Irrepressible Pinhas and Sons to strut stuff at Red Sea Jazz Fest

The band brought out a debut album a couple of years ago and the incipient sophomore offering will provide the kernel of the Eilat show, on November 12 (4:15 p.m.).

 PINHAS UVANAV (Pinhas and Sons) – unrestrained joy. (photo credit: Katia Bourindine)
PINHAS UVANAV (Pinhas and Sons) – unrestrained joy.
(photo credit: Katia Bourindine)

One of the most virulent criticisms of bebop, at the advent of modern jazz back in the 1940s, was that it was overly cerebral. Where oh where – the jazz policers of the day griped – was the fun factor, the joie de vivre of the definitively danceable Swing style that preceded that game-changing development in the jazz world spearheaded by the likes of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell?

Had they hung around for a mere 70 or so more years, those yesteryear reactionaries may have been delighted to note that the forthcoming edition of the Red Sea Jazz Festival (November 11-13) features a charming bunch called Pinhas Uvanav (Pinhas and Sons). The festival marketing folks dubbed the troupe “an irrepressible colorful cult.” Only time will tell whether the latter epithet is on the nail, but the rest certainly applies.

The ensemble, which generally comprises a full 10 instrumentalists and a vocalist, is led by keyboardist Ofer Pinhas, hence the band moniker. 

“Actually, it’s meant humorously,” says the bandleader. “I hope people get that,” he chortles.

What people cannot fail to get is the simple, unrestrained joy of Pinhas and the rest of the gang when they take the stage. They just go for broke every time, reeling off bouncy, funky numbers like there’s no tomorrow, and having a damn good time while they’re at it. 

Eilat. (credit: RONY BALAHSAN)Eilat. (credit: RONY BALAHSAN)

The festival blurb also describes the group as something close to the musical love child you would get if you crossbred Shem Tov Levy with Shlomo Gronich. The Gronich factor comes through loud and clear, for instance, in a jaunty song called “Ken Zeh Chasar Sikui” (“Yes, It’s Hopeless”), which is a clear reference to Gronich madcap staple “Yesh Lee Simpatya.” In fact the band got to perform the hit with Gronich, live, a couple of years ago. 

Pinhas started out on his musical road in the classical domain, like Gronich, and even attended the latter’s alma mater, the School of Music at Tel Aviv University. Then again, there is a jazzy flavor to his ivory-tickling backdrop, although he doesn’t entirely identify with that side of the genre tracks. 

“I feel strongly connected to the spirit of jazz, but I have never called myself a jazz musician,” he states. “I never studied Charlie Parker solos. I learned the skills of jazz playing but I never got deeply into it.”

As far as Pinhas is concerned it’s all just “music.” He does not draw clear demarcation lines between genres and styles. 

“It’s all the same thing. I started with classical music, and now I do something else. But it is really all one and the same.”

That, the cognoscenti would say, is the mark of a true artist. Industry executives like to pigeonhole this or that kind of music, so they can direct them towards certain consumer sectors and naturally generate more revenue for themselves. But any artist worth their salt, particularly in the musical community, just talks about “music” in generic terms of, say, rock or pop or jazz classical music. To create you need an open mind, and be as nonjudgmental as possible. Pinhas’s comment echoes something the late iconic jazz drummer, Max Roach, once told me, simply “music is music.” That may sound simplistic but that is the essence of sonic creativity.

That said, we, those who write about and consume the music, need to have some idea of what we may get when we consider buying a ticket for a show or shelling out on an album. So, for convenience sake, we will put the Pinhas Uvanav offerings in the area of funk-spiced pop.  

The nearest 34-year-old Pinhas comes to categorizing the beginnings of the band’s stylistic orientation is to say he always followed a songwriting mindset. 

“When I was in the army I tried to keep my musical work going, and I worked with a guitarist [Barak Srour] – who is still with the band – and a flutist. I wrote songs, I guess you could say they were very much in the Yoni Rechter vogue,” he notes, referencing acclaimed 69-year-old singer/songwriter who came to notice with seminal pop-rock outfit Kaveret in the early 70s. As role models go, Rechter, who is revered across the board, including by many jazz artists, is not a bad choice. He also stars in the Red Sea Jazz Festival opener.

Pinhas evolved. 

“That influence is still there but you could say that, today, world music and the groove element are much more front and center. Then there was more, I suppose, world music, but it was always based on a song format.” 

That is still a mainstay of the band’s output, particularly with powerhouse vocalist Noa Karadavid in the mix. She makes her presence felt in an impressively unassuming manner. She clearly has the range, intensity and decibel capacity to blow the audience right away, but she comes across as being there for the group, and not in order to strut her own stuff. 

Pinhas’s classical leanings come through in the inclusion of a violinist, a viola player and, occasionally, a cellist, with flutist Barak Sober adding plenty of sonorous airs. The aforementioned live synergy with Gronich starts out with a keyboard riff that puts one in mind of Bach. Those roots also informed the evolution of Pinhas and Sons. 

“People gradually joined the band, and my thinking has always been oriented toward orchestration. It is about things reacting to other things. There is a counterpoint, and it is calculated.”

Still, getting serious and really pushing his musical boat out there was a way off for Pinhas. The twenty-something musician had yet to make a commitment to his developing craft. The requisite proverbial kick up the backside was provided by Gronich. 

“I had been doing a gig here or there and Gronich heard them,” Pinhas recalls. “He was on some radio program and he said that if there is anyone out there who knows me they should tell me to stop messing about and get on with music,” Pinhas laughs. And the rest is ongoing, joyful, cohesive, polished and laissez faire groovy history. 

The band brought out a debut album a couple of years ago and the incipient sophomore offering will provide the kernel of the Eilat show, on November 12 (4:15 p.m.).

Elsewhere in a variegated star-studded festival lineup there are the likes of iconic rocker Shalom Hanoch, stellar singer Ester Rada, international acclaimed pianist Anat Fort, gifted duo pianist Tom Oren and guitarist Nitzan Barr, with ever-popular septuagenarian singer-songwriter Hava Alberstein bringing the festival curtain down on November 13.

For tickets and more information: *9964 and