The annual Red Sea Jazz Festival is awash with locally grown talent.
By BARRY DAVIS
The annual Red Sea Jazz Festival - the biggest genre bash of the calendar, now in its 21st year - kicks off this evening and the four day agenda is awash with locally grown talent.
In addition to numerous foreign stars inundating the festival, the Eilat program also features over a hundred Israeli players. While some are still feeling their way through the local circuit, Hagiga, who play tonight at 9:30 p.m. and tomorrow, are an established force here with evolving connections abroad.
Hagiga has been performing regularly around the country for some time now, including a jam-packed slot at last year's Jerusalem Jazz Festival. The sextet already has an eponymous debut album under its belt and a second release - Optimistic View - is due out on the Spanish label Fresh Sound in the coming month. Bandleader-reedman Alon Farber admits to "great excitement" over this week's Eilat gigs and the band's future.
"Yes, things are going well for us. We've expanded the band to six members, and added some other ethnic coloring," he says in reference to Amos Hoffman, who plays both guitar and oud. "We are all from here, so it is only natural to include local influences."
That may sound straightforward, but like most things connected to this particular art form, it is a bit more involved. The band's range of inspirational sources comes from a wide spectrum of musical and cultural origins. Along with the mainstream and Middle Eastern stuff, you will find Latin, funk and other modern inflections in the mix.
"I'd say we have an eclectic approach to the music," Farber states simply, adding that the final product is a synthesis of what comes naturally. "I use ethnic materials and let it percolate through the jazz. I don't try to emulate something I've heard. You can add inflections, which can make the piece sound ethnic."
Farber's singularly creative intent is also reflected in the fact that all the band's recorded material is original. "I don't see the point in doing something that's been done before," he explains. "We do play the odd standard from to time, but we put our own angle on it."
Producing the band's music from scratch allows Farber and his sidemen abundant room for maneuver but it also means working without a safety net. "I'm always wary of what the other bandmembers will say when I present them with a new work I've written," the saxman says. "They might not like it or understand it. But I am learning to let go. I'm not a dictator. All the musicians can bring their own take and interpretation of my work. They are so creative themselves, so I allow lots of freedom for improvisation."
For someone who cites the 1962 Miles Davis quintet with Wayne Shorter on saxophone, trumpeter Dave Douglas and early 20th-century Hungarian composer Bela Bartok as inspirations, Farber's artistic eclecticism is unsurprising. "Bartok has his own sounds and chromatic-line writing - which offers independence of sound. I write different lines for each sound, with lots of arranging of the parts. His string quartets are wonderful. And, he was an ethno-musicologist and researched folk music. That appeals to me."
Farber also feels the jazz community here has a lot to offer the world. "The global jazz community knows about, and respects, Israeli jazz today. There are the two Avishai Cohens (double bass and trumpet), Anat Cohen (who recently won an award in the clarinet category of US jazz journal DownBeat's 2007 Critic's Pool), and (bass player) Omer Avital. They are all well known, but there are lots more out there in New York, and here, who play quality jazz. I'm sure we'll be hearing good things in Eilat this year."
For more information about the Red Sea Jazz Festival, go to: www.redseajazzeilat.com
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