By Don Heckman
Bel Air. Israeli singer/songwriter Noa was back in L.A. this week. Which was great news to the full house crowd that showed up Tuesday night for her appearance at the American Jewish University.
In an expansion of the performance she gave at Royce Hall early last year, Noa – who is known in Israel as Achinoam Nini – was accompanied by her long time musical companion, guitarist/composer/arranger Gil Dor, a string quartet and a percussionist. The rich textured string quartet sounds and surging rhythms provided an appropriately far-ranging backdrop for Noa’s vocals, which can best be described as extraordinary.
Singing with ease in languages reaching from Italian and English to Hebrew and Yemenite Jewish, she also displayed strikingly authentic vocalizing in styles embracing traditional music, songs from the Israeli Songbook, selections from a musical about Pope John Paul II, a virtuosic, operatic-like aria based on children’s songs, several compelling works by Noa and Dor, and an all-join-in climactic version of “Shalom-Shalom.”
As if all that wasn’t enough, Noa also played various Middle Eastern percussion instruments with skill and fluidity, including one song in which she accompanied herself with the traditional Yemen instrument – a large, empty oil can. Add to that the warmth she communicated in her songs and in her narrative, often humorous connections with her listeners, as well as her graceful, balletic movements, bringing a mesmerizing sense of musical intimacy to everything she sang.
She was immensely aided by the creative presence of Dor, who has been a close partner for more than twenty years. Remaining modestly in the background for much of the time, Dor’s subtle guitar accompaniment provided an exquisite gold setting for the precious jewels of Noa’s vocal interpretations.
Dor was, in addition, responsible for the superbly crafted string quartet arrangements. Written with the skill of an orchestrator who understands the subtle demands and deeply colorful potential of string quartet instrumentation, Dor’s settings – like his guitar work – revealed a thorough understanding of the full creative extent of Noa’s singing.
Noa has gained considerable visibility for her outspoken opinions as an activist for Middle Eastern peace. She has regularly supported those views in her music and in performances with artists from other areas of the Middle East.
Ultimately, however, it is her remarkable art that defines Noa and her views. And in this concert – as in so many of her concerts – her art was on full display, gifting her enthusiastic listeners with an evening overflowing with memorable moments.