As the program promised there were multifarious thrills and spills on offer at the Port of Eilat as the country’s biggest annual jazz bash got underway amid scorching weather. The fact that the artists managed to perform, under stage lighting, and with their charts often buffeted by the hot desert wind, is testament to their professionalism. And perform they did, to the delight of the audiences, large and otherwise.
One of the standouts was the late replacement American twosome of trumpeter Dave Douglas and pianist Uri Caine, who came in for a world music act. Fiftysomething Douglas and Caine are leading members of the global jazz fraternity and old sparring partners, and they played numbers from their Present Joys album which came out earlier this year. Both are powerful players, with sizable chops, and kept the audience riveted as they swung, trilled, riffed and stormed their way through an emotive repertoire based on the shape note discipline which was devised for performers of sacred music in the early nineteenth century.
While both Douglas and Caine are well capable of muscular renditions there were plenty of gentler passages too, played with gossamer delicacy. On one number in particular Douglas put out lines bordering on the ethereal, which became progressively finer until he achieved a soft whistling sound. Over the years the festival audiences have never been shy about getting in on the act and many of us quickly offered some sonorous whistling of our own to augment Douglas’s output. The trumpeter appeared delighted, and began conducting our amateur efforts, to everyone’s joy. Caine continued to spin out multi-layered riffs and melodic lines, along with more unfettered attacks fused with dense chords, rippling honky-tonk colorings and thudding keyboard work. There was also plenty of tongue-in-cheek stuff in the mix too.
This was a pair at the top of their game.
Another pianist, French-based Israeli Yonatan Avishai, closed the proceedings on Tuesday night – well after midnight – as he presented material from his forthcoming Modern Times release along with his trio of long time French-resident Israeli bassist Yoni Zelnik and French drummer Donald Kontomanou. In transpired the album is based on a suite format, and one number segued seamlessly into the next as Avishai took us on a magical mystery tour that took in a multitude of styles, cultural baggage and storylines.
Avishai has clearly been working long and hard on the project and his cohorts were completely on board for the continuum.
Notwithstanding some of the more energized passages, there was a sense of tranquility throughout and the thirtysomething pianist told his tale with plenty to spare, and there was a strong feeling of a generous comfort zone between the players. Kontomanou and the leader shared several gentle tete-atetes, while Zelnik frequently put in his more muscular, richly textured pennyworth.
I look forward to the album release.
Elsewhere on the more bebop-oriented side of the jazz tracks in Eilat, saxophonist Dayna Stephens led his quartet in robust and colorful style, while more senior reedman Antoine Roney also burned up the calories with his foursome.
The Roney band included the leader’s 10-year-old son Kojo on drums, who put in a creditable timekeeping performance, although the blues number the youngster sang to smacked somewhat of a more gimmick-oriented mindset.
Lee Konitz was another impressive late addition to the Red Sea Jazz Festival lineup, and the 86-year-old saxophonist provided an engaging 75 minutes’ entertainment. Meanwhile, Hammond B3 organ player Dr. Lonnie Smith, complete with trademark turban, kaftan, luxurious beard and unforgiving bonhomie, as expected, sent his packed audience into raptures with earthy blues riffs as he did the business on that most splendorous of blues instruments.