Assaf Kehati has a busy schedule mapped out for him when he flies in from the States. The Israeli-born Israeli guitarist, who has been dividing his time between Boston and New York in recent years, will be paying us a visit in early April, along with fellow Israeli bass player Ehud Etun and drummer Ronen Itzik. Their 10-day tour of the country, April 2-12, comprises seven shows plus a workshop, with concerts lined up in Jerusalem, Zichron Ya’acov, Haifa, Safed, Jaffa, Mitzpe Ramon and Ramat Hasharon.
Kehati says he is delighted to be coming back here to strut his stuff and is happy to play anywhere at any time. “Everywhere I perform in Israel is special for me,” he says. “I am looking forward to the show at Avram in Jerusalem but also the concerts in Mitzpe Ramon – that’s a really special place – and Haifa. And I am already excited about playing at Hasimta and thinking about walking around Jaffa a bit after the gig. It’s going to be great being back in Israel for a while.”
While many jazz artists who come here from abroad are matched up with local sidemen, Kehati is coming over equipped with his own cohorts, which should make for a comfortable base for creative endeavor.
“We are all great friends, and we’ve been playing together intensively over the last year,” says the guitarist.
“We have regularly played several shows a week. We spent two weeks touring Colombia, and I appeared at a well-known New York jazz venue with Ehud.”
The three Israelis met in the US, although Kehati the says their common cultural denominator comes into play in their musical confluence. “I think it helps us communicate musically and on a basic communication level. Of course, not all Israelis are the same, but I think the fact that we converse in Hebrew is important. We also listen to the same jazz greats, like Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, and Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass, as well as the contemporaries. But we also come from more or less the same commercial music background – people like Yehuda Poliker and Matti Caspi and Mashina and Kaveret. There is something that connects us all. We also tell each other a lot of jokes.”
Kehati has chalked up an impressive CV since he moved to the US in 2007. He studied at the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, under such fabled teachers as pianist Ran Blake, and has released two albums – A View from My Window and Flowers and Other Stories . Both CDs comprise original scores, although Kehati says he doesn’t mind trying his hand at standards from time to time. “I’ll play a standard when I practice, but I prefer performing my own material in shows,” he says.
Kehati feels he has developed musically during his time in the States but that essentially he is the same person he was six years ago. “You are who you are,” he says, “and you may undergo some refinement or other, and you may discover something musically interesting or crystallize some knowledge or skill, but all your influences are already there. Your point of origin and your base don’t change.”
That, according to Kehati, applies to all musicians, regardless of how long they have been doing their professional thing. “If you take someone like [58-year-old guitarist] Pat Metheny, he has done so many projects with trios and with [75-year- old bassist] Charlie Haden, with orchestras, and recently I heard he did something just with machines.
Does he sound exactly the way he did at 18 or at 50? I think he does, with slight permutations. He sounds like Pat Metheny, not like [Mizrahi singer] Zohar Argov or Duke Ellington.”
Then again, Kehati says he continues to take on new elements and colors. “Being in America, you’re exposed to musicians from so many places around the world, and I go to a lot of shows when I’m not working myself. I am always open to new ideas.”
Some of his musical concepts were set in place when he was very young.
He started out on classical piano and guitar, with some violin thrown in.
His grandmother was a professional classical pianist and had a formative influence on his approach to music.
As a teenager, he delved into rock and pop music before making his way into the jazz fold at 19. He furthered his knowledge of the genre at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in Ramat Hasharon, and one of his forthcoming shows will take place there. “This is the first time I will be going back there to perform,” he says. “That is very exciting and moving for me.” The Rimon show will also feature Kehati’s former teacher at the school, pianist Ofer Portugali.
His first teacher – his grandma – no longer plays piano professionally, but Kehati keeps her abreast of his work and other contemporary musical developments. “When I am in Israel, I’ll play something on guitar and she’ll play it on the piano,” he says.
That has involved some material somewhat beyond her regular musical milieu. “I played something by Metallica, and she played along.
That was fun,” he says Kehati and the trio’s shows here will showcase material from the guitarist’s two CDs plus some new material.
Kehati’s musical spread continues to expand. “When we’re in Israel, we’ll probably play a new piece called “The Horses Fight,” which is based on a sort of Brazilian groove.
And there is “The Almond Tree,” which is more Israeli, and there’s “Song for Saba.” which is a sort of a Matti Caspi style rock ballad.”
Ultimately, for Kehati it is all just music. “You can place this piece or that piece in some category or other, but I don’t think about that when I’m writing the music. I just play what I love and hope the audience gets it, too.”For more information: www.assafkehati.com