Red Sea jazz veterans soar far beyond memory lane

This year's annual jazz festival in Eilat drew record fans and musicians from Israel and abroad.

Jazz 224-88 (photo credit: Digi Dekel)
Jazz 224-88
(photo credit: Digi Dekel)
This year's Red Sea Jazz Festival delivered on all fronts. Major international draws, such as veteran jazz-world music fusion band Oregon, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington's all-female quartet and iconic pianist Carla Bley's Lost Chords combo, packed in the crowds. And the Israeli contingent showed its mettle too, particularly the Mafrum Sextet, the Shauli Einav Quartet and Avi Lebovich's Orchestra. The latter was celebrating the launch of its latest album, Groove Collage, and its efforts were well received by the sell-out crowd. Oregon's gigs were among the most eagerly awaited of the Red Sea slots, and the quartet did not disappoint. While there was a definite nostalgia element to the show - the band has been strutting its stuff for almost 40 years - this was not merely a trip down memory lane. Original band members saxophonist Paul McCandless, guitarist-pianist Ralph Towner and bassist Glen Moore, along with more recent addition drummer Mark Walker, reeled off their polished mix of classically and ethnically tinged jazz and moved seamlessly between mellifluously melodic material and more envelope-pushing numbers with an ease borne of long years of shared artistic endeavor. Bley's shows also elicited rapturous applause, with the pianist resplendent in her trademark feathery blond coiffure and stylish black attire, and an energy level that belied her seven decades on Mother Earth to date. Bassist Steve Swallow provided his usual deft bedrock, and saxophonist Andy Sheppard, trumpeter Michael Rodriguez and drummer Billy Drummond laid on commensurate support in a mix of Latininflected and bebop numbers. Carrington's all-woman band also wowed its audiences. And 24-year-old bassist Esperanza Spalding was the crowd pleaser, with Geri Allen producing some pyrotechnics on keyboards, while Carrington drove hard from behind her drum set and Tineke Postma added some more delicate vibes on saxophones. There was more than a modicum of homegrown nostalgia at the two shows, led by outgoing festival director and pianist Danny Gottfried. Besides Gottfried, the Founders' Salute lineup included reedman Albert Piamenta, drummer Areleh Kaminsky, bassist Eli Magen and trumpeter-saxophonist Mamelo Gaitanopoulos. Next year stellar bassist Avishai Cohen, who appeared with his trio on the first day of the festival, will be in charge of the festival's artistic program. He will have a lot to live up to.