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Gilad Barkan

Musicians who immigrate to the United States come with not only their instruments, but also a firm hold on their distinct heritage. Some of these émigré immix swatches of their native music with jazz and weave a multi-textured body of work. Pianist Gilad Barkan, who’s lived in this country since he was fifteen and presently resides in Boston, MA, was born in England and raised in Israel. His Live Sessions (New Step Music), a two-disc release, gives him the opportunity to point his compass needle in different directions of style, and always with a ferventness. Recorded live on Jazz with Eric in the Evening at WGBH, 89.7 FM, an NPR-affiliate in Boston, Live Sessions features Barkan with a trio (bassist Dan Greenspan and drummer Harvey Wirht) on Disc One (2004) and a quartet (flutist Amir Milstein, bassist John Lockwood and Wirht) on Disc Two (2006). Barkan produced both discs.

The trio, featured on Barkan’s debut release Modulation, employs a post-bop approach to the eight tracks on Disc One. "Brazilian Suite #3" catches one doing a quick, jumpy dance as Barkan and Greenspan intertwine their lines tightly. "Amaravati Devi is Getting Married" is a celebratory song that announces a significant and joyful union in Barkan’s life. "Danilo’s Dance" is a jaunty jammer that gives Barkan a chance to spray cascades of notes into the atmosphere and Wirht space to exercise behind the drums. Reminiscent of a romantic relationship that can start out bright and promising but can quickly become puzzling and murky, "This is Love" shifts its mood suddenly. This composition spotlights the trio’s compatibility and symbiotic relationship to the music.

Though Barkan’s preference is playing in a trio, Disc Two opens him up to a wider world view. Fellow Israeli flutist Milstein adds another dimension of sensitivity, as well as shimmering color. His short, crisp notes pepper the flow of "The Bull and the Lamb," dedicated to guitarist Izzi Rozen. On "A Place for My Father," Milstein smoothes his notes over the rhythmic table set by Barkan, Lockwood and Wirht. Barkan doesn’t use Milstein as a mirror to copy from, but more like a mine to get coal from to fuel his creativity at the piano. "For Sergio" is a beautiful windswept composition. Lockwood plays a robust solo that adds homey warmth to it. There’s a reason he’s considered the first-call bassist in Boston.

Within the compositions on Live Sessions, Barkan has placed trinkets from home; melodies, rhythms and visions of family, friends and country. I spoke with him about his adjustments to the U.S.and his work on Live Sessions.

Jazzreview: How long have you been in the U.S.?

Barkan: Since ‘88, I want to say.

Jazzreview: Did you immigrate here or are you a U.S. citizen?

Barkan: I am a citizen and went through the process of becoming a citizen. I came here when I was fifteen.

Jazzreview: What was your hardest adjustment to being here?

Barkan: I think it could have been related to the age that I was because I was a teenager, so you’re sort of discovering who you are as a teenager. Coming here, I felt that the culture and the society I was surrounded by were different than the one I was used to. Maybe it was the loss of the other one [culture] that was hard. There is good and bad about both. Going back is something that I think about but I haven’t decided. I’m still adjusting.

Jazzreview: [There are] Two different flavors on these two discs. To me, it seems that Disc Two is more hmm .widespread and airy maybe it’s because of that second voice [the flute] - as compared to Disc One which features just the trio and it sounding rooted in the post-bop trio tradition.

Barkan: Yeah, yeah. I agree.

Jazzreview: Are these the two places (trio and quartet) where you’re most comfortable working?

Barkan: I feel most comfortable in the small band [trio]. I like it when things can be a bit more open. You’re not exactly sure where you’re gonna go or you can open it up or go somewhere else that you didn’t expect to . You can do that with really good musicians. It’s a lot of fun. There’s more freedom, I think.

Jazzreview: Was Disc Two an experiment adding the flute?

Barkan: Well, we had been playing for a while yeah. I had been playing [in] a trio for a while and that was the image I had in my mind until I heard Amir play one day. And then I said "I’ve gotta play with this guy." [NOTE: Barkan and Milstein met in 2004.] I just heard him play and said "He’s gonna be in my band." It was a personal thing .chemistry he could have played the harp and it wouldn’t have mattered. You hear something and you’re attracted to it. I asked him if he wanted to play one day and he said "yeah." I liked the way he could bring out the melodies that I wrote out in a way that I could never do because he has a very strong voice and has control of the instrument. It’s very beautiful. And I was also very attracted to the way he improvises, I guess because I thought it was different than bebop or what I’m used to hearing around me in Boston. He’s someone who didn’t start [into] bebop heavily or jazz or the traditional jazz vocabulary. He comes from a world [background]. I’m someone who is very versed in jazz vocabulary. He comes from a world music tradition where they play one scale, two scales and then do your own thing. And I like that kind of contrast.

Jazzreview: How did the live recordings at WGBH come about?

