Describing the 1980s jazz in Israel as desolate might be going a little too far but, truth be told, it was largely an unproductive decade in Israel in terms of jazz endeavor. In the 1970s, many of the leading lights of the local community had decamped to the US to study and/or work, and it took them quite a few years to return here.
That said, pianist Danny Gottfried, one of the pioneers of the Israeli jazz scene, had got the Red Sea Jazz Festival up and running in 1987, and by the following year it was a bona fide international event that attracted big names from across the globe.
A year later, interest in local jazz endeavor took an incremental step with the appearance of the band Minuette at the Port of Eilat, alongside other Israeli outfits such as Meshichat Yeter (Overdraft). Minuette had just released its debut recording, First Dance, on cassette and, to the great surprise of the four band members, they became something of a phenomenon. The album sold in the thousands, an unprecedented commercial success for a local jazz outfit, particularly for a first fruit, especially in the not so halcyon days of the 1980s. Anyone who witnessed and enjoyed that late 1980s Red Sea Jazz gig and followed the group’s fortunes across the following decade should be delighted to hear that guitarist Menachem Zibziner, bassist Itai Shomron, saxophonist-flutist Nitzan Ein Habarr and drummer Doron Raphaeli are getting together when the foursome hits the stage at the Tel Aviv Port on October 10 (doors open 9 p.m., show starts 9:30 p.m.).
“There were other jazz groups, like Esta, around back then, but they put out records that sold maybe 100 or 400 copies, but that was it,” Zibziner says, adding that, like many a good idea, the Minuette endeavor was not a premeditated attempt to achieve artistic and, hopefully, financial success. “We didn’t really mean to get a group going. Minuette was, first and foremost, a gathering.”
Then again, the four had known each other a while.
“I met Doron [Raphaeli] at [acclaimed jazz drummer] Kenwood Dennard’s loft in New York a few years earlier,” the guitarist recalls.
“Nitzan [Ein Habarr] was also in New York at the time. We decided to play together.”
The three new pals returned to Israel and began to play at venues in Haifa – Zibziner’s hometown – and eventually stumbled across Shomron.
“We enjoyed playing together, but we realized that we needed a bassist,” says Zibziner.
The chemistry was there from the word go.
“As soon as Doron and I started playing with Nitzan and Itai, we felt we really had something going. Love at first sight is not a cliché, I can tell you that. Since we started playing, we have been inseparable. We are really good friends,” he says.
The Minuette express train was truly up and running.
“We began doing gigs together for about six months,” Zibziner recalls.
Things went well for the quartet, lack of definitive musical agenda notwithstanding.
“We didn’t call it jazz,” he continues. “For us, jazz was a big word.”
Even so, the foursome began reeling off self-penned fusionoriented numbers, and the music consumers kept on coming in.
”Our first record is the biggestselling jazz album in Israel,” says the 53-year-old guitarist. “That’s a sort of bittersweet thing. We sold several thousand copies, not 100,000. Often, mainstream artists don’t sell that amount. If you want to call what we do jazz, and it sells, that’s fine by me. But I’m not sure [it’s jazz]. It’s communicative instrumental music which draws on all sorts of sources and inspiration. There is jazz in there, but not in the same way as you’d refer to the music played by all sorts of Israelis who went to study at Berklee [College of Music] and in New York and came back here.”
Zibziner was certainly of that ilk. “I’m an autodidact. I always have been,” he notes, both in terms of his musicianship and skills in other professional fields, which take in hi-tech and marketing.
“The only formal training I have is in electronics engineering,” he says.
He did, however, wrap his youthful ear around some quality sounds during his formative years.
“I listened to just about anything going in the 1970s and ‘80s – Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull,” he says.
That brief list features several prog rock outfits, so Zibziner’s natural leaning towards the fusionesque sound of Minuette is a natural development.
Even so, there was no mention of jazz in that initial list. But the name of Weather Report, one of the seminal fusion acts, cropped up several times during our chat.
“Weather Report was a mainstay of everything,” Zibziner counters, “but for me they are progressive, not fusion.”
The other Minuette band members shared his musical tastes, which also took in such jazz giants as pianist Keith Jarrett, guitarist John Scofield, saxophonist Joe Lovano and bass player Eberhard Weber. Ultimately, shared sonic preferences aside, Minuette is all about togetherness and the natural kinship Zibziner et al feel.
“Back in the 1980s at the Red Sea festival and later, we didn’t know really what we were doing. We didn’t appreciate its value at the time. Minuette is about heart. We are just four friends playing music together and enjoying each other’s company,” Zibziner says.
Nothing like making sweet music together.
Minuette will perform on October 10 at the Tel Aviv Port. For tickets: http://bit.ly/Minuette2017