Worry not, New York is still attracting experimental music

September 28, 2007

When it comes to boundary-pushing musicianship, it’s difficult to think of an artist more free-spirited and experimental than jazz/hip-hop flutist Yael Acher. That a classically trained player is attempting to blend these two genres is enough to awaken one’s curiosity, but after seeing her perform at Big Apple Jazz last week, I can easily see her appealing to both a poetry club crowd and a Blue Note regular. Because both genres heavily rely on the concept of improvisation, jazz and hip-hop are a surprisingly natural pair in Acher’s hands. In the end, her artistic approach is surprisingly in par with the philosophies of classic jazz.

“I didn’t really realize it, it just came slowly,” Acher said when I asked how she arrived in this particular musical hybrid. “It’s nice, it’s unusual. I think it’s a good combination.”

“Jazz comes from Rhythm and blues which is connected to R&B, and R&B is connected to jazz. It’s all connected really,” she continued.

Acher was born and raised in Israel, and received her bachelor’s degree in classical flute from the Jerusalem Academy for Music & Dance. In 1992 she moved to Copenhagen, and remained in the Danish capital for ten years before joining the New York City jazz scene. While living in Europe, she was already performing her flute compositions with DJs. New York’s musical scene, she said, could be characterized by the curiosity and openness of its musicians; it’s the kind of environment where her work can attract potential collaborators.

On Saturday night, Acher performed with a bassist, a drummer and a spoken word poet, Rashad Dobbins. In a characteristically jazzy manner, she played around with simple melodies on her flute and improvised with sounds, breathing and scales in long, freely flowing segments. At times Dobbins’s words provided accompaniment to Acher’s flute, while in other pieces she stepped back to let his words serve as the main melody.

Although Acher’s artistry is certainly modern, she said that she hopes to incorporate more jazz standards into her performances.

“I like it when you hear the personality coming out. Jazz standards are beautiful things, and it’s interesting to hear other artists doing their interpretation of a standard,” she said.




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