Classical music and all that jazz

A guest at this week’s JMC festival, German-based Israeli jazz pianist Omer Klein explains how he took a leap into the ‘unknown’ for his latest album.

Israeli pianist Omer Klein 370 (photo credit: (Courtesy PR))
Israeli pianist Omer Klein 370
(photo credit: (Courtesy PR))
Classical music lovers beware: jazz is taking over one of the most venerable institutions of the classical side of the musical tracks in Jerusalem. Actually, the improvisational artistic occupation is only a three-day affair – October 7-9 – and forms part of this year’s Jazz and Beer at the JMC Festival, taking place at the Jerusalem Music Center (JMC) in Mishkenot Sha’ananim.
Over the three days there will be all sorts of lectures on a wide range of jazzy aspects, all with free admission.
Meanwhile, advanced pianist members of the music center’s student body will be able to learn a thing or two about jazz, at a workshop at which the students will learn about playing and arranging jazz works, as well as improvisation and the history of the genre.
The lectures will be given by pianist and conductor Yaron Gottfried, who is active in musical fields, jazz pianist and educator Roy Ben Sira, and German-based Israeli jazz pianist Omer Klein. Klein will present a talk about a solo concert given by feted jazz pianist Keith Jarrett in 1988, and later released as a recording called simply Paris Concert.
Each of the lectures will be followed by a concert, kicking off with pianist Avi Adrian and his trio, and followed by young French pianist Thomas Enhco supported by a couple of local lads – bass player Noam Weisenberg and drummer Amir Bressler, and a solo performance by pianist Nitai Hershkowitz. All lectures will start at 7 p.m., with the concerts starting at 8:30 p.m.
Klein has been peddling his artistic gifts and wares around the world for some years now, and we last met up a few months ago, at this year’s Jazzahead international jazz showcase in Bremen, Germany. He had just performed with his band at the uniquely appointed Schlachthof Cultural Center as part of the opening Israeli slot of the four-day program. The trio, with Klein’s longtime pal and collaborator Hagai Cohen- Milo on bass, and the irrepressible Ziv Ravitz on drums, set the Schlachthof alight with numbers from the group’s new album, To the Unknown.
Klein was delighted to finally get the new CD out there. “Yes, it brewed for a long time,” he said. But the lengthy gestation period incorporated a highly productive synergy, and laid the foundations for To the Unknown. “We got the trio together four years ago and we did an album for [New York radical Jewish music label] Tzadik called Rockets on the Balcony, and we began to perform in the States and Europe and in Israel,” Klein continues.
“Then the time came for me to write material for the next album and I suddenly found myself writing for a band I had already written for and worked with. That was the first time that had happened to me. I had a working band, for which I wrote music. That was great.”
That allowed Klein to tailor his scores to the tried and tested personnel. “When I wrote the music I could really hear, in my head, Hagai and Ziv playing the things I was composing. That has a profound effect on the music.” That was amply demonstrated in the performance in Bremen.
But even if Klein knew exactly who was going to be turning the notes on the sheet music into sonically corporeal entertaining entities, the muse, he says, always comes from some uncharted source. “I believe that a tune comes out of a moment of inspiration, and not as the result of some thought process. It comes from somewhere beyond your comprehension. That’s where the ‘unknown’ in the album title comes from.”
The new album, says Klein, demanded more attention than any of his previous work. “In the past I would more or less just go with what emerged. Inspiration produced a song, and I’d say it was either a good song or not a good song, and decide whether or not to take it. But, this time, I spent a lot more time with the material. I’d take a song and play it a hundred times, after that initial inspirational moment when the song came into being.
Each time I’d change something – stretch out some passage or change a note – and check out how it sounds.
“Sometimes, the hundredth time I’d play a song something would suddenly happen and I’d say ‘that’s it.’ I’d thank the gods of creativity that I didn’t stop playing the number after the 99th time.”
That part of the evolutionary continuum was done and dusted before Cohen-Milo and Ravitz came on board and, when the threesome got together for real the process took off in other developmental directions.
“We’d play a tune, say, in Paris and we’d do something with it. But then you perform in Berlin and you do something else, because you’ve already done the previous rendition. Then you play in Budapest and the whole thing just keeps on rolling.”
That mindset also helps to the players to maintain a fresh approach to the job in hand. “By the time we got to the recording studio we knew the music so well, and felt comfortable with it and ourselves. There we were, in the studio with the tape running, and we came out with all sorts of things which surprised us. Again, that the where the ‘unknown’ part of the album title comes from. It’s great fun to just set off without knowing where the music will take you.”
Klein has been rolling his career out for quite some time now. Although barely into his thirties, the pianist maintains a jam-packed globetrotting performing and recording schedule and finds time, during the year, to spearhead plenty of projects in Israel, too. A few months ago, for example, he arranged material for and fronted an excellent show at Jerusalem’s Avi Chai House based on material from the biblical Song of Songs, and he has written songs for leading artists across a range of genres and musical sectors, even including iconic pop singer Arik Einstein.
More than anything, for Klein, it is about making music together. “Hagai and I were at school together [Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts in Givatayim], and later at the New England Conservatory in Boston, and we have been making sounds together for 10 years now. I believe that, when we play together, you hear those sounds coming from two people who have shared the road for a long time.”
For tickets and more information about the Jazz and Beer at the JMC Festival: 02-6241041 and