Here and now at Hansen House

Jerusalemites are now able to get an earful, eyeful and heartful of the real thing, as it unfolds right there before them, at Hansen House.

INTERNATIONALLY RENOWNED jazz trumpeter Avishai Cohen kickstarted the Unplugged in the Patio series earlier this week. (photo credit: ROBERT CIFARELLI)
INTERNATIONALLY RENOWNED jazz trumpeter Avishai Cohen kickstarted the Unplugged in the Patio series earlier this week.
(photo credit: ROBERT CIFARELLI)
It’s been a while. For far too long, cultural consumers have had to make do with entertainment and spiritual enrichment from afar, via various digital platforms.
While, as they say over in Yorkshire, owt is better than nowt – something is better than nothing – watching and listening to even the most polished seasoned musical ensemble going through its paces via the Internet, with each player performing in their own separate socially distanced space, doesn’t really cut the vibe mustard.
All of which makes the gradual return to live performances here a delight to be savored.
Jerusalemites are now able to get an earful, eyeful and heartful of the real thing, as it unfolds right there before them, at Hansen House. This Wednesday the venerable location raised the curtain on the Unplugged in the Patio series which takes in nine shows through to August 19. The event is an initiative of Hansen House and supported by the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage Affairs, the Jerusalem Development Authority and The Jerusalem Foundation.
Finally, we can share the same space, and fan frisson, with other similarly oriented – musically and emotionally – gig-starved people. As any entertainer worth their salt will tell you, there is a reciprocal relationship between onstage artist and audience which has been sorely missed all these long lockdown months.
The Unplugged in the Patio proceedings, curated by Hansen House artistic director Karin Shabtai, along with the rest of the Hansen House staff, kicked off with internationally renowned jazz trumpeter Avishai Cohen joining forces with popular cellist-vocalist Maya Belsitzman guesting. If Shabtai was looking for mass draw firepower for the opener, she certainly found it with that stellar pairing.
Mind you, in the context of the current series, the epithet “mass” should be taken advisedly. “Because of the [Health Ministry] restrictions, we have to limit audiences to 120,” Shabtai notes. “But people snapped up the tickets. People are hungry for real-time, real space entertainment.
And it is not just aural delights that are on offer in the Patio. Each evening’s package incorporates some gastronomic pleasure, too, with local chefs and eateries providing a range of palate-titillating dishes. Machaneh Yehuda-based restaurant Argento Empanadas at The Market, Eyal Asulin and Ofaimme Farm Café, which bases its wares on sustainable agricultural practices, are on the catering service provider list, and with the doors opening to the public at 7 p.m., a full two hours before the shows are due to start, patrons should have plenty of time to ensure they are duly fortified before rediscovering the joys of attending a live performance.
GUITARIST, ELECTRONICS player and vocalist Noam Helfer will front the Age Is a Box concert on July 30. (Katerina Savina)GUITARIST, ELECTRONICS player and vocalist Noam Helfer will front the Age Is a Box concert on July 30. (Katerina Savina)
The musical roster stretches across broad swaths of styles and genres, with the likes of ethnic-based electronica wife-and-husband duo Neta Elkayam and Amit Hai-Cohen, stellar Middle Eastern groove vocalist Shai Tsabari, envelope-pushing vocal artist Victoria Hanna and indie outfit Age is a Box, with Ori Alboher – aka Ori – guesting.
Shabtai says she has been champing at the bit for quite some time.
“We were just about to start what we call our events season,” Shabtai notes. “There was Primavera [design fair] which was postponed, and there was the Play! Festival, of games and technology for children, and there is Design Week which has been postponed to an as yet unknown time.”
It is high time to get a taste of the real McCoy.
“The lineup that will happen over the next two months is the result of the realization I had, sitting here at work, that we need to socialize,” Shabtai reveals. “We’ve had enough of Facebook live events, Zoom sessions and all that.”
NOAM HELFER, who fronts the Age is a Box show on July 30, is looking forward to playing at Hansen House, and also reuniting will longtime pal and artistic collaborator Alboher. The two crossed musical and personal paths quite some time ago.
“We met at Musrara Mix 15 years ago,” 35-year-old Helfer recalls, referencing the annual cross-genre arts event that takes place at Musrara – the Naggar School of Art and Society. “I had a Jerusalem-based band called Kitzu. It was a sort of electronic rock group. Our singer studied at the school and they invited us to play there.”
Alboher was in the audience and was mightily impressed. “I met Ori and he told me he had some music on Myspace [social networking site] and suggested I listen to it. He sent me a link and I was blown away by his voice. It was one of the best things I had ever heard. I said we just have to play together.”
