A world of Israeli Jazz

The four-day International Music Showcase Festival gets underway this week.

Yotam Silberstein (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yotam Silberstein
(photo credit: Courtesy)
This year’s International Music Showcase Festival features a host of top-drawer acts that promise to wow the esteemed visitors winging their way over here to get see what we have to offer. Like last year, the shows will take place at Jerusalem’s Yellow Submarine and at Levontin 7 in Tel Aviv, with a lineup that includes some of the best jazz and world music artists from this part of the world.
The four-day showcase starts off with a bang at the Yellow Submarine at 8:30 p.m. on November 21.
Internationally renowned New Yorkbased bass player Omer Avital and his Band of the East will open the proceedings, performing material from Avital’s latest CD, Suite of the East. The other top-flight jazz act on the first day features trumpeter Avishai Cohen.
There are three ethnically inclined slots on Wednesday, starting with Kurdish-influenced singer Ilana Elya and her Aram Ensemble, followed by seasoned kamanche player Mark Elyahu, with high-energy Gypsy music troupe Marsh Dondurma due to close out the day’s shows in typical riproaring style.
Other big draws on the jazz roster include trombonist Reut Regev, pianist Omer Klein, avant-garde saxophonist Albert Beger, fellow reedmen Shauli Einav, Yuval Cohen and Amit Freedman, and guitarist Yotam Silberstein.
The 30-year-old Silberstein, who relocated to New York seven years ago, has been making a name for himself there and elsewhere. He has released four albums to date, the latest of which, called Brasil, will naturally form the backbone of his Levontin 7 gig show on November 23. It is a polished effort, and the stellar lineup he put together for the project – including celebrated Cubanborn reedman Paquito D’Rivera and trumpeter Roy Hargrove – speaks volumes about the Israeli guitarist’s standing in the jazz capital of the world.
Silberstein says his love affair with music from Brazil began many years ago. “I think it all started when I was little, when I heard [iconic singersongwriter] Matti Caspi singing “Eretz Tropit Yafa” (Beautiful Tropical Country),” says the guitarist, referring to the Caspi hit that came out on a big-selling album of the same name in 1978.
When Silberstein was in his teens, he started to get serious about his musical orientation. “That’s when I got into [renowned Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos] Jobim.
When I got to New York I made a lot of Brazilian friends, and I really got into the music, really researched it,” he says.
It was clear that Silberstein knew how to go with the flow and just let things happen when they were supposed to. His new record was the result of that ethos, too.
“Brasil wasn’t supposed to be a CD at all,” he recalls. “It was just supposed to be a fun thing to do in the recording studio one day. I only planned on recording a few nice songs, but one thing led to another.”
Premeditated or not, Silberstein’s prior explorations into the music of the South American country stood him in good stead, and he soon reeled off material from the lesserknown side of the Brazilian musical tracks.
“There’s only one number on the album that I wrote,” he explains.
“The rest is stuff that is not played so often. There are songs written by Jobim and people like Chico Buarque and Jaco do Bandolim. It’s all things I really love. And it’s the first time they have been played in a jazz context.”
Brasil, of course, did not simply materialize. Silberstein has been honing his skills for quite some time, and with some of the giants of the genre. The list of his sideman berths thus far includes spots with legendary saxophonist-flutist James Moody; saxophone-bass-drum threesome Heath Brothers; and powerhouse vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater. In his first year in the US, the guitarist was also a finalist in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Competition.
In fact, Brazilian music has been a constant element of Silberstein’s artistic evolution. “My previous CDs, Resonance and Next Page, also have some Brazilian touches to them,” he says. “There is an unknown piece by Jobim called “Ligia” in Next Page.
That CD is all my original scores, but you can always hear something Brazilian in there.”
Silberstein says he is delighted to take part in this year’s showcase, to spend some time here and to try to raise his profile among his fellow Israeli professionals. “I miss Israel a lot, but I am getting on with my career in New York. This is where the action is.
But I’d like to play with Israeli jazz musicians more than I do now and to get my stuff out there more.”
The guitarist spends much of his bandstand time playing as a sideman to some of his senior colleagues. He says there are plenty of benefits to that, too. “You’ve got to pay the bills, but I enjoy it too. I played with [Jamaican-born pianist] Monty Alexander, and we were Grammynominated last year for his album Harlem – Kingston Express Live! I’ve played with Monty a lot over the last three years, and also with the Dizzy Gillespie All Stars. You know, I learn from everybody I play with. I got a lot from Moody, not just about music but also about life.”
Silberstein says he also has a role to play beyond the music. “When I play in different parts of the world, I feel like I am representing Israel. People in the audience know I am Israeli, and I want people to know that there are good things that come out of Israel, like good jazz.”
No doubt, Silberstein will make a good impression on the festival directors and other musical event chiefs, who will come here from Germany, Britain, Switzerland, the US, Taiwan and elsewhere, for the four-day feast of Israeli jazz and world music.For more information: www.levontin7.com and www.yellowsubmarine.org.il