For nigh on to a quarter of a century, every February jazz fans in Tel Aviv and the rest of the country made a point of convening at the Cinematheque to enjoy three or four days of top-class musical entertainment and share the common buzz. The festival went through various guises and previously went by the name Jazz, Blues and Videotape, with a program that included blues shows and jazz-related movies. The latter two elements were gradually phased out, and the festival kept going with a more or less pure jazz diet.
Last year, however, the Tel Aviv Municipality decided to spread its cultural budget more extensively, and the jazz festival moved to a biennial format. There was quite an uproar among the cultural cognoscenti following the announcement, and there were concerns that the municipality might be subtly trying to drop the festival altogether. But the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival has re-emerged onto to our cultural radar, 15 months after the previous edition, with a three-dayer that takes place from May 29 to 31.
Artistic directors Barak Weiss and Nitzan Kramer seem to have done a good job with the relatively limited resources at their disposal – financial and temporal – and have put together a package that should appeal to a wide range of jazz and jazz-related musical tastes.
The biggest name in the lineup is 72-year-old American saxophonist and clarinetist Gary Bartz who, over the past 45 years, has played with many of the modern jazz fraternity’s greats, such as Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Max Roach and Jackie McLean. Bartz will perform on the last evening of the festival, together with the sidemen who played on his latest recording, Coltrane Rules, Tao of a Music Warrior , pianist Barney McAll, bass player James King and drummer Greg Bandy.
Weiss has his nimble fingers in all sorts of jazzy ventures in this country, including running the Jewish/Israeli-themed jazz series at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem, and there are a couple of slots at the upcoming festival that bear a strong resemblance to shows that have taken place in the capital.
“There are three projects that have a connection with Beit Avi Chai,” notes Weiss. “One is a show that will be performed at Beit Avi Chai in August, that’s [saxophonist] Daniel Zamir, Saxophonist on the Roof, and there are two shows I have already run there that I’ve expanded and moved to Tel Aviv – Hagiga with [Brazilian-born percussionist-vocalist] Joca Perpignan doing Matti Caspi songs, and [guitarist] Uri Bracha and [pianist-flutist-vocalist] Shem-Tov Levy performing Israeli samba and bossa nova material.”
The Zamir concert, which opens the Cinematheque festival, also features actor Natan Datner and two of our best young jazz artists, pianist Nitai Hershkowitz and drummer Amir Bressler, as well as bassist Gilad Abro who, at 32, has already been on the scene for 15 years.
Of course, transposing prêt-a- porter acts can help to reduce overheads, but irrespective of logistical and financial facility, the three shows offer quality entertainment across a wide range of musical and cultural areas.
“We had to put together a festival in double quick time, in about a month,” explains Weiss. “We found a sponsor and we started to get the program together as quickly as we could.”
His decision to extend the intra- festival gaps notwithstanding, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai says his city has a strong affinity with the genre.
“If Tel Aviv were a musical style, it is safe to assume it would be jazz – :colorful, daring and always surprising. Tel Aviv-Jaffa is like jazz; it incorporates colors, sounds, scale and infinite influences that flow together in a harmonious work that can change at any given moment.”
Another name from overseas who should bring in the Cinematheque crowds is Chicago-based trumpeter Corey Wilkes, along with Jewish pianist-keyboard player Greg Spero.
The two have worked together for some years and will bring high- energy, groove-based sounds typical of the Windy City jazz scene, liberally seasoned with Latin- oriented sentiments, as well as hip hop rhythms and electronics. Wilkes and Spero will be supported by Israeli threesome bassist Assaf Hakimi, drummer Roy Uliel and percussionist Gilad Dubretski in a show that promises to get the audience dancing in the aisles.
One of the more intriguing items on the program, particularly for those who like their music on the left field side of the improvisational music tracks, features American trumpeter Roy Campbell and compatriot percussionist Ehran Elisha. New Yorker Elisha, whose parents hail from this part of the world and appears here a couple of times a year, and Campbell put out a recording called Watching Cartoons with Eddie on Israeli label Outnow Recordings.
Other imports at the festival include Japanese pianist Chihiro Yamanaka and her trio, and Italian flutist Nicola Stilo, who will team up with Israeli counterpart Matan Klein, along with an Israeli rhythm section, and will perform a wide-ranging repertoire of jazz readings of Israeli Songbook items, Latin-inflected material and numbers performed and written by late iconic trumpeter Chet Baker, who spent much of his career in Italy.
Other local stand-outs include pianist Ronen Shmueli’s quintet, together with guest soul singer Rudi Beinsen, vocalist Irit Deckel and her ethnic confluence with the Andalusian music Mediterranean Orchestra and young Ethiopian- Israeli Esther Rada’s renditions of material made famous by late jazz pianist-vocalist Nina Simone.For tickets and more information: (03) 606-0800 and www.cinema.co.il