ETHIOPIAN-ISRAELI singer-songwriter Aveva Dese fuses traditional Ethiopian music with soul and pop. (Ilya Melnikov)ETHIOPIAN-ISRAELI singer-songwriter Aveva Dese fuses traditional Ethiopian music with soul and pop. (Ilya Melnikov)
And so it came to pass. “We became really good friends, and we recorded an album together at my home. Ori is a crazy vocalist, and the album was mostly based on that and the songs he wrote.”
The said record is 2012 release, by Helfer’s and Alboher’s Folo quartet, The Secret Message, which came out through London-based label Needwant.
After a while, Helfer and Alboher went their separate creative ways, while maintaining their friendship, and Helfer, who until then had channeled his artistic expression through his guitar playing and use of electronic sound manipulation, discovered a new avenue of conveying his own musical ideas.
“Age is a Box is a project which is based on my songs. I am the vocalist,” Helfer explains. The foursome also includes Eylon Tushiner on saxophone and synthesizers, Nir Leist on bass and synthesizers, and Nir Mardan on drums. The quartet put an album out last year, One by One, also on Needwant. “Age is a Box is fundamentally very different from what I did with Ori,” Helfer adds.
Even so, there is no bad blood between the former musical sparring partners, and the pals are more than happy to join forces anew at Hansen House next month.
“We have been friends all this time, but this will be the first time we have collaborated for 10 years,” Helfer notes joyfully, adding that serendipity had a gentle hand in bringing them back together. “The people at Hansen House said they wanted to host an artist called Ori, and would I like to do something with him. I was amazed. Ori?! Yes! I guess it just had to happen now.”
POPULAR CELLIST-VOCALIST Maya Belzitsman joined forces with jazz trumpeter Avishai Cohen on Wednesday. (Ofir Abrahamov)POPULAR CELLIST-VOCALIST Maya Belzitsman joined forces with jazz trumpeter Avishai Cohen on Wednesday. (Ofir Abrahamov)
The July 30 date will be a true musical coming together, with guest artist and band frontman allowing each other ample space and time to strut their own stuff, as well as sharing some musical middle ground. “The show will include songs that Ori wrote, my songs and some of our shared material [from Folo].”
Helfer said he was always naturally drawn to performing songs with English lyrics. “I have sung a few songs in Hebrew, but Ori hasn’t really. I think we were always more interested in English-language numbers. That always moved us more. It took me quite a few years before I came across Israeli songs that excited me. For a lot of people, Hebrew songs are a door that opens up onto a lot of things, but for me it was always shut.”
Helfer says he was predestined to take up music as a profession. “I told my parents when I was in first grade that I just had to play the guitar.”
I wondered whether it was one of the established rock guitar gods that turned the tiny tot on to the instrument. Perhaps he had caught sight of the likes of Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton doing their peerless thing. In fact, Helfer’s initial source of inspiration was of a far more parochial nature.
“I heard [Acre-born eighties pop singer] Adam performing ‘Ein Motza’ [No Way Out],” he chuckles.
It took Helfer a few more years to convince his parents that he was serious about getting into music. “I started at the age of 12, in a choir, playing the mandolin, keyboards, all sorts of things.”
He eventually got his teenaged hands on a guitar and turned on to a bunch of acts that had guitarists front and center, such as Hendrix, American rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers, British rockers Radiohead and singer songwriter Jeff Buckley.
He dutifully acceded to his parents’ request that he complete his high school matriculation, and got his first taste of a real gig at the age of 15, when he played in front of an audience of hundreds at Kibbutz Tzora.
“I thought, OK, I played in front of a big crowd and got paid for it. That means I’m a professional musician,” he laughs.
VOCALIST ORI ALBOHER reunites with Age Is A Box. (Eyal Richter)VOCALIST ORI ALBOHER reunites with Age Is A Box. (Eyal Richter)
Naturally, Helfer has chalked up some mileage, both on the stage and behind the scenes putting material together, over the years. While he feels experience is important to producing a worthwhile artistic end product, he believes that mindset is where it is at. “When I was in my late twenties, I was very self-critical, and I looked very closely at what I had and had not achieved. Today, I believe that it is a matter of the way you look at things. If you tell someone that age matters, they will connect with it. If you tell them it’s not important, they’ll go along with that, too. It is correct and also incorrect. For me, that is the perfect place to be in, as an artist.”
Alboher and Helfer will be in their perfect place when they take the Hansen House patio stage on July 30, and the audience will, no doubt, respond in kind.
For tickets and more information: *6119 or www.goshow.co.il/pages/minisite/136