Barkan: The first time I’d released a CD Modulation in 2003 I had my friend [guitarist] Izzi Rosen, in whose band I played a lot for many years. He said "Why don’t you ask [broadcaster and producer at WGBH] Steve Schwartz for an interview?" So I sent Steve a card saying that I’d like to come in for an interview but I wasn’t sure what I would say! So Steve wrote back saying if I didn’t know what I’d say, why didn’t I just come in with a band and play. I said that would be great.

Jazzreview: Now, did you write music especially for the live recordings?

Barkan: No. I write music idiosyncratically whenever it comes. You can’t plan it, really.

Jazzreview: So you had these in the can, so to speak.

Barkan: Yeah. Things that I like to play and have worked on.

Jazzreview: How was Steve as a producer?

Barkan: It was the easiest thing to work with Steve. I also requested the engineer [Antonio Oliart]. I had recorded the first CD there, so I knew the studio. Steve just made things run smoothly.

Jazzreview: Are all but two of the musicians on the release Boston-based?

Barkan: Harvey lived here for a while. He went to Berklee [College of Music in Boston] around the same time that I did and moved to New York a few years ago. Now he’s doing very well in New York, playing mostly world and African music and jazz. Do you know who [vocalist] Angélique Kidjo is? He’s on tour with her. He was supposed to be playing with us at the Regattabar Bar [in Cambridge, MA] on May 22. At first he said "yes", then looked at his schedule and realized that he’s playing on The Tonight Show that night. I said "That’s a good excuse." Amir lives in Boston now. He moved here from Israel two or three years ago. John and Dan have been here for a long time.

Dan has a very unique sound. He has his own voice and his own way of doing things, different than John’s. Harvey takes center stage, sometimes. Like on the second disc he said "Oh, y’know I played too much", and for me the interaction with him is so special! Sometimes I feel like this is why I’m putting out this music because he plays so beautifully. He’s so original. He doesn’t sound like a drummer who’s in the background. He has a full voice. On some recordings, the drums don’t even sound like they’re in the room with you. Harvey’s right there with you.

Jazzreview: Did you want to mention something else about Live Sessions?

Barkan: The discs are sort of a combination [they] sort of mark an area in my life. It’s important to me in that way, to have released it. I guess every disc is like that for artists. When they release something it represents some period or work or growth that they’ve gone through.

Jazzreview: Compare your musical training at Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music (located in the Israeli town that he grew up in Ramat Hasharon) with Berklee College of Music.

Barkan: Oh, it’s very similar and that’s because the people who founded Rimon School, most of them at least when I was there were Berklee grads. They kind of adapted the system. When I came to Berklee, I already knew the material. I could skip courses. The difference is you come to Rimon and there are 200 students. The ensemble rooms are in a bomb shelter and the classrooms are very small. Of course, it’s quite different at Berklee where there are, like, 1,000 pianists and 5,000 of guitars. [Laugh]

There was more here in terms of , well, I guess if I had continued to have studied there I had the chance to study with a lot of good teachers. I definitely owe them a lot for where I am today, both the piano teachers and the harmony, composition [teachers] Greg Hopkins and Ed Tomassi, Alex Allen they helped me a lot.

Jazzreview: Name the one pianist or instrumentalist who’s inspired your lyrical playing.

Barkan: Jazz?

Jazzreview: Jazz or otherwise.

Barkan: [Saxophonist] John Coltrane. He’s the only one if I had one choice. Of course, he couldn’t have done it on his own. His band was incredible.

Jazzreview: Any particular recording?

Barkan: Transitions. It’s one of his later recordings. It represented for me a transition, if you will. Up until then, I’d been listening to music that was more traditional, more inside. And then when I listened to Transitions when I was studying with [Berklee ensemble director] Ed Tomassi, I think that sort of made me open up a lot more musically or realize what you can do with improvisation. It might move you differently but it struck a chord with me.

Jazzreview: Who runs New Step Music?

Barkan: Issi owns it. We started it when we put out our first CD’s. He’s very picky and doesn’t know what he’ll put out for his next CD.

Jazzreview: He put out some releases on Brownstone [Records] but I don’t know how they did.

Barkan: They did quite well. I still have a dream, but

Jazzreveiw: What’s the dream?

Barkan: Of being on a major label. Being on a major label would probably have been a big production on a grander scale, but it’s not that much different. What they could have done [for the CD] and what I could have done .

Jazzreview: How are the gigs?

Barkan: I have a mix of private students and public things. I play in different bands and an odd gig here and there.

Jazzreview: Are you working mostly in the Boston area?

Barkan: Yeah.

Jazzreview: Any plans of branching out to New York City or Chicago?

Barkan: Oh, yeah. I have plans of packing up and landing in New York this summer. People keep saying to me that I’ve gotta get up and do it or I’ll never do it.


copyright@2007 Cheryl K. Symister-Masterson This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Gilad Barkan
  • Interview Date: 5/1/2007
  • Subtitle: Transitions
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