We may not be flush with oil, like quite a few of our regional neighbors, but we do have something pretty special to offer the rest of the world.
As multicultural societies go, especially when it comes to countries as small as ours, we are up there with the tops. That can be the cause of plenty of sociopolitical tension, but when it comes to gastronomic delights and enticing artistic outpourings across all sorts of disciplines, it can also provide sumptuous rewards.
The latter is the base ingredient behind the mostly free International Music Showcase Festival (IMSF), the bar mitzvah edition of which will take place in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv November 22-27.
The event, initiated by veteran jazz festival honcho Barak Weiss and hosted by the Yellow Submarine, now takes in a spread of venues in both cities, including the Tower of David, New Art Campus and the founder music hub in the capital, and Teder, Shablul and HaOzen in Tel Aviv.
The festival format has been tweaked in recent years, transitioning from a two-installment arc of jazz, world music, and indie and electronic music, to a hybrid program incorporating all of the above genres.
Weiss has moved on to other pastures but the showcase beat goes on, with the support of the Cultural Diplomacy Division of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Culture and Sport Ministry, and the Municipality of Jerusalem.
Dozens of festival artistic directors, club owners, producers, record label executives, journalists and other music industry folk will flock over here this week to catch some of the best sounds we have on offer.
And we have an abundance of riches to unveil to the guys and gals due in from the States, various spots around Europe, Turkey and the Far East with the likes of Hakochav HaBah (The Next Star) reality show winner Tamir Grinberg, seasoned pop vocalist Karolina, singer-songwriter Marina Maximilian, ethnic music domain leaders Ravid Kahalani and Mark Elyahu, and acclaimed indie duo Lola Marsh. That is a powerful lineup by any standard.
Considering their impressive track record on the local scene – and, in some cases, success abroad – one wonders why they feel the need to participate in the IMSF rollout.
Is that because of the demands of an ever-increasingly competitive global market? Or is it simply an efficient means of strutting their stuff to professionals from overseas, and an invaluable opportunity to meet the movers and shakers in person?
EITHER WAY, Junichi Harada, founder of the Japanese offshoot of the feted Geneva, Switzerland-based Montreux Jazz Festival, says he is looking forward to coming for the Showcase. This may be his first trip to these parts but he does know a thing or two about some of our gifted artists.
Interview with Junichi Harada
“There are many talented musicians [from Israel],” he notes. “I have been to live shows like [jazz trumpeter] Avishai Cohen, [guitarist] Gilad Hekselman, and [Tel Aviv-born, now Berlin-based singer-songwriter and producer] J. Lamotta Suzume, in Japan.” Some of our behind-the-scenes professionals also get a nod of approval from the Land of the Rising Sun. “I also like music labels like Raw Tapes. They are releasing cool jazzy beats music.”
“There are many talented musicians [from Israel], I have been to live shows like [jazz trumpeter] Avishai Cohen, [guitarist] Gilad Hekselman, and [Tel Aviv-born, now Berlin-based singer-songwriter and producer] J. Lamotta Suzume, in Japan.”Junichi Harada
Harada singles out the guitarist, a fixture on the international jazz scene for some time now, for particular praise. “Gilad Hekselman is awesome. The [2015 trio release] album Homes is one of the best.” He feels that local artists do their homework, and bring a toolbox depth to the fray. “Israeli jazz musicians seem to learn classical music and traditional jazz very well, and add something original to it. That’s incredible.”
Demographics and ostensible cultural chasms notwithstanding, Harada believes there is some common ground between Israeli and Japanese jazz. It feels like [there is] a kind of melancholy, sensitive sense of beauty” in both.I have long been fascinated by Japan’s ability to embrace such a diverse, if not disparate, spectrum of “extraneous” cultural fare over the years.
Late nineteenth-century Impressionism from France, for example, was duly taken on board with, in fact, Japanese aesthetics giving as good as they got and finding their way into the work of such genre pacesetters as Van Gogh, Degas and Monet. Jazz also found its way into the ears and hearts of Japanese culture consumers, with the likes of Louis Armstrong drawing large crowds as early as the 1930s.
I asked Harada how he explained the bridge-spanning phenomenon. “Yes, indeed, traditional Japanese culture is totally opposite to the Western’s. That’s exactly why we are fascinated by the culture of the US and Europe. Can you believe that, in the early 1950s, Japan already had its original jazz scene?
“We are pretty good at imitating something we like and also adding something original to it. Perhaps, we are greedy for beautiful things; always searching for something cool.” Sounds not too dissimilar from the way the Israeli jazz scene developed, particularly in the last 20 years.
HARADA FOLLOWED his own meandering musical path before he developed an interest in the field. “I had been playing guitar – first [I] played rock music,” he explains. “Then I wanted to play something more sophisticated – so I found jazz. I think I was lucky because my first jazz record was Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. I was fascinated by the music then; naturally, I was into jazz music.”
No surprises there. The landmark 1959 Davis release is the best-selling jazz album of all time, with over 4 million copies sold to date.
Unsurprisingly, Davis features in Harada’s jazz favorites list, along with saxophonist John Coltrane, and pianists Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock – all of whom did time in various Davis lineups – and megastar guitarist Pat Metheny.
Further afield, there is the work of JS Bach, Debussy and The Beatles, as well as Brazilian composer, pianist and guitarist Antonio Carlos Jobim and 70-year-old Japanese composer, pianist and vocalist Ryuichi Sakamoto, all of whom inform Harada’s musical consciousness.
That eclectic take influences the way Montreux in Japan does business. “Since 2015, we have invited so many great artists from any genre, not only jazz. Also, there is a great mix of worldwide and Japanese artists, such as [Brazilian singer-songwriter and guitarist Caetano Veloso, [French record label owner and DJ] Gilles Peterson, [French R&B-pop artist Christophe] Chassol, [America techno music pioneer] Derrick May, [Luxembourg experimental pianist and composer] Francesco Tristano, [German deep house and classical music producer and DJ] Henrik Schwarz, [iconic jazz saxophonist] Pharoah Sanders, [Japanese Oscar Award-nominated producer] Jun Miyake, [Brazilian singer-songwriter] Marisa Monte, and many more!”
All of whom, Harada feels, add up to a singular spread. “I believe we succeeded in providing [a] one and only music experience to the audience.”
With such a varied offering, I wondered what he says to the jazz police who criticize jazz festivals for incorporating artists from beyond the genre’s defined confines.
“For me, jazz is not a genre: Jazz is a feeling and a mood. I always say that the Montreux Jazz Festival in Japan is the festival of sophisticated music for mature people.” Fair enough.
That spirit will abound in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv later this week.
For more information: https://yellowsubmarine.org.il/