With four releases on legendary John Zorn's alt-Jewish label Tzadik, the words that trip easily off the tongue about Koby Israelite are 'maverick', 'genius', 'prolific', 'avant-garde', 'impossible to categorise'. And yet this Israeli-born South Londoner - whose musical journey took him from classical piano to Jazz then speed metal drumming, and, on being reluctantly dragged to concerts by Romanian Gypsies Taraf de Haidouks, to a Road-to-Damascus experience of the accordion as an instrument of desire - is at heart a man after a good tune. And it doesn't matter whether that tune is inspired by Black Sabbath, Beethoven, Bluegrass or Bucharest Gypsies.
More often than not the tune will be hauntingly beautiful, expressed on plaintive Armenian duduk and wistful accordion, or sorrow-tinged, connecting Koby's love of Balkan music and the Blues. Essentially simple melodies are subtly complex, using Balkan rhythms and ornamentation, multi-layering and prodigious musicianship, but he never mistakes technique as a substitute for emotion, a musical truth learned from idols like Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Frequent moments of playfulness are more Sad Clown and self-depreciating Larry David than music hall, speaking to the close-to-absurd human condition, yet with a smile.
The inclusion of vocals by the mellifluous Mor Karbasi, and edgy Annique points to this search for a good tune. The instrumentals are often just as much 'songs' as the vocal tracks, of song length with a clear lead and structure.
The sabra is the prickly pear emblem that native-born Israelis use to describe themselves - notoriously prickly on the outside but tastily sweet inside. Koby's music is like this. Enter past the angular collision of styles and influences - it's not an album that tries to please all of the people all of the time - and you find yourself in a world that coheres around a unique musical vision that is daringly powerful, and strangely sweet.