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(photo credit: Courtesy)
This might be a global village of instant high-speed communications, but if you want to play jazz and get noticed, it helps to be where the action is. That generally means New York City or, at the very least, somewhere in Western Europe. But there are also advantages to being off the beaten track, and 50-year-old Australian pianist-composer Paul Grabowsky has been making the most of his geographical distance for quite some time.
Grabowsky will perform a solo concert at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on June 23 as part of this year's Australia Israel Cultural Exchange (AICE) program. Donning his other professional hat, as artistic director of the Adelaide International Festival of the Arts, he is also coming here to check out some of our top acts in a range of disciplines, with a view of possibly booking some of them for next year's 50th anniversary festival.
"Yes, Australia has a problem in that it is far away from the rest of the jazz world," admits Grabowsky, "but that also means I have been turning more to music in my own neighborhood." The 'neighborhood' in question is basically locales 'near' Australia. "I have been involved in music from Bali and India, and the Pacific Islands, and New Zealand, feeding off Polynesian culture which is very different from what we have here in Australia."
There are similarities between his part of the world and ours, Grabowsky says, "In a way, Australia has been forced to turn to its ingenuities. The best aspects of Australian culture stem from self-reliance, as one does in a place of relative physical hardship, like Israel too. I think we Australians do things quite well and we are quite valued for finding creative solutions to our problems."
Grabowsky has certainly been spreading it around a bit - in artistic terms - besides his more mainstream jazz endeavor. And he doesn't seem to have had too much trouble harnessing some of the biggest names from the stateside jazz world to his projects either. There have been synergies with top US jazz artists the likes of saxophonists Dewey Redman, Branford Marsalis and Joe Lovano and veteran iconic drummer Paul Motian.
Among Grabowsky's other 25 recordings are an album containing radical recompositions of European songs from the 1930s, as well as cross-cultural projects with the South Indian Sruthi Laya Ensemble led by percussionist Karaikudi R. Mani. Grabowsky oversaw the latter effort in his guise as leader of the award-winning Australian Art Orchestra. He is currently working with the Wagiluk people of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory region of Australia. The man's oeuvre stretches just about as far as you can go.
Jazz, says Grabowsky, has provided him with a solid basis on which to shoot off to other musical constellations. "It has been a wonderful foundation for my process of making music. It's the free approach to music making."
True to his all-embracing artistic ethos, Grabowsky feeds off a wide range of genres and ethnic sources, including Arabic music and Sephardic music. "My antennas are always up and absorbing new sounds," he says simply, an attribute which, no doubt, he will employ during his ten-day stay here, during which he'll get a taste of the likes of the Batsheva Dance Company, theater group Itim Ensemble and dance outfit Inbal Pinto.
"There are ancient cultures in Australia - like the people in Arnhem Land - which is the civilization that has the oldest tradition of continuously performed music in the world, for 80,000 years if not longer, back to the very roots of music making. But Australa is also a very young country and we've been determined by the demographic of the people who migrated here which, I suppose, is something we share with Israel. We both have a youthful spirit too."
Paul Grabowsky performs at the Jerusalem Cinematheque - 11 Derekh Hebron; (02) 565-4333 - on June 23 at 9 p.m. for NIS 70. Cinematheque subscribers receive free admission, though still need to reserve a space.