FESTIVAL REVIEW: Red Sea Jazz Festival Eilat

Red Sea Jazz Festival Eilat, February 11-13

YOUNG ISRAELI guitarist Nitzan Bar wows the crowd at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat. (photo credit: BARRY DAVIS)
YOUNG ISRAELI guitarist Nitzan Bar wows the crowd at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat.
(photo credit: BARRY DAVIS)
The sixth edition of the winter version of the Red Sea Jazz Festival is done and dusted and, it is fair to say, it was probably the best thus far. Perennial artistic director Dubi Lenz is primarily a world music aficionado and, as such, takes a broad view of music in general.
While that means he tends to “stray” beyond the recognized confines of jazz – and there is plenty of grey territory in around the genre’s perimeter – it also offers the Eilat audiences a wide range of sounds, colors and intent to enjoy.
The three-dayer lineup featured straightahead jazz, Cuban sounds, Middle Eastern material, voodoo music, pop-oriented slots and much more betwixt. Principal among the more orthodoxly- minded jazz bands was the US trio of Hammond organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart. Each of the players was clearly at the top of his game and they churned out a polished repertoire of jazz numbers, naturally underscored by the ever luxuriant textures of the Hammond.
There was something for just about everyone and, at the risk of sounding a mite parochial, the Israeli bands – long-term foreign residency notwithstanding – were the real stars over the weekend. The quartet led by 35-yearold Ukraine-born, Israeli-bred, US-based pianist Ruslan Sirota wowed the packed Royal Beach Hotel audience with a scintillating spread of jazz standards, workings of Israeli numbers and original scores. Sirota has been living in the States since 1999, when his Eilat gig guitarist Nitzan Bar was hardly knee high to a grasshopper. As the leader noted in a between-numbers quip, it was fortunate that the show took place on a Friday evening, otherwise Bar would have had to be tucked up in bed at a decent hour as he would have had to be at school in the morning.
Playing jazz is not just a matter of getting the notes played in the right order, or even making sure you are simpatico with your pals on the stage; you have to bring something to the table, something of your very own. Naturally, as the years pass one should have more to offer in that department. Where 17-year-old Bar gets such maturity, and the ability to spin such fascinating yarns on his guitar is anyone’s guess, and a wonder to behold. The fact that the quartet, which also included bassist Gilad Abro and drummer Amir Bresler, is really an ad hoc outfit – Sirota does not come over here very often – made their seamless performance even more impressive.
Also up there with the festival gems was the five-piece DogCat Ensemble led by longtime New Yorker accordionist Uri Sharlin, whose mostly Stateside-based Israeli lineup took in a broad swath of musical directions. The concert program ran the gamut of Brazilian material to Yemenite and rock motifs – guitarist Yonatan Albalak and drummer Dan Aran provided much of the latter, while flutist Itai Kriss kept the Latin flag flying high. Sharlin is clearly adept at writing charts, and his strong arrangements provided a solid substratum for the band to take delightful flight.
Meanwhile, the duo of Turkey-based Israeli percussionist-oud player Yinon Muallem and New York resident pianist Guy Mintus proffered sounds and sensibilities from closer to home.
Muallem is a master of Arabic and Turkish music, while Mintus unfurls blues-infused jazz and Middle Eastern lines with consummate and natural ease.
Also worthy of mention is the Voodoo Jazz trio of French-born saxophonist Jacques Schwarz- Bart, along with Haitian percussionist Claude Saturn and singer-dancer Moonlight Benjamin.
There was a strong spiritual element to the threesome’s show, delivered with a gentle smile but also with the requisite amount of emotional input.
On the downside, Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriquez appeared intent on cramming as many notes and calisthenics as possible into as few bars as possible – although his bass player Reinier Ruano played a captivating solo – while Austrian pianist David Helbock’s Random/Control appeared to be closer to a circus act than an artistic statement. The Slixs a cappella sextet from Germany was not one of Lenz’s better commissions either – much ado about nothing would be an apt epithet for their show – but, all in all, the festival promised much and delivered.