Flowing with the sound

Jazz musician Ehran Elisha is in Israel for a brief engagement, flanked by some high-profile local talent – including his father.

Ehran Elisha311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ehran Elisha311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Ehran Elisha makes no bones about his intent when he gets behind his drum set. “For me, it’s all about the sound,” declares the 43-year-old New Yorker who is in Israel for the summer and has a couple of gigs lined up at Tel Aviv’s Hagadah Hasmalit jazz club over the next week or so – this Thursday and next Wednesday (both at 9 p.m.).
For the shows, Elisha will be joined by some of the best avant-garde and improvising artists on the local scene, including (on Thursday) pianist Anat Fort, saxophonist Yoni Kretzmer, guitarist Ido Bukelman and bassist Assaf Hakimi, while veteran reedman Albert Beger joins the fray next Wednesday with Bukelman and Hakimi on duty again.
And his classically trained pianist-composer dad, Haim, will be joining Elisha on the bandstand on Thursday.
For an artist who cites his avenues of breadwinning as “drummer-percussionist, composer, improviser, teacher and music therapist,” it certainly helps to whittle down all that endeavor to a simple monosyllabic noun.
Elisha, whose parents are Israeli-born, has been pursuing his artistic credo for more than two decades, taking in plenty of life-enriching and character-forming work in the process. Besides recording and performing, he teaches at a Jewish high school, has helped psychiatric hospital patients express themselves percussively, and has marveled at the ability of small children to produce complex polyrhythms without much ado.
“A lot of time, education and parental upbringing can get in the way of our natural talent,” he says. “I remember once going to someone’s house and a kid of about three or four came in and began hitting a drum. Then his dad came in and said, ‘See? I told you he has no idea of rhythm.’ In fact, that kid was playing very complex stud, and I told the father, ‘Your son is doing stuff that people don’t achieve after 10 years of studying drumming.’ We’ve just got to let kids do what comes naturally.”
Elisha’s own father certainly let his son go with the flow. Now, despite taking very different paths to their artistic truths, father and son have started playing and even recording together.
“My dad has never performed in Israel before, so it’s going to be great to do a duo thing with him on Thursday,” says Elisha. “He’s a very accomplished musician, and he works a lot in opera, but I think we are finding a common musical language.”
But Elisha Sr. doesn’t always get what the drummer- bandleader is looking for. “Yeah, sometimes he’ll be playing something and it’ll be time to move on to something different. It helps that we speak Hebrew and the other people we play with in the States don’t, so I can tell him, ‘Dai kvar’ (that’s enough), so he knows it’s time to change direction.”
Over the years, Elisha has fed off a range of inspiration sources, including iconic drummer-percussionists Max Roach, Ed Blackwell and especially Milford Graves and the recently departed trumpeter Bill Dixon. He has led several creative music ensembles and performed extensively in the US, as well as Europe and Israel. Despite keeping his gigs here to a minimum, he visits Israel almost every year and last performed in Tel Aviv at the Inbal Center in 2001. He has put out several albums and collaborated with leading lights of the jazz and improvisational scene, such as trumpeter Roy Campbell and bassist Drew Gress.
While maintaining a constant search for new artistic vistas, the “sound” theme is omnipresent as is the kinetic nature of his onstage work.
“Most of my stuff has been done in a quintet or sextet setting because that gives you an orchestral sound,” he notes. “A lot of my music has to do with texture and chronology, about what happens to the music as it progresses. In my extended pieces, I say everything is composed except for the notes. I can give very specific impressionistic guidelines and instructions for the musicians to follow, and they also improvise the whole time, so it’s a sort of expect-the-unexpected scenario, although it’s not free jazz. It comes from that esthetic but, in compositional terms, it’s very structured.”