If music is about texture and color and expression, then Noa Fort has got the art form nailed.
That much, at the very least, comes over in spades practically as soon as “Now Is Our Time,” the opening track of her new CD, filters through.
Fort is a 38 year old Israeli jazz pianist-vocalist who has been living in New York for the past 5 years. She recently released her debut album No World Between Us and will be here soon to showcase the record, and to show Israeli audiences across the country just far she has taken her craft since she left these shores. Her agenda here includes shows at the Mitzpe Ramon jazz club on July 12, Jerusalem’s Yellow Submarine on July 18 and Beit Hayotzer in the Tel Aviv Port on July 20. Fort’s sidemen for the tour, inter alia, include bassist Shai Hazan and drummer Haim Peskoff.
There is something undeniably atmospheric about No World Between Us, and it appears that the texturalchromic sheen to Fort’s offerings stems from an early formative influence.
“When I was young I was into impressionism,” she notes. “I liked Debussy.”
All of which points neatly in the direction of Fort’s initial musical training. “I started out on classical piano,” she says. But there was another unavoidable musical compass around. “I was ‘forced’ to listen to jazz, because of my sister,” Fort laughs. The older sibling in question is internationally acclaimed jazz pianist Anat Fort, herself a longtime resident of New York, before returning to Israel a few years back.
Although the younger Fort considers herself first and foremost a pianist, singing has been an everpresent component of her artistic ethos, albeit not always with serious intent.
“I always sang and I always played, but I took piano lessons and did bagrut [matriculation] in classical music. Singing was always something intuitive for me. I never studied it professionally.”
Fort appeared to be making decent strides with her art, but then, suddenly, it slowed to a stop.
“I quit music. I joined the army, and I didn’t really think I was going to be a musician. We already had one musician in the family,” she chuckles.
There seemed to be no way back to ivory tickling. “I did different things in the army and, after the army, I went to Hebrew University to study biology. I was interested in animals, and particularly birds.”
Intriguingly, a couple of years ago sister Anat released an album called Birdwatching, although the record title was not prompted by her younger sister’s prior ornithological interest.
“There are quite a few twists and turns to my story,” Fort observes.
On completing her degree, Fort decided to take off in a completely different direction – in a geographical and cultural sense. “Like any ‘good Israeli’ who completes something, I went off to India,” she laughs.
But, before departing for the subcontinent, Fort was given a gift which, at the time, seemed to be just a valued addition to her music collection. It led Fort right back to her first, and enduring, artistic love.
“A guy I knew gave the Making Music album,” she recalls. That disc, which came out in 1986 on the prestigious German-based ECM label, was fronted by stellar Indian tabla player Zakir Hussain, and features an impressive supporting cast, including Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, British guitarist John McLaughlin and feted Indian flute player Hariprasad Chaurasia.
“Today I relate to the record different but, at the time, it blew my mind,” Fort says.
Today, Fort may not consider Making Music the pinnacle of artistic creation but, back then, it paved her way back to music.
“I heard tabla for the first time on that record,” she says, and I decided that, when I got to India, I’d look for a tabla teacher.”
And so it came to pass. She went to Varanasi in northeast India, a city known for its artistic pursuits, and a magnet for youngsters from all over the world looking to further their musical aspirations. Fort’s time there was to have a lasting effect. “I always felt the musician inside me, but I never thought the musician needed to be outside. I was a closet musician.”
She crammed a lot into her month and half stay in Varanasi. “I can’t say I’m a tabla player but I took a lot of private lessons there. I bought a tabla set and began traveling around India. I found myself in lots of situations in which I played with other people.”
FORT’S DIE was well and truly cast. “I realized that music was what I wanted to do and, when I returned to Israel, I registered for the Academy of Music [and Dance in Jerusalem].” She initially went for jazz vocals but, after the first year, she focused on jazz piano.”
She had the good fortune to benefit from the tutelage of some heavyweight teachers, and celebrated artists in their own right, including Slava Ganellin, Itai Rosenberg and Avi Adrian.
It was the denouement to her academic endeavor that set Fort on the path to determining her singular way of going about her creative business.
“There was as recital at the end of my degree, and I began to write music for it,” she explains. “That was an almost spiritual experience for me. That was the first time I’d led a group with my own music. The whole process was compelling.”
Fast forward half a dozen years or so and Fort decides it’s time to get into the thick of the jazz action, in the disciplines global epicenter. No World Between Us was conceived a couple of years after Fort landed in the Big Apple, and she says she has shifted along her learning curve in the interim.
“The music I play today is a lot more improvised, and I don’t always sing with words. And I make use of sounds.”
Besides following her musical muse since moving abroad, Fort has been putting her talents to good use in another important, curative, field. She took a master’s degree in music therapy and now works with special needs children. She says it is a win-win state of affairs.
“I think doing this work helps me listen more deeply, in any interaction I have with people and, in particular, with music – to be more attentive to every nuance. As a musician, it is now easier for me to connect with musicians that I play with, in a far more direct manner.”
That textural approach has been gestating for a while. Fort may have moved right along since the record came out, three years ago, but the germ of where she is currently at comes through in her arranging and performing work on the album.
And she may consider herself primarily a pianist but her vocal work on the new album ain’t half bad. She even starts out with a brief a cappella curtain raiser before she, bassist Zack Lober and drummer Ronen Itzik add a sumptuous instrumental underscore.
It should be interesting to see in person how far Fort has run with her recorded first fruits over the past three years.For tickets and more information: Mitzpe Ramon – (050) 526-5628, Yellow Submarine – (02) 679-4040 and http://yellowsubmarine.org.il/, Beit Hayotzer - https://bama.acum.org.il