With so much music to catch up with and so many musicians to keep track of in the jazz world these days, names like the 30-something year old Ofer Assaf might easily slip by you in the blink of an eye. But with a listen to this, his impressive debut CD, your ears will most likely be triggered at attention for the disc’s 50+ minutes to hear what he has to say not only through his assured and explorative tone on tenor saxophone but also as a just as confident composer with half a dozen impressive original compositions heard herein.
Assaf is of Israeli origin, and there is unquestionably an endless pool of jazz talent coming from Israel. And like with many others Assaf, too, has made the move to New York like fellow countrymen and –women as reedmen Eli Degibri and Assif Tsahar, bassists Omer Avital and Avishai Cohen, clarinetist/saxophonist Anat and brother trumpeter Avishai E. Cohen, and pianists Alon Yavnai and Anat Fort. In 1991, Assaf won the Israeli National Competition in Jazz and Contemporary Music before joining and playing in the Israeli Army. Later he would play for the 3,000th anniversary celebration of Jerusalem with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. He performed with many leading Israeli musicians, and in the mid ‘90s became a member of the Tel Aviv Big Band.
It was in 1997 which proved one of the biggest stepping stones for the young tenorman’s blossoming jazz career when he decided to make the move to New York. Attending New School University’s Jazz Program, he would study with one of his idols and obvious influences – saxophonist Billy Harper (he also studied with veteran pianist Richie Beirach and legendary bassist Reggie Workman, the latter who he has shared the bandstand with on several occasions). The time between 2002 (the year of his graduation from New School) and 2007 (the year of this recording), Assaf has been honing his skill, until last year presented itself as the right time to search out the appropriate sidemen to assist him with this, his debut recording as leader, and a recording which marks an overdue and welcome introduction to the saxophonist and composer for many a jazz listener.