Israelis grab the limelight at Jazzahead

Judging by the artistic offerings, there's great demand for improvisational music across Europe.

Oran Etkin with his quartet 370 (photo credit:
Oran Etkin with his quartet 370
(photo credit:
Last week’s Jazzahead gathering in Bremen, Germany, was a fillip for the heart of an ardent Israeli jazz fan. The annual international jazz trade fair in the north German city has run since 2006 and, judging by the artistic offerings, and the masses of patrons and exhibitors, there is great demand for improvisational music across Europe.
The four-day event (April 19-22) was chock-full of gigs by acts from all over the world, although the accent was very much on European bands, with 30- to 45-minute musical slots taking place simultaneously in the afternoons at two auditoriums at the Messe Exhibition Center.
Meanwhile, representatives of jazz record labels and jazz festivals did brisk business with other industry professionals, and plain old jazz lovers.
If there is any criticism at all of this increasingly popular event, it is that it was all a bit overwhelming for the Israeli jazz aficionado, used to less populous musical gatherings in this country. I did my best to grab as many of the quality acts in the musical program as possible, which included star turns by a number of Israeli artists.
Drummer Ziv Ravitz kept the energy flowing fast and furious at the concert by German pianist Florian Weber’s Minsarah Electric trio, and he reappeared as a guest in Germany- based Israeli pianist Omer Klein’s solo show.
Other afternoon gigs of particular note included a highly entertaining show by the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra from Norway, and a performance by the quintet of British pianist Kit Downes, who recently played at the Levontin 7 club in Tel Aviv.
Meanwhile, the Lighthouse trio, of British-based Israeli drummer Asaf Sirkis, pianist Gwilym Simcock and saxophonist- clarinetist Tim Garland, performed material from their latest eponymous release for the German ACT record label, and the mostly Dutch-based Levantasy quartet, with Israeli oboist-shofar player Yoram Lachish, also drew an enthusiastic response from the audience.
From 8 p.m. the focus of entertainment moved to the nearby impressive Schlachthof venue, originally designed as a slaughterhouse in the 19th century. Here, too, there was frontline Israeli interest, with American-based reedman Oran Etkin leading a quartet of players from France, Mali and Guinea, mixing West African-based output with jazz, blues and klezmer.
Other Schlachthof standouts included Norwegian-born Denmark-based saxophonist Marius Neset’s Golden Explosion quartet, while the British Just East band wove a wide range of ethnic and classical textures into its show.
The most exciting development, of local interest, is that Israel will be the partner country of Jazzahead 2013, which means the first evening of the event will be devoted to the artists from this country.
“Israel is a melting pot of many different cultures of the world which has created one of the most interesting music scenes, not only in Europe and the Near East, but in the world,” said Jazzahead artistic director Ulrich Beckerhoff.
“This fact will, in 2013, be presented to the world by Jazzahead, the most important jazz event in Europe.”
It looks like Israeli jazz is doing well outside the borders of our own small, culture cash-strapped country.