Sarel River



"River is a native of Haifa, Israel, has gigged in Budapest, eventually relocating in New York where he has become active on the local jazz circuit. The not oft heard combination of guitar and flute creates a different but pleasant aural sensation, having an echo chamber effect on some cuts."

- Dave Nathan, All Music Guide

"Love at first sight often involves another person or even an object. But for jazz guitarist and composer, Sarel River, Cupid’s fateful arrow struck the very first time he heard jazz."

- Lucy Banduci, Queens Chronicle

"Here is a new CD by SAREL RIVER that gives you some excellent instrument tracks nicely done with guitar, bass and flute. Sarel is not only a supberb guitarist but he is a composer, also. Sarel's music is stimulating and inviting. He has a flair for mixing instrumentation that adds to the enjoyment of listening to this superb CD over and over again. "

- Jim Stone, WLNZ, 89.7 FM

"I enjoyed very much this marvelous recording by this brilliant young composer-guitarist Sarel River. It's nice to know that his career started here in Boston where he attended The Berklee College of Music. Sarel's music will continue to captivate listeners for many years to come. This is a wonderful debut for a multi-talented musician who deserves to be heard by all those who appreciate great jazz."

- Ron Della Chiesa, WGBH/WPCM - Boston, MA

"Sarel's musical journey began as a child in Israel, absorbing everything from European classical music to pop music. He studied the violin and later the guitar. Eventually jazz was introduced to him and Sarel commented, "After that, it was all jazz, all the time." River entered the Berklee School of music in 1989 and began an intensive collaboration with professor Jerry Bergonzi, who described Sarel as "an unbelievable player and personality."

- Eric Elias, Just Jazz Guitar

" This CD, at once unusual and comfortingly familiar, features the work of Sarel River, an Israeli-born jazz guitarist whose professional career as a jazz musician and composer started in the early 1990s while he was studying at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. His life experiences (an extended stay in Budapest after graduating from Berklee, the death of his infant son from cancer in 2004, and so on) have given his compositions a uniquely personal element. For example, on the present CD, the last track is titled Winter in Budapest, and it is the most spare and introspective music to be heard here. This is River’s third self-issued CD, following Mr. Blue Eyes and 2 in One. The CD was recorded in 2018, and presents two titles also found on Mr. Blue Eyes, those being Main St. Fugue and Stormy Tuesday. These, however, are entirely different versions of those two tracks, so there is no duplication. On 2 in One, Matan Klein’s flute played a prominent role. Here, on Long Ride Back, Rob Oswanski’s Hammond organ (which gives those tracks a Count Basie-ish sound) and accordion are equal partners with River’s guitar, or rather, guitars, because I think he plays multiple instruments on this CD. The dialogue and interplay between these two musicians is excellent, and drummer Marcello Pellitteri provides solid and imaginative support on the drum kit throughout. As for the music itself, River is the product of his teachers (who include jazz saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi) and influences such as Wes Montgomery and John Scofield. Like Scofield (especially), River is an eclectic musician, and his music is, at different times, related to bebop, to Latin jazz, to rock-jazz fusion, and to West Coast styles (although his homebase appears to be the New York City area). Because of this, listeners will feel like they are on home territory the moment they put this CD in the player. River’s clear and highly melodic style of playing (a Montgomery trademark) also should create feelings of comfort. At the same time, all of the music on this is original—there are no covers whatsoever—and thus new, so it gives listeners something different to sink their teeth into. The music is tight and disciplined, and no one’s talent is over-indulged, as sometimes happens in jazz (and, to be fair, in other genres). I didn’t know what to expect when this CD arrived for me to review, but I am quite pleased with it, even though it is a little bit outside of my usual jazz tastes. I see no reason not to give it a full recommendation, if you are into the contemporary jazz scene. Sarel River knows his stuff! "

- Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare Magazine - Reviewing Long Ride Back

