Festival Review: Rompin’ at the Red Sea

At the end of the day, it was one of the better Red Sea Jazz festivals of recent years.

August 5, 2012 22:42
2 minute read.
Kenny Garrett performs at Red Sea Jazz Festival, E

Kenny Garrett performs at Red Sea Jazz Festival, Eilat (370 . (photo credit: Digi Deckel)

There was a strong sense of déjà-vu at this year’s Red Sea Jazz Festival, which took place at the Port of Eilat last Monday through Thursday.

The audiences appeared to be down on previous years, which conjured up the more intimate atmosphere of the early festivals, back in the late Eighties. The nostalgia feel was further enhanced by the appearance of the Zaviyot quartet, which last performed at the festival in 1989. And it was a triumphant return for now 80-year-old clarinetist Harold Rubin, bassist Mark Smulian and drummer Reuben Hoch, who recruited young New Zealand-based Israeli guitarist Arli Liberman for the occasion.

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Rubin et al threw everything at us, from down and dirty rock-blues, to straightahead jazz, highly improvised numbers and the odd klezmer coloring. It was a tour de force which was both a throwback to those halcyon days of the band’s beginnings, and a reminder that there is no substitute for individual quality and silky teamwork.

Young Liberman’s solos drove the audience wild, and the patrons were equally appreciative of Hoch’s powerful performance, Smulian’s velvety and driving bass lines, as well as Rubin’s trademark lyrically adventurous offerings.

The surprise of the festival was US bassist Christian McBride’s trio of drummer Ulysses Owens and 22-year-old pianist Christian Sands. Sands, in particular, was a revelation s he reeled off fluid tripping solos which appeared to feed off the roots of New Orleans jazz and had a delightful bluesygospely feel to them. Each of the trio members displayed a sunny go-with-the-flow ethos as the well-oiled unit delivered sumptuous textures, bluesy riffs and an uncomplicated delivery of often complex passages.

Elsewhere in the Red Sea Jazz program, veteran pianist Geri Allen’s trio performed with a tap dancer who, while clearly highly adept at the technical side of his art and had done his homework on blending in with the instrumental delivery, generally obstructing the main instrumental dish.

As expected the shows by the Yes! trio of pianist Aaron Goldberg, drummer Ali Jackson and longtime Israeli New York resident bass player Omer Avital proved to be a highly popular slot – with plenty of groove and bluesy intent - and the threesome gave the festival’s joint artistic director, sax player Eli Degibri a chance to strut his highly experienced stuff when he joined them for the encore. Israeli guitarist Gilad Hekselman’s show, with a quartet that included acclaimed saxophonist Mark Turner, Eilat debut was also roundly applauded.

At the end of the day, it was one of the better Red Sea Jazz festivals of recent years.

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