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Yonatan Gat is a genre all to his own. His new opus, Universalists, out May 4th on Joyful Noise in US and Glitterbeat in Europe, sees the New York experimental composer refining his skills not only as guitarist and bandleader, but also as a producer. His followup to 2015's acclaimed Director sees Gat experimenting with splicing live-to-tape recordings of his live trio in ways that are as indebted to avant-garde and contemporary sounds as they are to electric era Miles Davis or Brazilian experimentalists Os Mutantes (with which Yonatan recently released a 7-inch), pushing the envelope in ways that only a few can.
Over the previous decade, Gat became known as one of the world's top performers as founder and guitarist of Monotonix, hailed by SPIN as "the most exciting live band in rock’n’roll,” with concerts that quite literally destroyed the border between performer and audience, and were controversial enough to get them banned from playing their home country of Israel.
Unable to play shows in his home country, and refusing to take part in its mandatory military service, Gat relocated to New York City. He began recording and performing as a bandleader, and in 2014 released the Iberian Passage EP, a debut that maintained his signature raw energy while switching the focus away from the shock-performance style of Monotonix to a more ritualistic, improvised, shamanic musical exploration. 2015 brought the genre-bending full-length Director, composed mostly of live improvisations by his trio and field recordings taken by Gat, the record was a mind-melting exploration through many different styles of music, from Brazilian psych and Afrobeat to free jazz, surf, and 20th century avant-garde that garnered rave reviews from the NY Times, Pitchfork and others.
Three years in the making, his latest LP Universalists is a conceptual and crafted snapshot of an artist evolving and experimenting, broadening his musical palette to incorporate vocals, vibraphones, horns, strings and samples, all the while remaining loyal to his live ferocity. Every recording of Gat's band in Universalists was performed (many completely improvised) live, each in a different studio, before they were meticulously edited, rearranged, reframed and reinvented by Gat, with additional production from Silver Jews' David Berman.
Album opener Cue The Machines starts with an Italo-Spanish choir – but the voices get manipulated, sampled and chopped into stuttering electronic rhythms underneath Gal Lazer’s merciless jazz-punk drums and Sergio Sayeg’s countermelodic bass. The second track, Post-World, uses Gat's guitar to reframe a traditional work song from Mallorca into a mysterious, yearning ballad. Lead single Cockfight pays homage to Balinese music, and album centerpiece Medicine combines Gat’s sound with the Eastern Medicine Singers, a group of Algonquin Native American drummers. Along with Swans’ Thor Harris they create a pulsating, stream-of-consciousness trance.
Penultimate track Chronology is a live recording that turns into a collage that seems to be sampling everything Gat could get his hands on, including his own work. The track features a segment out of an interpretation of Antonín Dvořák "American Quartet" Yonatan has been performing alongside Deerhoof's acclaimed drummer Greg Saunier, segueing into a brutal wall of noise created out of different recordings of Yonatan's trio, culminating in the gentle tension and subdued suspense of album closer The Imaginary.
A globally-sensitive intricate work set to be released in the hostile political climate of 2018, Universalists is inevitably charged with a sense of confrontational urgency. But while it is indeed a provocative work, it goes beyond exploring the distress of our time. Universalists goes on to emphasize not the distinction between genres, and by extension cultures, but the complex similarities.
"Incredible, unforgettable chaos, one of the most incredible performances you'll ever see"
"His playing bloomed with the patience to develop any shred of riff or groove into collective improvisation"
- NY Times
"A dazzling display of the trio's impressively far-flung influences"
"Best guitarist in New York, 2013"
- The Village Voice
"You’ve never seen anything like it before. Cults have been formed over less"
"A boundless, borderless world"
"Melding improvisation, world music, punk and avant-garde into a vital new music form."
"A thrillingly chaotic sonic voyage."
"A mind blowingly prolific journey crossing vibes of DIY dives and avant-garde jazz spaces"
"Middle East-tinged solos over fierce tribal grooves, to ecstatic effect"
- The New Yorker
"A swirling mass of energy. Gat’s guitar playing is unmatched"
"Yonatan Gat’s output is indicative of what we’re going to see more of in popular music as American hegemony in pop culture and art continues on its decline."
- Bedford & Bowery