Riffing on jazz for a whole new tune
The inimitable Ayelet Rose Gottlieb on her new albums, collecting vinyl records and being a mother to twins.
It has been half a decade since I last interviewed Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, and when I ask her what she’s been up to since the release of her 2009 jazz album "Up to Here | From Here," she laughs. “Everything has changed.”
The last few years have seen a flurry of new albums from the 36-year-old Israel native. Gottlieb, known primarily for her dazzling vocal jazz record "Mayim Rabim," last year saw the U.S. release of "Roadsides" – a collection of poetry set to experimental jazz and avant-garde compositions. After a long stint in America, "Roadsides" found Gottlieb living and writing and reworking old songs back in her home city of Jerusalem.
“Some of those songs were 15 years old by the time they were recorded,” she told From the Grapevine about her new album. “Sometimes it takes years for a song to find its home. And maybe it won’t.”
The album got a moving release when the poets, whose work Gottlieb adapted to her inimitable compositional style, came to perform with her band and read their poetry. “I tried to go around Israel,” she says, remarking on a diverse and creative musical community. She played often at a small jazz club, and got impressive radio and television rotation.
“It’s a very interesting scene as far as musicians are concerned,” she explains. “It’s a melting pot of cultures. There’s a lot of different soundscapes happening at once, and you can create something very special and specific.”
"Roadsides" incorporates many of these influences, marrying a pop sensibility to Gottlieb’s syncopated vocals and a potpourri of various international sounds. On “An Hour of Grace,” her vocal performance is deliberate, ducking and weaving through a danceable Mediterranean beat. On “Love with a Ceiling Fan” she performs a fantastic duet with Alon Oleartchick – their voices wrapping around each other, the music from pianist Anat Fort and the late drummer Paul Motian swirling about like a lazily rotating fan.
In Israel, artists are always coming and going, which Gottlieb says is a blessing and a curse. She's sad when people leave, but “when they come back it’s with another set of tools, different baggage, different experiences that feed back into the local culture.” All of that contributes to the cosmopolitan musical scene that Gottlieb said goodbye to recently when she moved, first to London and then to Vancouver, where she now lives with her husband and twins.
Since moving to Canada, Gottlieb has also recorded a sequel to her 2010 release with the all-female a capella vocal quartet Mycale.
“It was fantastic,” she says about the timing. “We had a very natural break that lasted about a year because three of us got pregnant and gave birth in the span of that year.” The four artists took consecutive retreats to work out the new material and then recorded in New York.
“Everything was quite fresh. We’re much freer as a group, much more in tune with each other, and able to rely on each other,” compared to the quartet’s first outing. The album is full of improvisation and, Gottlieb says, more room for the artists as individuals. The artists each took three songs home to work on them individually before bringing them back to the group. It lends the album a cohesive sound while spotlighting each artist’s particular talents. One of Gottlieb’s tracks, “Mumiah,” contains thrilling post-Meredith Monk style vocal tics with Gottlieb’s voice intoning over them like a metronome.
And still there’s more to come. Later this year, Gottlieb will put out her first vinyl-only release, a composition she wrote in 2007 following the deaths of three close friends. “That was a time in my life that I was kind of in flux,” she says. Her husband was living in New Zealand, and she was hopping planes between visiting him, and New York and Israel. The release is an instrumental piece for a string quartet and percussion that only features her singing on a final epilogue.
Gottlieb says that she grew up in a home with a lot of records – including a vast collection her uncle left her when he moved to Australia.
“I find that albums have a different feel to any other media. You’re holding an object that has a mass. That gives it some weight. I love the look of it. I don’t think music we buy on iTunes will transfer to our own children let alone two to three generations down,” she says. “A record can survive many generations.”
In December, Mycale will play a residency at the Stone venue in New York, and then head down to Colombia and Panama for a brief tour. It's tough to predict where she’ll be living in a few years, but Gottlieb says she’s very comfortable with her family in Vancouver and isn’t looking to move any time soon. “My twins are very young now,” she says. “They’re a joy to be with and I’m enjoying them a lot.”
Mordechai Shinefield has been writing about music for over a decade for a variety of periodicals including Rolling Stone, Spin Magazine and the Village Voice. His tastes in music run the gamut; Malian desert blues and palm wine music from Sierra Leone, leftfield electronica, Middle Eastern folk metal, sun-soaked psychedelic folk, avant garde free jazz, vaporwave, and even some top 40.
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