Making musical ends meet

Jazz oboist Yoram Lachish opted off the beaten path of classical music in a search for unbridled expression.

Jazz oboist Yoram Lachish (photo credit: Allard Willemse)
Jazz oboist Yoram Lachish
(photo credit: Allard Willemse)
These days, straddling musical genres is hardly a revolutionary idea, but Yoram Lachish has taken the crossover business a step further. “There aren’t too many oboists in jazz,” points out the thirty-something resident of Kibbutz Ramat Hakovesh near Kfar Sava, “so I didn’t really have any role models.”
Lachish has done a good job of spanning the gulf between classical music and improvisational endeavor, and that was evident at his concert at the recent Jazzahead international jazz expo in Bremen, Germany, along with the three Dutch members of the Kepera Trio, which make up the Levantasy quartet.
The eponymous album is subtitled East-West Intercultural Adventures in Music, and that neatly sums up the intent of all four musicians.
Lachish’s jazz-educated Dutch cohorts have all delved deeply into the rhythms, techniques and energies from the Middle East, while the oboist has fed off the pan-Israeli multicultural mix all his life. The CD also includes numbers with giveaway titles, such as “Adon Haslichot (Master of Forgiveness)” and “Maimonides.”
But it was classical music that first engaged his mind, heart and artistic explorations.
“I originate from Kibbutz Givat Brener, which was founded by yekkers and Lithuanian Jews,” he notes. “The yekkers brought a very rich classical music tradition with them to the kibbutz.”
That was bolstered by some strong familial ties to the discipline, which led Lachish straight to his current breadwinning avenue.
“I come from a very classical music-oriented family,” he continues.
“My father and uncle are musicians, and my grandmother played, mostly string instruments. I played cello for a while as a child but I gravitated towards wind instruments. But, you never really know if you play an instrument because that what’s expected of you, and you are surrounded by music, or you choose it yourself. I’m not sure it matters. Today, music is part of my essence, of my personal DNA.”
While in terms of his artistic development, classical music was the be-all and end-all, there was some extraneous presence in the teenaged Lachish’s world.
“I listened to loads of classical records but I also liked rock – bands like Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Joe Jackson and Prince. I lived in both those worlds.”
Despite being surrounded, at Givat Brenner, by fans of classical music Lachish was something of an oddity in his peer group, although he soon found new friends, who shared his love of music.
“I was the only one who took playing classical music seriously, and I made rapid progress,” recalls the oboist. “I played in the Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (YIPO) and all sorts of frameworks to which you automatically develop a social connection too.”
Lachish soon slipped into a clearly defined professional track.
“You are not really aware of it, but when you play classical music, seriously, from a young age you naturally start to think in terms of having a career in it.”
Lachish says there is also a price to pay.
“Classical music is very demanding. You have to be very precise about how you play something. You have to follow the conductor’s instructions, and be aware of the composer’s intention.”
But, by the time he moved into his early twenties Lachish started getting itchy feet, and fingers. After giving his all to achieve a comfortable professional standing, he discovered that the Shangri-la left something to be desired.
“I was a full-time, reasonably well-paid musician,” he recalls, “but I realized I wasn’t happy there. I felt I needed to create something new, to improvise.”
Still, Lachish had to make up some mindset ground before he could fully devote himself to jazz.
“I didn’t play saxophone which, of course, is a standard jazz instrument. Where do you find oboe players in rock, pop, jazz or improvised music? That has almost never happened in jazz. There’s Yusef Lateef [now 91 years old], but he’s a saxophonist who also played oboe, not an oboist who plays jazz. There’s also Paul McCandless, from [jazzworld music, fusion band] Oregon, but that’s about it.”
It was at this point that Lachish received a brotherly helping hand.
His brother Nimrod studied bass guitar with veteran guitarist Kobi Shefi, and the latter was looking to put together a jazz-rock band, which eventually became known as Common Bond. Lachish grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
“The door opened for me into the world of jazz,” he declares. “In many ways I felt I had arrived at the right place. Being in Common Bond opened up a lot of things for me. I suddenly rediscovered my passion for music, which had been ebbing away in the orchestra.”
Lachish mostly found his own way through the jazz maze.
“I am almost entirely self-taught,” he says. “I took the odd lesson, read books and listened to records of jazz artists.”
The latter included pianist Keith Jarrett and saxophonist-flutist John Coltrane. Considering Lachish’s current cultural direction the latter is a natural choice.
“I listened to Coltrane a lot,” says Lachish. “He explored eastern music. There something about his music which is very rock-oriented.”
Over the years Lachish expanded his instrumental arsenal to take in the shofar and an Indian woodwind called the shehnai, which shares common ground with the oboe. Lachish was inspired to take up the shehnai when he heard Indian master Ustad Bismillah Khan playing.
Much of his tuition on shehnai was gained in India, where he studied with renowned Varanasi-based musician and teacher Ali Abbas Khan.
Since breaking free of his classical music shackles Lachish has maintained a determined exploratory course, in as many channels as possible.
“I got into experimental music, with the Tel Aviv Art Ensemble,” he says. “We played at [alternative Tel Aviv music venue] Hagadda Hasmalit [The Left Bank]. I learned a lot with them. The search is very challenging. When you play free improvisation you don’t have a safety net, like harmony and rhythm that you have in jazz, you just don’t have that. You are entirely dependent on your own skills and your ability to communicate with others.”
Lachish has been doing that well for some years now, with Levantasy – which has gigs in India and North Africa coming up – and with a fruitful synergy with the Adama Ensemble quartet, which features Itamar Erez on guitar and piano, Urai Oron on bass and Danny Benedikt on drums.
At the end of the day Lachish says all his musical endeavor follows the same line.
“You know the Gestalt theory about extremes meeting in a circle? For me free improvisation is the furthest extreme from classical music, but they can also be very similar. If players in an orchestra don’t listen to each other you don’t have that moment of pure harmony and bliss.That’s what I look for.”