALL HOUSE

Drummer Dan Aran chose the title to his debut disc with an eye toward metaphor and concision. His is a carefully-constructed percussive approach that studiously avoids bombast and ego in favor of naturalistic style that rises and recedes in a manner akin to respiration. For a leader and drummer that’s a comparatively rare tack to take, but one that yields immediate rewards. Born in Jerusalem, Aran was a fixture on the Israeli circuit until his move to New York in 2001. He soon came under the spell of Smalls and the tutelage of pianist Harry Whitaker. Nine years later, he still gigs frequently with his countrymen, a number of whom lend able assists on this disc.

The disc’s ten pieces present Aran in a number of invigorating contexts ranging from trio to sextet. Pianist Art Hirahara is the near constant, appearing on all but one of the tracks. Trumpeter Avishai Cohen (not to be mistaken with the bassist of the same name) and trombonist Jonathan Voltzok share the frontline on four cuts starting with the first two, which each develop in modal suite-like fashion. Bassists Matt Brewer and Tal Ronen divide duties down the middle with each supplying elastic support on an even number of cuts. Saxophonist Eli Degibri is on deck for three, his warm tenor a dominant voice on a sally through “I’m So Blue" while Eastern-influenced soprano holds sway on the Aran original “Riva".

Aran leads from a position of restraint, his supple patterns guiding the performances, but just as often receding to background to allow his partners to dictate direction. He also shows affinity for colorful surprises, such as the sudden appearance of guitarist Nir Felder’s tasteful feedback-laced solo on the opening “Sun Bath" or the entrance of Gili Sharett’s bassoon as sole horn on the exotica-influenced rendering of “I Concentrate on You". Accordionist Uri Sharlin contributes to the Klezmer-tinged “Gul Lihibib", doubling on piano for a stage-setting preface in Hirahawa’s stead. The tune is also a showcase for Aran’s adroit dumbek play.

“Para Ezequiel", one of two piano trio tracks, is a perfect example of Aran’s less-is-more philosophy. Hirahana and Ronen take the foreground as the leader lays back, inserting just the right brushed beat and accents around his partner’s more prominent lines. Aran decelerates the tempo and sands off the sharp angles on Ornette’s “The Blessing" for a smooth-gliding rendition that wouldn’t be out of place at a summer cotillion. Cohen and Voltzok negotiate the bluesy theme in lubricious concert and Hirahara comps with a clean balanced touch. With this varied and distinctive set Aran succeeds in presenting a series of appealing essays on his art that pique interest in hearing more.

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