Nine out of 10 YouTube videos agree: Itamar Erez is a guitarist, and a very good one.
Whether playing solo, as part of his long-running duo with percussionist Yshai Afterman, or in bands with various Middle Eastern musicians, it’s clear that the Israeli-born, Vancouver-based Erez has developed a singular voice on the nylon-stringed guitar, one that starts from a base of Spanish flamenco but that also includes jazz improvisation, Arabian modes, and sunny Mediterranean optimism.
The anomaly in our impromptu survey—based on going to the popular video-hosting website and searching for Erez’s name—differs from the norm in a couple of important ways.
While most footage of Erez comes from live performances, the clip representing his tune “The Promise” simply shows the cover of Hommage, the 2010 album he made with his Adama Ensemble quartet. And on this lilting, bittersweet number, which would sit comfortably next to any of Keith Jarrett or Pat Metheny’s quartet efforts, he’s playing piano, not guitar.
And playing it well, too, which might surprise local residents who know him primarily as a picker.
“Piano was my first instrument, before I took up the guitar,” Erez explains in a telephone interview from his East Van home, noting that he first came to Vancouver to study composition at UBC.
“The piano gives me more harmonic variety than is possible to find on the guitar—and I really like the change, like when I move from the guitar to the piano and vice versa. I like the change of sound, and the different possibilities that each instrument gives.”
Of course, it’s hard to find a decent piano in your average coffeehouse, but that won’t be the case when Erez and a newly revamped version of the Adama Ensemble play the Orpheum Annex this week. There, he’ll likely have his choice of concert grands, and the music will follow suit.
“At least half, if not more, of the songs will be on piano,” he says. “So there will definitely be a more jazzy aspect to the music.”
Some of that jazz fire will also come from his band, which now includes clarinetist François Houle, bassist Laurence Mollerup, and drummer Liam Macdonald, all first-rate improvisers. But they’re also dedicated students of many other musical forms, ranging from the “new complexity” of contemporary classical music to the eloquent Turkish and Persian melodies that Erez himself has spent the past two decades mastering.
And in concert they’ll be joined by vibraphonist Nick Apivor and the remarkable Iranian percussionist Hamin Honari to create a sound that reflects Erez’s passion for intercultural play.
“Basically, in my music I’m trying to find what’s common to all of us,” the bandleader explains. “When I find something in common with another human being who might be a Muslim, it doesn’t matter, right?
“If they come from a completely different culture, this is very exciting for me....My music is like a real melting pot of everything that I’ve gone through, from classical music to Turkish music to jazz. Everything is there, in some ways.”
And what better place to pursue this ecumenical approach than in Vancouver? Erez, who spent most of the past decade in Israel before returning to town last year, says that we should treasure our relative openness and diversity.
“When you come from the Middle East after facing the challenges over there, you come here and you see that it’s a different world,” he explains. “People relax here, I think, away from all that nonsense.
“They see what’s common rather than what’s different, I think. I see that a lot here, and that’s great.”
Itamar Erez and the Adama Ensemble play the Orpheum Annex on Thursday (November 10).