Advance Review: Provokation by Koby Israelite and Roberto de Brasov – a testament to creative reciprocity

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One artist whose work I’ve been following particularly closely over the last couple of years is Koby Israelite. I’ve written about Koby extensively and for good reason. The Tel-Aviv born multi-instrumentalist embodies the spirit of adventurous music in a way that is hard to replicate.

Following a creative path that took him through the expanse of pop, metal, jazz, drum-and-bass, Middle-Eastern and Balkan-rooted experimental music and even John Zorn’s legedary Masada series, the eclectic musician maintained a firmly fixed sense of personal identity. Though his endeavours are varied, at their core stands a well-defined vision that feels simultaneously inclusive and immutable.

In our last conversation, Koby mentioned that he was working on a new record in collaboration with Romanian accordion virtuoso, Roberto de Brasov. Back then, the duo was still searching for a label. I was quick to suggest Chant Records, whose community-oriented outlook and strong commitment to promoting adventurous music from all over the world seemed a perfect fit for this distinctively compelling partnership. I was happy to discover that Provokation had, indeed, found a home with Chant and is slated for release in mid-August.

Born from Koby’s fascination with Roberto’s preternatural talent, the album is, at once, a collaboration and a tribute. Himself a gifted accordionist, Koby envisioned the music as a symbiotic relationship between the highlighted instrument and his own signature sound. Playing drums, perccusion, guitars, Roli seaboard, bass and keys, Koby retreats from the accordion, allowing the soloist to manifest his imagination in an unfamiliar setting

For the Romanian master, the process feels like an initiation. Coming from the tradition of Romani music, with an innate feel for improvisation, Roberto treads on new territory, provoked (so to speak) to seamlessly integrate the natural warmth of his instrument into the studio-heavy texture of the arrangements. As Koby himself stated, the result was either going to be amazing, or a complete disaster. From the opening notes, it becomes clear that Provokation is decidedly the former. 

The record opens with “The Trap”, where an ominous guitar over a heavy bassline creates a feeling of anxiety and alienation. When the accordion is introduced, it brings to mind a character exploring a strange, hostile environment. There is a pronounced sense of vulnerability to Roberto’s playing, prompting the listener to immediately connect with his instrument as the animate element in the album’s narrative.

The main story here is one of evolution and adaptation and the track placement seems carefully constructed to reflect this journey. The accordion is challenged to adapt to its new environment, taming the antagonistic forces of the rest of the instruments. 

The tension rises in the haunting, trance-inducing “Solitude”, built around a sublime kinetic crescendo, as the accordion almost seems to want to flee the foreign surroundings. In the drum-heavy “Space Snail”, Koby reveals his affection for metal, falling back to his signature instrument, daring the accordion to match its force. The song turns into a spectacular duel, but it comes at the cost of cohesion, giving the otherwise well-constructed record its sole instance of discrepancy.

“If You Go Away”, an outstanding take on Jacques Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas” enlists the talent of Koby’s long-time collaborator, Annique, a vocalist who seems to specialize in bringing out the dark undertones of an immaculate voice. Gracefully, the instruments retreat into the background, ceding the limelight to Annique’s disarmingly passionate delivery. One of the album’s uncontested highlights, “If You Go Away” left me hoping for a follow-up record in this formula.

Though not as immediately impactful as its predecessors, the title track serves a transitional purpose, signaling a shift in direction towards a more organic, homogenous structure. One of Koby’s stated objectives was to not allow the accordion to overpower the rest of the instruments. The goal is to create balance and the method is a gradual, linear integration of the subtler nuances of Roberto’s masterful playing. By separating the album’s architecture into two distinct parts, the musicians mimic the binary nature of its premise. 

In “Roberto’s Story”, the accordion finally takes the lead, dictating the creative direction. Another one of the record’s highlights, “Tour Babel” dives deeper into the underlying influences of both musicians, while “Four Parts of Sadness” finds Koby joining Roberto on accordion, reversing the previous dynamic by symbolically positioning the soloist in his most prominent role yet: the role of mentor. From this position, the accordion seems to gain confidence, reaching its evocative zenith in the splendid “On The Edge”, where Roberto’s scatting, harmonized  with his flawless playing, provides the album’s most tender, intimate moment. 

Provokation closes with a pair of Chopin-influenced tunes, perhaps a revealing choice, since Koby has gone on record comparing Roberto’s virtuosity to that of the celebrated Polish composer. “Nocturne Opus 9 Nr. 2” remains relatively faithful to its source, with just a brief whisper of accordion over a delightfully delicate piano, before tansitioning to the fun, comprehensive “Chopin’s Migrane”. Borrowing from Naked City’s jump-cut technique, the song runs the gamut from surf rock to metal, this time in a playful manner that brings this metamorphic journey to a dinstinctively harmonious conclusion.

At its core, Provokation is a testament to creative reciprocity. While Koby described himself as “lazy” and essentially too restless to master a single instrument, he is undoubtedly a virtuoso of musical vision. In combination with the passion and finesse of one of the world’s leading accordionists, Koby’s conceptual ingenuity results in one of the best instrumental rercords I’ve heard in a long time. Very highly reccommended!

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