A tale of two orientations

This year’s Red Sea Jazz Festival strikes a balance between international jazz and world music.

Richard Bona (photo credit: Ingrid Hertfelder)
Richard Bona
(photo credit: Ingrid Hertfelder)
This year for the first time in its 26-year history, the Red Sea Jazz Festival program has been overseen by two artistic directors – Eli Degibri and Dubi Lenz.
Perhaps, then, it comes as no surprise to discover that the lineup of this year’s four-dayer, which kicks off on July 30, is very much a tale of two musical orientations.
While 34-year-old saxophonist Degibri is a well-respected veteran of the international jazz scene, with collaborations with such celebrated jazz performers as pianist Herbie Hancock and drummer Al Foster under his belt, 65-year-old Lenz is better known as a senior member of the global world music scene, the latter’s role as artistic director of the winter edition of the Red Sea Jazz Festival notwithstanding.
The 20 acts lined up for the Port of Eilat later this month include a dozen jazz bands and eight shows that either touch on the periphery of the genre or are way beyond the jazz pale.
Jazz fans who prefer their music on the more envelope-pushing side will be excited by the inclusion of American pianist Geri Allen on the Eilat roster. Allen, who played at the 2006 Jerusalem Jazz Festival, has been one of the brightest stars in the forward-looking sector of the jazz firmament for some years now, putting out several critically acclaimed albums and collaborating with the likes of bassists Charlie Haden and Ron Carter, and saxophonists Charles Lloyd – with whom she appeared in Eilat in 2004 – and Ornette Coleman. Allen was also behind the piano keys as part of an all-woman quartet that played in Eilat four years ago.
Bassist Christian McBride, is another Eilat returnee – he played here 12 years ago with guitarist Russell Malone and pianist Benny Green – as leader of a trio that includes Christian Sands on piano and Ulysses Owens on drums. The 40-year-old Grammy Award winner McBride has spread his artistic net far and wide over the last two-plus decades, recording and performing with leading jazz figures such as reedman Sonny Rollins and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, as well as top pop acts Sting, Carly Simon and Don Henley and seasoned rapper Queen Latifah.
Other jazz imports at the Eilat bash include trumpeter Sean Jones and saxophonist Kenny Garrett, while Craig Adams will infuse the proceedings with a high-energy gospel program.
The artistic directors have also provided a generous number of berths for homegrown talent, including Israeli artists who have been plying their trade abroad for some years. This year’s festival sees a long overdue Eilat debut by guitarist Gilad Hekselman, who has been making waves for some time from his base in New York.
Hekselman is coming here with a top-class quartet, featuring stellar saxophonist Mark Turner, longtime colleague drummer Marcus Gilmore and bassist Matt Brewer, who replaces Joe Martin, who is unable to make the Eilat date. The Hekselman gigs, on July 31 and August 1, will feature material from his well-received third release, Hearts Wide Open, as well as cuts from his previous CDs and numbers from his forthcoming fourth album.
Bassist Omar Avital’s performances are always popular here, and his Eilat concerts on the last two days of the festival will surely pack ’em in. Avital has been based in New York for much of the last 20 years and has become a mainstay of the Smalls jazz club scene in Greenwich Village, as well as touring around the world. For his Eilat gigs, Avital joins forces with longtime colleagues pianist Aaron Goldberg and drummer Ali Jackson as the Yes! trio.
Another intriguing Israeli slot at the festival is occupied by bassist Daniel Ori, who has in the US since 2006.
Ori’s group in Eilat includes stellar Germany-based Israeli pianist Omer Klein, New York-based drummer Aviv Cohen, guitarist Jonathan Albalak and saxophonist Matan Chapnizka.
Veteran saxophonist Yuval Cohen, best known as a member of the 3 Cohens act along with siblings saxophonist-clarinetist Anat and trumpeter Avishai, will be in Eilat with his septet.
This year’s festival will also showcase two of our younger stars – 16-year-old pianist Gadi Lehavi, who will join forces with pianist Eden Ladin, who is his senior by eight years, and pianist Tomer Bar who, at 18, has already released several CDs and features regularly at many major local musical events. Bar will be joined by fellow teenagers bassist Uri Kutner and drummer Ofri Nehemia.
At the other end of the age and experience spectrum, this year’s festival provides the long-awaited return of 80-year-old South Africanborn clarinetist Harold Rubin, who will reunite with the other members of the Zaviyot band, bassist Mark Smulian and drummer Reuben Hoch.
They will be joined by young Israeli guitarist Arli Liberman, who has been working from his New Zealand base for several years.
Meanwhile, music fans looking to soak up some of the vibes in Eilat but prefer to get their musical kicks from less improvisational sources can groove to a wide range of energies and artistic sentiments, from Israeli- Brazilian percussionist-vocalist Joca Perpignan to Iraqi-infused rocker Dudu Tassa, and from Cameroonborn guitarist-vocalist Richard Bona’s mellifluous West African riffs to fellow West African Cape Verdean singerguitarist- keyboardist Carmen Souza’s world music quartet.
Elsewhere on the non-jazz side of the program there is bluesy Ladinooriented singer-pianist Ruth Dolores Weiss, clarinetist-saxophonist Harel Shachal and his Middle Eastern- Mediterranean eight-piece outfit, pop singer Karen Malka and the Gallic confluence of vocalist-percussionist Andre Minvielle, accordion player Lionel Suarez and drummer-cellist Pierre-Francois Dufour who, according to the festival website, will offer a taste of “chanson and tango through rock, hip hop and rap and even some reggae vibes in a welcoming jazz experience.”
The festival organizers have also noted the contribution of some of the founding fathers of Israeli jazz by renaming the concert areas of the port in a salute to saxophonist-clarinetist Albert Piamenta, drummer Areleh Kaminsky and festival founder and pianist Danny Gottfried.
McBride, Adams, Hekselman, Goldberg, Allen and Rubin will also be on hand to present master classes over the four days, and there will be jam sessions through the night.
For tickets and more information: (08) 634-0253 and www.redseajazzeilat.com.

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