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Danny Gottfried, the artistic director of Eilat's Red Sea Jazz Festival, is determined to put last year behind him. Despite being the country's biggest, best established jazz event, the festival's 20th edition last summer was, owing to the Second Lebanon War, a somewhat muted affair. Many of the foreign participants opted not to come, making what was supposed to be a celebration only a suggestion of what might have been.
A year later, Gottfriend is looking forward to one of the biggest Red Sea Jazz Festivals ever. No fewer than 70 artists from abroad will join more than 100 of their Israeli counterparts in the southern port city Monday to Thursday. One of the highlights of the four-day program will be the three-way Saxophone Summit between Joe Lovano, titan reedman Dave Liebman and Ravi Coltrane, son of John. The junior Coltrane is replacing Michael Brecker, an original member of the sax triumvirate who passed away earlier this year at 57.
Steps Ahead, led by vibraphonist Mike Mainieri, who founded the group - originally as just Steps - in 1979, melds jazz with rock and R & B flavors in an ear-pleasing, dance-friendly format. An even more energetic show will be offered by British jazz-soul-funk group Incognito, a 10-piece band founded in 1981 that helped to found the British acid jazz movement.
One of the more intriguing acts this year is the Vienna Art Orchestra, which canceled last year. The orchestra is one of Europe's leading big bands and was founded in the late Seventies by Swiss musician Mathias Ruegg. Over the last three decades, the ensemble has pushed the envelope in a number of musical genres, with a repertoire that incorporates a wide range of European classical material by the likes of Erik Satie, Franz Schubert and Richard Wagner and delves into works by jazz pantheon members Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy.
Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and his band should also add considerable breadth to the musical tapestry, as should the gypsy-oriented confluence of French guitarist Bireli Lagrene and American-born, Paris-based singer Sara Lazarus.
Saxophonist Chris Potter and his band, Underground, will perform a varied program that culls from works by composer Bully Strayhorn to more contemporary pop and rock material by the Beatles and Radiohead. For the 40-something Potter, it's all just music.
"I grew up with rock and pop, so that's where I come from," he says. Jazz itself is a musical hybrid, he goes on, and its strength "lies in the fact that it is a cultural mishmash. It can absorb whatever it wants, as long as the spirit is maintained."
"I'm not sure," he continues, "where jazz begins and ends, and that's fine, as long as [the sound] is still alive."
Potter and Underground will deliver their trademark high-energy program, which is mostly based on the band's latest album, Follow the Red Line. "The name's a sort of an in-joke," Potter says. "It's the direction to the men's bathroom at [legendary New York jazz venue] the Village Vanguard."
The Red Sea Festival also provides a great opportunity for Israel's own jazz musicians not only to rub shoulders with their better known foreign colleagues, but also to strut their stuff in front of large audiences. Chief among the Israeli participants are the members of Hagiga, the Fourword quartet and salsa outfit Walakata.
One intriguing addition this year is a joint project between Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music and Tel Aviv's Rimon School of Music. Instructors from both schools will hold workshops throughout the four days of the festival, and the event will close with a concert performed by all the teachers.
For more information about the Red Sea Jazz Festival, visit www.redseajazzeilat.com.