Red Sea Jazz Festival returns with a bang

The three day event– pared down from the traditional four-day program – is chock full of giants of the global jazz arena.

 (photo credit: DOUGLAS KIRKLAND)
(photo credit: DOUGLAS KIRKLAND)
It is no secret that attendance at the country’s premiere jazz event, the summer edition of the Red Sea Jazz Festival, which has taken place at the Port of Eilat since 1987, has been gradually waning in recent years.
Many aficionados of the improvisational genre have lapsed into nostalgia mode, dreamily recalling “the good old days,” primarily the 1990s when the likes of drummer Elvin Jones, pianist McCoy Tyner, the saxophone-trumpet sibling duo Brecker Brothers and pianist Michel Petrucciani graced our southernmost jazz festival.
Yes, they were grand times, and left us with memories to savor. But, judging by the lineup of this year’s edition, which will take place August 26-28, artistic director – and a seasoned reedman in his own right – Eli Degibri might very well leave this year’s patrons with some delicious high spots to be reminisced over in years to come.
The three-dayer – pared down from the traditional four-day program – is chock full of giants of the global jazz arena, the likes of whom some of us were beginning to wonder if we’d ever see in these parts again.
And there is only place to begin the roll call of big guns Degibri has managed to get on board for the 2018 festival, with Herbie Hancock. Hancock is arguably the doyen of the entire world jazz community. Now 78, Hancock has done it all. He played with just about every jazz pantheon member during the course of a career that began over five-and-a-half decades ago. That included berths with trumpeter Donald Byrd and saxist Coleman Hawkins, before cementing his reputation as a genuine up-and-comer as a member of Miles Davis’s second great quintet, which scorched a blistering creative trail from 1963-68.
The pianist also hit the big time in an income-generating sense early on when “Canteloupe Island,” from his 1964 record Empyrean Isles – recorded with two other members of the Davis quintet, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams, along with incendiary trumpeter Freddie Hubbard –  had the record-store cash registers ringin’. Degibri enjoyed a formative and career kick-starting, two-and-half-year sideman slot with Hancock when the Israeli was a fresh-faced 21-year-old. Hancock will close this year’s proceedings at the newly devised 3,000-plus capacity New Port Arena all-seater amphitheater, as the last show on August 28, and will surely draw jazz fans down South in droves.
Trumpeter Tom Harrell has made a couple of prior appearances on these shores and, with his compelling and intense lyricism, both were resounding successes. Over the past half-century Harrell has become known as one of the jazz fraternity’s most innovative trumpeters, composers and arrangers, cutting his teeth with such luminaries as Woody Herman, Horace Silver, Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton.
Harrell fronted a range of groups of his own for 30 years, taking in quintets and chamber ensembles. His August 26 gig in Eilat will feature a quartet, including keyboardist Danny Grissett on piano, longtime collaborator Ugonna Okegwo on acoustic bass and Adam Cruz on drums.
OTHER BIG draws on the offshore side of the program include French accordionist extraordinaire Richard Galliano, who is largely responsible for achieving acceptance of his seemingly improvisation-incompatible instrument by the jazz world at large. American guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel has also proven to be a popular performer down in Eilat over the years, while 49-year-old saxophonist Joshua Redman has made his mark on the global stage over the past quarter of a century as one of the most inventive reedmen, composers and band leaders around.
Gonzalo Rubalcaba is another Red Sea Jazz returnee. He will play the curtain-raiser at the capacious New Port Arena on August 26. Playing solo piano shows can be quite a challenge for any artist. But if anyone can keep an audience transfixed by his melodic progressions, thought-provoking departures, and white-hot keyboard work, it is the 55-year-old Grammy Award-winning Afro-Cuban jazz pianist and composer.
Veteran acid-jazz pioneer outfit Incognito is also one to look out for. Since its founding in 1979, the 18-piece British band has fused jazz, soul, funk and disco into a single captivating seamless offering that keeps fans the world over happily grooving.
There is plenty to catch on the local side of the program, too. Take, for instance, pianist Omri Mor, who has created a unique blend of jazz and Andalusian music, while the confluence between veteran singer songwriter Mati Caspi and New York-based Israeli saxophonist Eyal Vilner and his Big Band looks particularly promising.
Israeli rock fans with a penchant for left-field endeavor should revel in the no doubt emotive appearance of mid-70s prog-rock trio Ketzat Acheret; of stellar pianist-vocalist Shlomo Gronich; equally feted keyboardist-flutist-vocalist Shem Tov Levy; and guitarist-vocalist Shlomo Yidov.
Other Israeli eye-and-ear catchers include a hip hop-jazz clash with, inter alia, Shaanan Street and Carolina, the Mustang rock super-group Micha Shitrit, Patrick Sabag, Rea Mochiach and Adam Sheplan, a quick return over here for New York-based Israeli bassist Omer Avital and his Qantar quintet, and an international foursome led by Russian-born, Big Apple-resident, Israeli trumpeter Gregory Rivkin.
With workshops, master classes and the perennial jam sessions in the three-day mix, this year’s Red Sea Jazz Festival looks tailored to pack ‘em in.
For tickets, call *9066 or visit More information is available at