Touching all jazz bases

Music lovers can enjoy varied entertainment in this year's Tel Aviv Jazz Festival.

yotam zilberstein 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
yotam zilberstein 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
While the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival is something of a junior sibling to the far larger annual Red Sea four-dayer in Eilat, judging by the program of this year's Tel Aviv Cinematheque event (February 20-22) artistic director Nitzan Kramer seems to have his bases adequately covered. Over the three days music lovers will be able to avail themselves of mainstream jazz, less structured musical endeavors, ethnic-infused shows and more mass appeal rock-informed jazz entertainment. For the jazz cognoscenti possibly the most exciting item in this year's program is 54-year old Chicago based percussionist Kahil El'Zabar and the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble trio, with Corey Wilkes on trumpet and percussion and Ernest Dawkins on saxophones and percussion. Over the last 35 years El'Zabar has played with a wide range of artists, of all genres, including the likes of legendary jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and pianist-vocalist Nina Simone as well as pop icon Paul Simon and rock bands Sonia Dada and Poi Dog Pondering. However, El'Zabar is best known as a torchbearer for free jazz projects laced with liberal African and other ethnic seasoning, which have become a staple of the Chicago music scene over the last four plus decades since the Art Ensemble of Chicago walked the bandstands of the Mid West and beyond. And there are several other acts that explore non-mainstream territory in this year's - the 19th - annual Tel Aviv Jazz Festival lineup. Veteran bassist Mario Pavone and his trio - with reedman Michael Black and drummer Michael Sarin - will perform a program largely based on a tribute to late multi-reed player Thomas Chapin. Chapin, who died ten years ago at the age of only 40, was closely linked with then radical New York performance venue The Knitting Factory, and he and Pavone were central to the "Downtown" scene there of the 1990s. Meanwhile, New Orleans saxophonist Odean Pope will bring a more energized approach to a special first-time production which features no less than eight Israeli saxophonists, including Shauli Einav - currently studying his craft in New York - Hagai Amir and Dean Tzur. Pope has been fronting "saxophone choirs", with nine horns, for over 20 years and has shared recording and performing dates with such leading sax players as Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano and James Carter. More general consumer friendly entertainment will be on hand from saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman who will perform a program of numbers made famous by jazz, soul and R&B legend Ray Charles. Newman, who turns 75 two days after the festival, began his musical career with Charles in 1954 and played with the renowned pianist-vocalist for 12 years. Newman's sidemen at the Tel Aviv gig includes Paris-based US pianist Kirk Lightsey who has appeared in Israel on numerous occasions over the last decade. There is also plenty of quality entertainment on hand from the Israeli contingent at the festival. Veteran Jerusalemite pianist Avi Adrian will front a trio show that feeds off such seemingly disparate musical roots as groundbreaking jazz pianist Thelonious Monk and Jewish music in a program he calls "Monk and Nigunim". Elsewhere on the Israeli side of the festival tracks, look out for hugely talented guitarist Yotam Zilberstein and his quartet, and the high-energy Israeli-French ethnojazz David Balilty Sextet and Sangoma Everett show that mixes Jewish Moroccan music with Gnawa music that is indigenous to the Atlas Mountains of Northern Africa, jazz and funk. As usual there will also be free acts in the Cinematheque lobby and vocalist Ella Tadmor and the Jazz'n Roll band should have the festivalgoers grooving in between shows.