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Hearts Wide Open

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NYTimes review by BEN RATLIFF

Gilad Hekselman, a young Israeli musician living in New York, has become important over the last five years — if not yet to jazz listeners in general, at least to the serious-minded subculture of jazz-guitar students. In that time he’s performed almost constantly with his trio and guest players at the West Village clubs Smalls and Fat Cat, and one can tell: he plays the long sweeps of notes, harmonically mobile and emotionally humid, that have grown like vines in those places.

Fifteen years ago he probably would have been signed to a major label. You might already have read about him in a men’s magazine, or seen his face on a display rack at Tower Records. But the jazz business is more modest and artist-directed now. Since 2007 he has made two fine records (“SplitLife” and “Words Unspoken”) without much notice. His third, “Hearts Wide Open,” brings a better group sound, better tunes, better soloing. This is where you, the listener, should come in.

Mr. Hekselman’s rhythm section includes the bassist Joe Martin and the drummer Marcus Gilmore. They’ve been performing these original songs for a while, and they know their dynamics, supporting quiet music with authority. (Mr. Gilmore, in particular, rushes into the available spaces like water, complementing the guitar’s rhythmic shapes with his own.) The tenor-saxophonist Mark Turner plays on most of the album too, and opens hidden rooms of his talent; on the second half of the track “Understanding,” the music turns almost gospel, and an even-tempered musician goes credibly gutbucket.

Crucially, this record isn’t only understandable as jazz-guitar music, a maze of speed and soloing. Some of these tracks — particularly “Hazelnut Eyes,” his high mark so far, with its beguiling chorus that helps seven and a half minutes fly by; the folklike “Flower”; and the short, free-rhythm “Will You Let It?” — are actually songs, singable, playable on other instruments. They are melodies that stay with you.

He’s also found a further refinement in his improvising: at places, among all the displays of study and practice, he’s able to detach from a song’s chord changes and the rhythm and play more freely, in a manner that suggests Paul Bley or Ornette Coleman (whose melody for “Blues Connotation” he keeps gesturing toward in “The Bucket Kicker”). He’s on a good road, and he’s still moving.

Hearts Wide Open, Gilad Hekselman
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  • $9.99
  • Genres: Jazz, Music
  • Released: Aug 24, 2011

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