Genuine jive at the jubilee

Jazz and ethnic music balance out the program as the Israel Festival turns 50.

Hiromi Uehara 311 (photo credit: courtesy)
Hiromi Uehara 311
(photo credit: courtesy)
As every year for the past half century, the entertainment fare at the Israel Festival includes a generous dose of music, including jazz and jazz-oriented music and ethnic music from all over the world.
The jazz lineup at this year’s jubilee festival, which runs from May 24 to June 18, culls artists from different generations and with varying cultural influences. Among the three jazz slots in the program, veteran American drummer Billy Cobham is undoubtedly the biggest name. The 66-year-old Panamaborn Cobham first came to prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s with iconic trumpeter Miles Davis when Davis was spearheading the evolution of the fusion genre of jazz, which incorporated elements of rock and funk. Cobham later played in the fusion ensemble Mahavishnu Orchestra, which he co-founded with another Davis alumnus, English guitarist John McLaughlin.
Throughout the 1970s Cobham enjoyed successful synergies with a wide range of jazz- and rockoriented outfits, including the Brecker Brothers, guitarist Carlos Santana and pianist-keyboardist George Duke. He also gained a reputation for his groundbreaking drumming technique, which included alternating lead hands – leading the beat with either hand – and was also one of the first drummers to play with three or more snare drums and/or bass drums and multiple hi-hat cymbals.
Cobham has appeared in Israel on several occasions, including at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat, and has more than 30 albums to his name as leader. He will front a sextet at this year’s Israel Festival.
There is more high-energy fusionoriented jazz endeavor on offer from 31-year-old Japanese-born pianist Hiromi Uehara, who goes by the professional moniker of Hiromi.
She started out on classical piano at the age of six but was introduced to jazz just two years later. A chance meeting with iconic American jazz pianist-keyboardist Chick Corea in Tokyo, when she was 17, led to her taking part in Corea’s concert the following day.
In 1999 Hiromi relocated to the States to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she studied with pianist Ahmad Jamal and signed up with the Telarc record label before graduating. To date, she has released five albums as leader, and has also recorded with Corea and stellar fusion guitarist Stanley Clarke.
Like Cobham, Hiromi has performed in Eilat to great acclaim. She will play solo at her May 31 concert in Jerusalem.
Israeli saxophonist Eli Degibri is the other jazz act at this year’s Israel Festival. Degibri had a meteoric start to his career when he was chosen to play in legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock’s band, enjoying a two-year berth and touring the world with Hancock. Since then, Degibri has developed a substantial career, putting out five albums as leader and maintaining a busy global performing schedule.
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Last month he teamed up with veteran pianist Kenny Barron at the first Red Sea Winter Jazz Festival in Eilat, at which he played a couple of numbers from his forthcoming new album, which he will launch at the Israel Festival. Degibri will perform in Jerusalem together with longtime sidemen, organist Gary Versace and drummer Obed Calvaire.
On the world-ethnic music side of the festival agenda, Ahinoam Nini will showcase her new album, together with constant musical sidekick guitarist Gil Dor, with heavyweight support from the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. Meanwhile, stellar Jerusalemite Ladino singer Yasmin Levy will team up with acclaimed Greek vocalist Yiannis Kotsiras on a program of Ladino and Greek material.
The Samurai concert offers one of the most eclectic musical repertoires of the entire festival program, featuring five of the world’s best known accordion players, from five different European countries. The lineup includes Irish button accordionist David Munnelly, Didier Laloy from Belgian, Italian player Ricardo Tesi, Bruno Le Tron from France and Finnish accordionist Markku Lepisto. Each will, naturally, bring something from his cultural background, with the quintet being joined by three Israeli accordionists for the show’s closing numbers in an accordion tour de force.
Closer to home, the New Andalusian Orchestra will perform a tribute to octogenarian Algerian-born Jewish pianist Maurice El Medioni, who has been credited with introducing the piano to Algerian music. During his long career to date, El Medioni has woven numerous cultural strands into his oeuvre, from Andalusian to Cuban music, and Algerian material to jazz. El Medioni’s 2007 synergy with Cuban-American percussionist Roberto Rodriguez won the pair the Culture Crossing BBC Award for that year. Rodriguez will be one of the guest performers in the Israel Festival concert.
Fado music from Portugal has featured in the Israel Festival in the past, and this year’s representative of the bluesy dark colors of the fado genre is Portuguese singer-guitarist Antonio Zambujo, who will be accompanied by a bass guitarist, a classical guitar player, a mandolin player and a clarinetist.

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