Bassist Omer Avital’s group, Qantar, offers a wealth of chops, but the premium is on soul and excitement. The Brooklyn quintet—including pianist Eden Ladin, drummer Ofri Nehemya, and dual saxophonists Alexander Levin and Asaf Yuria—are all Israeli expatriates wholly in tune with Avital’s global concept. Nehemya utterly owns this throne. Witness the title track of New York Paradox (Zamzama Records), where he weds these ingredients across a dramatic arc, from a swirling tempest to delicate ride work. And on “Just Like the River Flows,” he morphs between traditional homeland beats and their funk-infused reimaginings. Elsewhere, he commands solid bluesy swing, crashing jazz-funk, and keen subtleties. At age seventeen, Nehemya worked with leading Israeli jazz artists. Now at twenty-six, his association with Avital since 2015 is proving to be an ideal forum for his multi-influenced, impassioned playing. We spoke to the drummer about his work on New York Paradox and more.
MD: The album includes traditional beats and jazz interpretations. What are some of your favorite rhythmic moments?
Ofri: I love the moment in “Shabazi” after the first saxophone solo, when we start swinging. The force Omer brings with the bass and the comping of Eden Ladin on piano pushes me every time to the edge. Another moment I love is the soprano solo in “Just Like the River Flows.” The Middle Eastern groove combined with the space that’s being created brings out the emotional side of my drumming.
MD: How has the New York jazz scene influenced your drumming since you arrived here?
Ofri: It’s certainly a tough city to live in, forcing you to get stronger, face your fears, and find who you are as a person. Musicianship and personality are derived from the same source within yourself. Living in New York for the last four years, I’ve already become a better musician, more experienced, confident, and expressive.
The New York jazz scene is absolutely incredible. There are so many great musicians living and playing here. For me, being able to create music with such great musicians, being able to hear and watch some of my favorite drummers play live and feel the energy in the room, getting the musical accent of the scene and being a part of it, have made me a much better musician, and allowed me to find my own voice as a drummer.
MD: In turn, how did your upbringing contribute to the way you approach jazz today?
Ofri: Israeli culture is unique and rich, with a variety of musical flavors.
Growing up in a musical family, I’ve always been exposed to many styles of music. Israeli and American pop was always playing around me, as well as Middle Eastern music, fusion, and jazz. This musical background contributed to my versatility as a drummer and allowed me to bring my own sound and attitude to jazz. And people like Omer Avital, who put Israel on the international jazz map and opened the doors to jazz for many young Israeli musicians, have allowed us to contribute our own voices to the jazz world.
Ofri Nehemya photo by Peter Vit.