Festival Review: Red Sea Winter Jazz Festival

A review of the Red Sea Winter Jazz Festival in Eilat from February 19-21.

Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava playing at the 2015 Red Sea Winter Jazz Festival in Eilat (photo credit: BARRY DAVIS)
Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava playing at the 2015 Red Sea Winter Jazz Festival in Eilat
(photo credit: BARRY DAVIS)
As expected, the undoubted star of the winter version of this year’s Red Sea bash in Eilat was Enrico Rava. The 75-year-old Italian trumpeter delighted the packed audience at the Wow auditorium, at the Royal Garden Hotel, with a tour de force of frontier-pushing improvisation that fed off strong melodies, solid rhythms and all manner of stylistic and sonic twists and turns. That Rava did the business was no surprise, but his three much younger compatriot sidemen – guitarist Francesco Diodati, bassist Gabriele Evangelista and drummer Enrico Morello – were a revelation.
Not only was each of them, clearly, highly skilled and open to suggestion, they displayed an almost telepathic synergy with Rava. Diodati, in particular, was particularly sympatico with the elder statesman.
Rava’s gig followed the festival opener, which featured Indonesian- born pianist Joey Alexander, who is a full 64 years younger than the Italian. The 11-year-old is a phenomenon, and the fact that he invested his solo rendition of Thelonious Monk’s Monk’s “Dream” with his own individual reading is quite remarkable for someone so young. Alexander has an impressively strong left hand, and it should be interesting to see how he develops in years to come.
On the Israeli jazz side of the program, the Shalosh trio received rapturous applause from their Hilton Eilat Queen of Sheba Hotel audience, as they played definitively lyrical and generally high energy numbers from their debut album, The Bell Garden.
On the second day, French violinist Mathias Levy evoked the spirit of late compatriot iconic gypsy jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, together with guitarists Samuel Strouk and Sébastien Giniaux, with the latter also adding some flamenco and bluesy seasoning en route.
In truth, there were more “extracurricular” shows than jazz slots over the three days and, category incongruence notwithstanding, some were great fun. Chief among the non-jazz standouts was accordionist-guitarist- pianist-vocalist Rachelle Garniez. The New Yorker proved to be a fine troubadour and an entertainer par excellence as she proffered her observations about life in general and all sorts of wacky topics. She also has a highly versatile stage demeanor and vocal delivery, with the latter stretching from raspy nether-region utterances – a la Tom Waits – right up to mellifluous innocent-sounding upper register passages.
Elsewhere on the non-jazzy side, the Clarinet Factory quartet from the Czech Republic offered a program of tightly woven numbers, while Luna Abu Nassar is clearly a talented singer- songwriter.