Arabic music in a Jewish temple? Depending on your perspective it could be post-modernism run amok or the dawn of a new Age of Aquarius. Perhaps we should qualify “Arabic”, as the music in question layers jazz into the Andalousian classical music of north Africa, and the latter, itself, is a weave of Arabic, Spanish and Jewish influences.
“The Arab Andalousian music was created in the golden age of Spain,” explains Omri Mor, an Israeli pianist who has created what he calls AndalouJazz, “and that music involved the three great religions. Back then all of them were friends.”
Mor’s reworking of this music as the basis for improvising by a conventional piano/bass/drums jazz trio is not the first time North African sounds have been intermarried with jazz, but the results are unique, partly thanks to his brilliance at the piano. AndalouJazz has even found favour in the countries that spawned the source material.
“When I play this music,” says Mor, “and there are Algerian Muslims in the crowd – and I know through Facebook I slowly am having fans from Algeria – it touches them.” He shies from describing his music as a healing force, but does acknowledge that it “breaks the ice” between the religions and cultures. He also sees the folklorical element as spreading the appeal of jazz. “That’s what touches people,” he says. “The truth lies there.”
Mor, 29, began by playing an organ by ear as a small child. “At the time I didn’t know what is classical and what is jazz,” he recalls. “I didn’t take any lessons, I just played. Slowly I become interested in classical music, jazz, salsa and everything.”
In his teens that spread to Andalousian music, and after much time playing it in its formal guise he started his own band four years ago to try integrating it with jazz.
His current bassist is an Israel-based Australian, Simon Starr, whom he met when Starr’s Melbourne band, the Australian Jewish Music Ensemble, toured Israel and needed a pianist.
Amazingly for such a sophisticated band in the modern era the trio has yet to record. “I think one of the problems is me,” admits Mor. “I always doubt. I always think that I can do better.”
Omri Mor’s AndalouJazz Project: VJs North Shore Temple Emanuel, June 2; Blue Beat, Double Bay, June 3.