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After 22 years of a one-man show, with Danny Gottfried serving as artistic director of the Red Sea Jazz Festival since its inauguration in 1987, there may have been high expectations of bassist-vocalist Avishai Cohen's debut roster for the Eilat shebang. Indeed, Cohen - probably the most successful musical export this country has ever produced - had made some bold statements since his official appointment as Red Sea artistic honcho earlier this year, about shaking up the festival content and breathing new life into the veteran event.
Indeed several fundamental changes have found their way into the four-day itinerary of the country's biggest and most prestigious jazz event of the year. For a start local musicians have been given a more elevated status in the pecking order. Over the four days (August 23-26) there will be an equal number of Israeli and foreign acts, 11 each.
In terms of imported musical content Cohen seems to have largely stuck to the Gottfried way. Indeed, there are quite a few veterans of previous Eilat festivals this year too. 57-year-old Jazz-funk guitarist John Scofield, saxophonist Jimmy Greene and colorful vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater have all graced the Red Sea bash before, as has Latin jazz reedman Paquito D'Rivera.
On the more ethnically seasoned side Benin-born guitarist Lionel Loueke, along with Swedish bassist Massimo Biolcati and Hungarian Ferenc Nemeth offer an intriguing cross-cultural mix, while Cuban drummer Dafnis Prieto's sextet should have the Eilat faithful out of their seats and grooving in the aisles in double quick time. When it comes to mixing and going with the cross-genre flow, Spanish pianist Chano Dominguez and his sextet possibly take the biscuit this year in Eilat. Dominguez, who also frequently collaborates with D'Rivera and will bring a flamenco dancer with him to augment the band's instrumental endeavor, has become known for his "new flamenco sound." He also feeds off a wide range of inspirations, including angular bebop founding father pianist Thelonious Monk, romantically-inclined pianist Bill Evans, fusions outfits the likes of Weather Report and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, as well Latin jazz and progressive rock.
For jazz lovers looking for more of a leading edge, the best bet this year is the two gigs (August 25 and 26) by French-born, NYC-based pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, with his trio of bassist Boris Kozlov and evergreen drummer Billy Hart. Pilc has been busy envelope pushing from France and, since 1996, from New York on a vast array of projects. Now 48, Pilc recently took on a new, far more intimate, project which he thinks could have a strong bearing on his future artistic growth. "I became a father for the first time, to twins, in June," said Pilc in a telephone interview from his New York home. "It is interesting to see how I evolve as a father. I am already a different person."
But Pilc notes it is not just fatherhood that affects his artistic mindset. "My mood influences the way I play and compose, the weather can do that, as can a simple conversation. For me, music is a reflection of life. Different sides of my being come out while I am playing a tune. For me, that's priceless."
Pilc is also very much his own man, but hopes his art resonates with as wide a music loving hinterland as possible. "Some artists create a narrow field of expression, let's say like [Thelonious] Monk, but you cannot imagine the world without them. It would be nice that in 200-300 years from now people won't be able to imagine a world without Jean-Michel Pilc."
While that may sound ego-driven, for Pilc it all about aiming for the highest level of artistry he can muster. "What you express in music, if you are a true artist, is timeless and without geographical or genre borders. But I just want to do my best, and I realized at some point that some will like my music and some won't. For me it's much worse if there's a gig at which I played poorly and people clap wildly, than if I play well and am not appreciated." There's little chance of the latter happening in Eilat next week.
On the home front, every evening of the festival will start at 7 p.m. with a concert featuring the best young Israeli jazz groups, and there is a plethora of local talent being showcased in Eilat this year. Former Herbie Hancock sideman, saxophonist Eli Dejibri will front his own trio while veteran reedman Peter Wertheimer will join forces with a jazz trio and the entire Israel Camerata Orchestra. The second day's proceedings will close with high energy jazz-funk-groove outfit The Apples.
On the non-jazz side female pop trio Habanot Nechama and vocalist Marina Maximilian Blumin should draw in some patrons looking for extra-mural entertainment.
For more information: www.redseajazzeilat.com