Guitarist Gilad Hekselman Hits Bold & Emphatic Sonic Statements With ‘Far Star’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

As Herbie Hancock recently said in his closing remarks for 2022 International Jazz Day held at the United Nations, just about everything as we know it stopped during the pandemic years except music. Musicians became more resourceful than ever before in using their home studios to full effect, discovering how best to layer sounds, and finding some new production techniques. While there are countless examples of this across genres, there may be no better one than this recording, Far Star, from Israeli-born and New York City-based Gilad Hekelsman, who recorded it both in his Tel Aviv and NYC home studios while playing most of the instruments himself. It’s almost a contradiction in terms that physical isolation breeds so much freedom to explore.  Hekselman describes the album succinctly – “Far Star is about my ability to travel with my imagination to far sonic galaxies, all from the insides of a room.”

While Hekselman is in multi-instrumentalist DIY mode throughout, handling multiple guitars, keys, bass, and percussion, he does invite one or more collaborators to join him on every track. Principal among them is drummer Eric Harland who appears on five of the eight with drummers Alon Benjamini, Amir Bresler, and Ziv Ravitz on one each. Shai Maestro (keys), Nathan Schram (violin, viola, string arrangements), Oren Hardy (bass), and Nomok (keys) each contribute to select tracks.

The opening “Long Way from Home” begins with whistling before the composer enters with shimmering layers of guitars and keys to the steady beats of Harland with the guitar cutting piercing but melodic lines through an echo chamber of reverberating keys for a very dreamy effect that signals the sonic tapestries that await us.  Maestro, as keyboardist and co-producer, brings additional effects to “Fast Moving Century” as Harland keeps it all percolating as Hekselman alternates between running a number of scales and jagged patterns. Yet, this piece has a driving pulse and builds in industrial effects toward the end, refusing to settle easily into the ethereal as do several of the others. “I Didn’t Know” is more minimalist with Mideastern scales and clean rapidly running guitar lines as Harland’s brushes and echoing keys wrap gently around the guitarist’s notes and choice chords for an airy effect.

The title track is the one tune with strings, as Schram, Hardy, and Benjamini join Hekselman in this spacious piece that lives up to its name. The notes are more sustained here as if evaporating into the air (or space if you will) with the strings and the rhythms beginning with subtle and delicate support before swelling in several phases to create the effect of traveling to distant realms. Hekselman and Harland take the next two pieces as a duo with the leader playing guitars, keys, bass, percussion, and voice. “Magic Chord,” the album’s standout track at eight and half minutes, moves along briskly driven by Harland and strong, muscular guitar lines. In the first half, Hekselman pays off each sequence with the repetitive refrain of that “magic chord,” an indelible sound that never grows tiresome while he soars to spiraling heights with rock-like intensity in the latter half. “Cycles” returns to the more delicate, ambient side that is the thrust of this layered project, with crystalline guitar tones and enveloping keys as if a foggy shroud through which the guitarist notes breakthrough as rays of light. 

“The Headrocker” not surprisingly has the most tangible groove as Nomok and Bresler climb aboard for keyboard and percussive support respectively, each serving also as co-producer. The piece is essentially a series of melodic runs that threatens to take off but instead just ends abruptly. The closing piece, “Rebirth,” likely symbolizes the emergence from the pandemic with Hekselman painting a heavenly tapestry with his guitars and keys as Ravitz gives gentle support on the kit.

This remarkable album runs the gamut from simple melodies and delicate touches to bold, emphatic statements. Hekselman finds a balance between the explorative and expressive. It’s an album that took countless hours to make and that care and precision are reflected in each piece. This is a sonic journey that is worth multiple trips because new discoveries come with each listen.

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