The Levontin 7 club in Tel Aviv is something of an anomaly. While most cultural institutions across the country limp along, strapped for cash and petitioning for improved state support, the basement music venue off Allenby Street continues to defy all odds and just keeps rolling out shows that cover an expansive swath of musical sectors.
This week, from Sunday to Tuesday, the club on Levontin Street, near the Hamoshavot Square end of Allenby, will celebrate its seventh anniversary with a festival that says it all about the owners’ all-embracing entertainment ethos.
There is something for everyone in the lineup, from folk- rock group leader Noam Inbar to singer-songwriter Shirly Kones, and thence to high-energy klezmer gang Oy Division and retro rock outfit Electra to an intriguing synthesis between Levontin 7 co-owner jazz reedman Assif Tsahar and indie bass guitarist Igor Krotogolov and avant- garde jazz drummer Hagai Fershtman. Tsahar’s comrades in arms at the club, jazz pianist Daniel Sarid and classical conductor Ilan Volkov are also in the three-day mix. Shows start each evening at 8 p.m., and admission is free.
Tsahar, who spent 16 years in New York and was a leading light on the avant-garde jazz scene in the Big Apple, was among the founders of the annual free jazz/avant-garde vision festival that debuted in 1996. The saxophonist-bass clarinet player began to weigh the advantages of returning to Israel, and it was during a visit here that the idea for Levontin 7 began to take shape.
“I went to a show at [alternative Tel Aviv music and arts venue] Hagada Hasmalit, and I thought I’d like to do something like that if I came back to live here,” he recalls.
He duly returned to Tel Aviv and joined forces with avant-garde jazz pianist Daniel Sarid and acclaimed classical conductor Ilan Volkov, and the music enterprise came into being.
“I am an artist who has always been involved in organizing festivals and various events, and so has Ilan. So in that respect, the fact that the three of us came together with the Levontin 7 idea was natural,” he says.
Tsahar feels that the fact that the three proprietors are all artists rather than businessmen has a strong bearing on the kinds of entertainment they offer and on the vibe and intent of the place.
“Of course we wanted the club to succeed, but as musicians we felt it was important to offer some added value to the music scene here.”
Although two of the club owners come from a jazz background, Tsahar says that from the outset, the idea was to host an eclectic range of acts.
“Variety is something we all believe in, and we all practice ourselves,” he notes, “so the programs we put on are a product of that.”
He adds that it is not just about making ends meet.
“Of course we want to keep going, so we have to make money, but we often put on shows when we know that they won’t fill the place. But it’s important for us to support the arts we believe in.”
Naturally, the bottom line is always lurking, and Tsahar says times are getting hard.
“When we opened Levontin 7, we were the only place in Tel Aviv that offered music on a nightly basis, but now there’s lots of competition.”
To that end, Tsahar and his colleagues are w orking to nip any potential financial crisis in the bud.
“We have set up an NPO, and we hope and believe that it will help us steady the ship.”
Over the last seven years, Tsahar, Sarid and Volkov have hosted thousands of shows, with total disregard for categories or market sectors. This month, for instance, in addition to the 25 shows lined up for the anniversary celebrations, the compact subterranean Levontin 7 stage will see 56 acts strut their stuff. Consider the jazz-oriented Itamar Shatz Trio, indie rock band Tiny Fingers, electronic/alternative rocker Itai Dailes group, punk- suffused KIV Orchestra and an intriguing confluence between Russian Jewish pianist and vocalist Psoy Korolenko and Oy Division marking the release of their new CD that fuses klezmer with contemporary Jewish cabaret energies and sounds.
Add to that frequent jazz envelope-pushing contributions from Tsahar’s and Sarid’s respective bands, and you end up with a mind- and soul-stretching multidisciplinary offering that is hard to beat.
Tsahar says that while the artists who have found a home at Levontin 7 gain important public exposure, it is very much a two-way street.
“We discover new things all the time, which is great for us. We meet and hear new musicians, and we keep up with new developments on the Israeli music scene. That’s important for as owners of a club and as artists.”
In addition to providing music fans from across the sonic artistic spectrum something to groove to or even ponder, Levontin 7 is doing its best to keep the creative flag flying high.
“We wanted to offer all kinds of bands somewhere to play – a sort of second home for them. There are bands that have been with us for years,” says Tsahar.
“We have always tried to engender a homey spirit. It is about more than the music. It’s about the feeling you get from the place, too. I think Levontin 7 is special in that regard.”
No doubt, the hundreds of faithful fans who will throng to the venue this week share Tsahar’s view.For more information: (03) 560-5084 and www.levontin7.com.