When ‘The Shark’ bites

Jazz flutist Itai Kriss, who appears in Herzliya on Thursday, inflects his rhythms with a tangy Latin flavor.

Jazz flutist Itai Kriss 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jazz flutist Itai Kriss 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In one sense at least, Itai Kriss is out of step with the times. While these days young musicians the world over avail themselves of the logistical and financial advantages offered by contemporary recording technology and put out debut CDs in double quick time, jazz-Latin music flutist Kriss has waited until the relatively venerable age of 31 to release his first offering as leader, The Shark.
“I found it hard to play my own compositions,” says Kriss, who has lived in New York since 2002 and will perform at the Herzliya Jazz Series at the Hakochav Hashmini Club in Herzliya on Thursday (9 p.m.) with a quartet of pianist Omri Mor, bassist Gilad Abro and drummer Amir Bressler.
“A lot of people told me that I should get on with recording, but I didn’t feel confident. I thought maybe I needed to learn more before I put out something of my own,” he admits Eventually, however, the critical mass got the better of him. “One day I realized I had written lots of songs, and I knew lots of musicians I’d played with and from whom I’d learned.”
One of Kriss’s earlier mentors was saxophonist Arnie Lawrence, who moved to Jerusalem from the US in 1998 and inspired a wide swath of budding jazz and other musicians here. Kriss’s first venture to the States was as a member of Lawrence’s band of young Jewish and Arab musicians who performed at the IAJE (International Association for Jazz Education) conference in Long Beach, California, and in New York in 2002.
He has been there ever since. “I was lucky,” Kriss recalls. “I was very young when I got to New York, but I quickly got involved in all sorts of musical scenes there – Cuban, jazz, Puerto Rican, Brazilian music. Each gave me something.”
Kriss discovered a passion for Latininflected jazz and various strains of Latin music as a teenager in Tel Aviv. “I got into jazz in high school [Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts] when someone gave me a salsa cassette. And I played with a band of Israelis with a Cuban singer Alfredo Sottolongo.”
So when Kriss hit the Big Apple, he naturally gravitated toward the Latin side of the music scene there.
“I went to visit a friend who played in an Afro- Cuban band with [pianist] Ray Santiago. I didn’t really know anyone in New York back then. I sat in with the band and played on one song and went back the next week and did the same thing.” Santiago was duly impressed. “By the third week, Ray said he’d pay me; and then I got in involved in lots of Latin jazz bands, and things just took off for me.”
Pianist Harry Whitaker, who died a few months ago, was also a major source of inspiration for Kriss.
“Harry was an amazing pianist and a mentor for me.
He always kept the music fresh, interesting and groovy. There was always something unexpected in what he did, and I like to do that too if I can.”
There is certainly never a dull moment in The Shark. Kriss culled a high-class troupe for the occasion, including several from this side of the Atlantic. “It is an amazing band,” he says. “There’s [noted longtime New York resident Israeli bass player] Omer Avital, [pianist] Aaron Goldberg and Eric McPherson on drums, and there’s [New Yorkbased Israeli trumpeter] Avishai Cohen and John Ellis on tenor saxophone on a couple of numbers.”

Last week one of the star attractions at the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival was Chicago-based flutist Nicole Mitchell. But overall, flute is not considered a major jazz instrument. “It’s not part of the jazz tradition,” observes Kriss. “I think it is due to the color of the sound; it’s more airy. But there are quite a lot of very good jazz flutists out there.”
Despite The Shark’s being his debut release as leader, Kriss has maintained a highly visible profile in New York and elsewhere for some time now, and he will bring all that bandstand and streetwise experience to Herzliya on Thursday.
For more information about the concert and ticket reservations: Call (08) 955-3747 or 054-636- 1020, or go to www.star8.co.il