Born and raised in Israel but now living in the Boston suburbs, Issi Rozen is an expressive, soulful post-bop guitarist whose influences range from Jim Hall, Pat Metheny, and Joe Pass to Middle Eastern music. The airy style of guitar playing that Hall and Metheny (who was greatly influenced by Hall but became quite distinctive himself) are known for has clearly had a major impact on Rozen's playing -- like Hall and Metheny, Rozen isn't the sort of guitarist who goes out of his way to cram as many notes as possible into his solos. And in addition to affecting Rozen's style of playing, Hall and Metheny have affected him compositionally. But one thing that separates Rozen from those two influences is the fact that his playing and writing tend to be much more Middle Eastern-influenced. Growing up in Israel, Rozen was surrounded by Middle Eastern modal music -- both Jewish and Arabic -- and he even includes some traditional Jewish songs in his repertoire and interprets them in a post-bop fashion. In various interviews, Rozen has pointed out that jazz and Middle Eastern music are both known for improvisation.
Rozen, who was born in Haifa, Israel, on April 20, 1967, and subsequently lived in Tel Aviv, grew up listening to a variety of music -- not only jazz and Middle Eastern music, but also blues and rock. Rozen loved the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton when he was growing up, and his introduction to jazz guitar was Joe Pass; he later got into Hall, Metheny, and Wes Montgomery. Rozen's appreciation of jazz seemed to become even stronger when, as a young adult, he spent three years in the Israeli military -- in Israel, military service is mandatory for young adults -- and after his tour of duty, he studied jazz improvisation at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in Tel Aviv. For a long time, Rozen played rock and blues -- he led his own rock band in high school -- but eventually he decided to play jazz exclusively (although he never became a jazz snob and kept listening to different styles of music).
In 1991, Rozen left Israel and moved to Boston to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music, eventually settling in the suburb of Brookline, MA. The '90s found the guitarist becoming a fixture on the Boston jazz scene, and in 1998, his first album as a leader, Red Sea, was released by Brownstone Records (a small independent label that is based in Worcester, MA, and has been quite good about documenting Boston-based jazz artists). In 1999 Rozen recorded his second album, Homeland Blues, for Brownstone -- and in 2003 the guitarist provided his third album, Dark Beauty, which he released on his own label, New Step Music. ~ Alex Henderson, Rovi