Next weekend (11/19/22) I’ll have the honor and privilege of playing some of drummer/composer Yoron Israel’s music at Resonant Motion’s “Jazz Up Close” series in Middletown, CT, and I’m thrilled. I have been a fan of his music for thirty years, with some of his early recordings playing a significant role in my own formative years (including James Williams ICU’s “Truth, Justice, and the Blues,” Jay Hoggard’s “The Little Tiger,” and the one album by the collective ensemble “New York Stories,” with Roy Hargrove, Bobby Watson, Joshua Redman, and Danny Gatton). Ten years ago I had my first couple opportunities to play with him, and it was delightful (if unsurprisingly so) to experience his groove, musicality, and interactivity from the same bandstand and to discover what a classy, warm, spiritually grounded human he is.
I’m excited to get to play HIS music and to share it with my beloved community, and this led me to explore some of my favorite tracks that feature him. My first draft of this list had about three dozen tracks, and that was already pared down (and even then didn’t include out-of-print work like the three albums cited above, since I want folks to hear for themselves). So with apologies to those artists, plus Kenny Burrell, Art Farmer, Joe Lovano, Russell Malone, Freddy Cole, and all of Maestro Israel’s other employers, here are ten tracks that I love (and suspect you will too).
1 ) “Winter Wonderland” (with Antonio Hart) from A Merry Jazzmas by Various Artists (1991)
There are a number of albums prior to this that feature wonderful work from Yoron but are out of print, so I’ll begin the list with his hard-swinging romp alongside saxophonist Antonio Hart, also featuring authoritative solos by pianist Donald Brown and bassist Ira Coleman.
2 ) “Devil’s Got Your Tongue” from Devil’s Got Your Tongue by Abbey Lincoln (1992)
Yoron is a particularly sensitive player of ballads and a wonderful accompanist of vocalists. It is not surprising, then, that his work here in support of the brilliant Abbey Lincoln is impeccable, as is his subtle prodding underneath the piano solo by Rodney Kendrick.
3 ) “The Move” from A Gift for You (1995)
This album was recorded a half year after Yoron played on the aforementioned James Williams record, one of my favorite albums in the history of recorded music (not on this list as it’s sadly out of print), and for this one track Yoron’s group (also featuring saxophonist Lance Bryant as a soloist here) features James as a guest. If you want a textbook course in souful minor-key blues, you need look no further.
4 ) “Bellows” from Live In Paris 1996 by Ahmad Jamal (1996)
Though perhaps not as heralded as the Chicago Revisited album (also featuring Yoron) from four years prior, this album is full of epic performances. Playing drums on a shape-shifting Ahmad Jamal performance is a tricky task, and Yoron manages every groove, dynamic, and energetic shift on this nearly fifteen minute track (a Jamal tune originally recorded 20 years prior), with the trio (alongside the recently-departed Jeff Chambers on bass) augmented here with the addition of Calvin Keys on guitar and Manolo Badrena on percussion.
5 ) “All Blues” from Monk, Trane, Miles and Me by Larry Coryell (1998)
I love Yoron’s playing on jazz waltzes, and this one swings like crazy. It comes from the first of a trilogy of excellent Larry Coryell records that feature Yoron, in this case also featuring Santi Debriano on bass (and taking a lovely bowed solo).
6 ) “One For My Baby and One For the Road” from One For My Baby by George Cables (2000)
Slow swing tunes are deceptively challenging (“grown folks’ music,” as some say), but this bluesy standard sounds effortless in the hands of the great George Cables, bassist Jay Anderson, and Yoron laying down a thick pocket.
7 ) “Tippin’” from Basic Traneing (2003)
This infectious Israel composition is another slow swinger, in this case also displaying his exquisite brushwork. It was tough not to include any of Jay Hoggard’s records from this list (I own at least four with Yoron on them, all of them gorgeous) but Jay is represented here and plays his butt off. The quartet is rounded out by another frequent collaborator, guitarist Ed Cherry, as well as organist Kyle Koehler.
8 ) “The Blessing” from The Blessing by David “Fathead” Newman (2008)
I wanted to include an example of Yoron grooving a backbeat and also wanted to make sure his extensive work with David“Fathead” Newman was represented, and this funky track (with Fathead on flute and also featuring a blues-drenched guitar solo by Peter Bernstein) checks both boxes.
9 ) “The Eleventh Hour” from This Moment (Live in Boston) (2013)
Yoron cooks on this brightly swinging rendition of a Mulgrew Miller composition, which also features his “High Standards” ensemble with Bryant, Laszlo Gardony, and bassist Henry Lugo (who will be joining me in playing Yoron’s music next weekend).
10 ) “Amaylah’s Song” from New Dreams (2021)
This harmonically rich, Latin-infused song is just one of the gems from Maestro Israel’s pen that graces his most recent album (as of this writing), this one a soulful sonic portrait of one of his daughters. The melody is rendered in a worldess vocal by Nedelka Prescod, accompanied by Yoron, pianist Michael Cochrane, and bassist Will Slater.