"The remarkable sound of the first track here, Home Alone, sets the scene for the album. Vibrant, alive, yet simultaneously laid-back, River’s guitar repeats fragments over lazy drums. It’s a type of fractured Minimalism, perhaps, that invites us to guess where the music goes next; and, as we try, we so often fail. There is a richness of invention here that allows River and his co-artists to take risks. So it is that he can experiment in Main St. Fugue, with its hints at Baroque phrase shapes. The track Back in Town, as explained above, is an expanded version of a track already recorded on a previous album. River’s solos have an expansiveness here, while Pellitteri’s underpinning of drums gives the piece an inner motor, a dynamism that keeps the direction moving perfectly. Oswanski’s organ solo here is remarkable, alive and seemingly caught completely off the cuff. A Mancini tribute, Long Ride Back, is based on that composer’s The Days of Wine and Roses. It seems to simultaneously speak of joy, affection and loss, all at the same time. The child-inspired Are We There Yet? begins with a cry before those repetitive phrases make their mark, while Tales from the Dark Side is an altogether different creature, reluctant to divulge its secrets, shadowy and beautiful in its darkness. The internal Misery in the Box seems almost a prolongation of the preceding track. The emotionally fractured Tuesday of Stormy Tuesday (see the interview above) takes us to another place again—an attempt to placate internal turmoil, which seems doomed to failure. Here, Rivers’s imagination really seems to fly, the timbral range of his instrument seeming to expand in response to the emotional material. Finally, the ruminations of Winter in Budapest are inspired by Ravel’s Bolero but go off into a pool of beauty all of its own. The disc is superbly recorded and produced; the variety of expression within the short space of an hour is remarkable. Unhesitatingly recommended."

- Colin Clarke, Fanfare Magazine

"River’s ensemble always creates tunes that are beautifully formed and realized. This may result from the guitarist’s early training in classical music. For three instrumentalists, River’s group as a band delivers a gorgeous, integrated, and varied sound, often leaving the impression of a much larger gathering. In fact, the album Long Ride Back reminds me most of is Radio Face by the Bob Smith Band, on the much lamented Digital Music Products label. Long Ride Back both swings and breathes melancholy. It conveys emotions that distinguish it from most of the jazz trio work one encounters. There are some exceptionally striking moments on this CD. Winter in Budapest begins with a plaintive acoustic guitar solo, leading to dark ruminations from the organ blending with a percussion sound like flowing water. Eventually River re-enters on electric guitar, augmented with brilliantly subtle cymbal work to create the impression of a Budapest café on a dark night. Tales from The Dark Side has a West Coast jazz feel, with River’s opening solo evoking the jazz scene of the 1950s. Oswanski’s organ solo conveys a retro feel, a little like the film noir quality of those old Dragnet shows from the 1950s. The piece’s overall atmosphere is of a bar where Angst is being drowned in bourbon. Misery in The Box shares something in common with the old Sinatra record No One Cares. There are striking open textures between the instruments that you can fill in with your own sadness. Are We There Yet embodies a slightly rock-and-roll irritability. Every piece on Long Ride Back offers some musical idea to savor. The sound engineering is excellent, creating a fine blend between the players with nothing seeming out of place. I am particularly grateful that the drum kit is not spread widely across the left and right channels, a typical effect I find annoyingly artificial. Long Ride Back is a sophisticated take on the jazz trio that I think will appeal to even the most jaded hipster. Recommended."

- Dave Saemann, Fanfare Magazine

"Following his mandatory stint in the Israeli army, guitarist Sarel River fell in love with jazz. The Haifa-raised River had started playing guitar at age 18, and once a teacher introduced him to jazz, that was all he listened to. In 1989, he was accepted at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he studied under Jerry Bergonzi and began to gig locally. After graduating, River briefly relocated to Budapest, which was emerging from the Cold War era as a musical-festival destination; no doubt, the culture and atmosphere seeped into his music before he moved to New York, where he's since established himself on the Manhattan jazz scene. His latest recording, Long Ride Back (Sarel's Production), bespeaks River's international seasoning, as evidenced on the track "Main St. Fugue," included here. The track, reprised from his previous recording Mr. Blue Eyes, whimsically evokes the music of Eastern Europe, particularly as expressed by Rob Oswanski's accordion and in the song's Bach-like construction. River's Wes Montgomery-style leads emerge at the song's mid-point, displaying the bluesy tone he utilizes throughout the album, and he's ably supported by Oswanski (also on organ) and drummer Marcello Polliteri."

- JAZZIZ Magazine