Keeping the Trane moving

Saxophonist Emanuele Cisi jazzes it up in Tel Aviv.

Saxophonist Emanuele Cisi (photo credit: PR)
Saxophonist Emanuele Cisi
(photo credit: PR)
Over the last 20 years or so, Israel has become a global superpower. Clearly, we are not talking national economy volume here although, of course, we seem to be more than holding our own on the hi-tech front.
The said field in which we excel and export some of our best products is jazz. In New York, the global epicenter of the art form, the epithet “Israeli” is almost synonymous with doing the business in the improvised music domain.
And, while the jazz blue-andwhite flies high and proud in foreign climes, the local scene is largely also thriving, at least in terms of churning out gifted players and the number of gigs one can catch across the calendar.
Then again, not too long ago the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival was temporarily closed down, and jazz disappeared completely from our preeminent cultural event, the annual Israel Festival. However, the Jerusalem Jazz Festival burst into robust life at the end of 2015, more than compensating for the dearth in the Israel Festival lineup.
And there has been some welcome proactive street-level endeavor in the sector, principally with the creation of the Social Jazz Community. Last year, the 600 or so members of the group joined forces and got stellar Italian drummer Roberto Gatto, among others, over here.
Later this month there will be more in the way of topnotch Italian jazz entertainment when saxophonist Emanuele Cisi fronts a quartet with compatriot bassist Massimiliano Rolff, American pianist Danny Grissett and Italianbased Australian drummer Adam Pache. The show will take place at the Zappa Club in Tel Aviv on May 25. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., with the Zappa management allowing jazz fans plenty of time to ingest and imbibe a good dinner before the double header gets going.
The first set will feature Grissett, Rolff and Pache playing numbers written by iconic avant-garde reedman John Coltrane, as well as some of the pianist’s originals. The second half sees Cisi take front stage as the quartet performs material from Coltrane’s landmark 1964 album A Love Supreme.
Coltrane – aka Trane – was a definitive envelope pusher and constantly searched for new musical and spiritual vistas. Cisi seems to come from a similar mold and basically plied his own route along the highways and byways of jazz.
“I consider myself self-taught,” says the 53-year-old sax man. “I took some lessons at the very beginning, and for a couple of years I had some private lessons, but basically I learned to play music on my own. Harmony and improvisation and my musical approach – I did that by myself.”
Still, Cisi did get a bit of a formative pointer from a friend.
“I discovered jazz when I was very young, when I was 11,” he explains, adding that it was definitely a matter of jumping in at the deep end. “A friend took to me to a jazz concert. That was my first music concert in my life.”
That was soon followed by a close-up look at one of the founding fathers of modern jazz when Cisi went to a gig by drummer Max Roach. The youngster was truly sold.
“I said to myself that when I grew up, if I became a musician, this is the music I want to play.”
He has been as good as his youthful word.
By the time he was introduced to live jazz, Cisi had already begun pricking up his highly receptive ears and listened to a wide range of music on record and the radio, stretching his musical horizons far and wide.
“I started buying jazz records and listening to a lot of different kinds of jazz, mostly hard bop and bebop and that kind of jazz, but also freer forms – [avant-garde saxophonist] Ornette [Coleman] and that sort of thing,” he recounts.
All of the above helped to lay the fertile groundwork for a seamless introduction in the hands-on stuff.
“When I started playing the saxophone at 16, I already had taken in a lot of information about the music and injected it into my playing,” he says.
Mind you, Cisi was not exactly a jazz monk. His childhood years featured plenty of pop and rock energies too, with the likes of Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa and King Crimson in his boyhood musical mix.
Cisi’s career received a sizable boost in 1990 when he was invited to go to New York to take part in a recording by then highly popular prog rock Italian band Area. Although that wasn’t a pure jazz project, it helped to raise Cisi’s market profile. He maintained a busy European-based touring schedule over the years, putting out eight albums in the process.
His recorded and live output indicates a flexible and expansive approach to his craft which, he says, is significantly informed by the thematic axis of his upcoming Tel Aviv gig.
“You could say that Coltrane changed my vision of music. I started playing alto saxophone, and I was crazy for [modern jazz pioneer] Charlie Parker, and I was in love with the music of other saxophone players like Cannonball [Adderley] and Johnny Hodges. Then, one day, I listened to [Coltrane’s 1961 album] My Favorite Things,” he says.
Nothing was the same for Cisi after that.
“I was completely shocked by that music, by the energy and the intensity. I felt there was some kind of message that was coming through that music,” he reveals.
Coltrane passed away almost 50 years ago at the age of 40, but his peerless oeuvre lives on, thanks to Cisi and his ilk. The Italian will, no doubt, do Trane proud.
Emanuele Cisi et al will perform on May 25 at the Zappa Club in Tel Aviv. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. For tickets and more information: *9080 and http://