Music stars turn up for 3-day Jerusalem Rooftop Festival

The variegated three-dayer kicks off on the roof of the Jerusalem Music Center this Monday evening, overlooking the Old City walls.

PIANIST DANIEL SCHWARZWALD (left), bassist Ehud Ettun (center) and drummer Nathan Blankett kick off the Rooftop Festival tonight. (photo credit: BRIANNA PERETZ)
PIANIST DANIEL SCHWARZWALD (left), bassist Ehud Ettun (center) and drummer Nathan Blankett kick off the Rooftop Festival tonight.
(photo credit: BRIANNA PERETZ)
Peerless jazz trumpeter Miles Davis once famously advised: “Don’t play what is there, play what is not there....” That may have been a riff on a sagacious observation, proffered over a century and a half earlier by a certain Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, that “the music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.”
That sentiment of the sonic lull resonates strongly with Ehud Ettun, too. The jazz bassist-composer, who currently resides in tranquil Mitzpe Ramon down in the Negev, is one of the star turns in this week’s Jerusalem Rooftop Festival.
The variegated three-dayer kicks off on the roof of the Jerusalem Music Center this Monday evening, overlooking the Old City walls, with the Jerusalem Street Orchestra presenting some gems from the aforementioned Austrian composer, and the Tarab Jerusalem Ensemble will bring the curtain down on the outdoor program on Wednesday evening.
Ettun, with pianist Daniel Schwarzwald and drummer Nathan Blankett, will do their improvisational thing betwixt the Western classical offering and the Andalusian venture, basing their concert on material from the Deep in the Mountains album which was spawned by Ettun’s artist residency berth as part of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Ettun was not the only creative soul holed up in the undulating verdant environs of Pyeongchang county, and he says some of his cohorts from around the world helped to provide the spark for his writing during his lengthy sojourn there.
“We spent 40 days deep in the mountains,” Ettun laughs. “It was great.”
The bassist was able to meet, and share musical and cultural synergies with a whole host of artists from around the globe, whom he probably would not have encountered on his normal rounds.
“There was a morin khuur player there,” he notes, referencing the traditional Mongolian two-string horsehair fiddle which traces its origins back over seven centuries. “And there was an Argentinean guitarist, and there were loads of great Korean musicians.”
There was plenty in the way of cross-cultural, interdisciplinary artistic reciprocal fertilization going on at the hideaway in the northeast of the country.
“There were all sorts of artists there, including dancers,” Ettun explains. “I got a lot of inspiration from the people there, and just by being in that environment.”
A few months later, when the trio had a two-day hiatus in a European tour, they got themselves into a studio in Riga, Latvia, and managed to record Deep in the Mountains.
For Ettun the Korean sojourn was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“There is something inestimable about being able to disconnect from the world for 40 days,” he says. “I think that was probably the last time I’ll ever do that,” he adds.
The bassist now has more familial obligations, having become a father around nine months ago. “I had a lot of time to write music there. And there was this peace and quiet. Every day, I spent an hour walking through the mountains to get to the studio there. So I had two hours of walking, in all that beauty, every single day. You get into a totally different state of mind.”
Mother Nature and humankind joined forces in fueling Ettun’s creative juices. “I’d see farmers, in their sixties and seventies, tilling their land, on the way to the studio and back. You get some idea of Korean culture and the local spirit. I found that very enriching,”
Naturally, the local musical zeitgeist left its imprint on Ettun and on the works he produced, which eventually found their way onto the album. “You begin to get some idea of how Korean people think. And they have all these weird rhythms in ancient Korean music, which is called gugak.”
In fact, the Israeli had the opportunity to feed off an eclectic range of sounds, rhythms and approaches. “There was a Korean artist there who used her computer as her musical instrument. But she wrote scores and read sheet music. All her works were written out in note form. The fact that her instrument was a computer did not make her work any less serious. It was really great.”
Some of the Korean rhythms Ettun’s Israeli ears absorbed in Pyeongchang county inform the trio’s release.
“You can hear some of that on the title track,” he says. “It is based on a Korean rhythm pattern called chil-chae, which musicians used to play in courts of law in the 15th century. It is a very intricate rhythmic pattern. I used that to write the title track of the record.”
It should be intriguing to hear three jazz musicians trot out a number based on centuries-old traditional Korean time signature, as the setting sun adds visual credence to the iconic idea of “Jerusalem of Gold.”
OTHER INFLUENCES flow through the record, which will leave their mark on the way Ettun, Schwarzwald and Blankett go about their business at the Jerusalem Music Center rooftop gig. “There is also our reading of ‘Alfonsina y el mar,’ a well-known Argentinean song [made famous by late Argentinean diva Mercedes Sosa]. Whilst I was at the retreat in Korea, I played it a lot with an Argentinean guitarist who played tango in clubs in Argentina. So I got to sit down with someone like that who explained to me about the spirit of tango. I learned so much from that.”
“It is not that this album came out as something exclusively colored by Korean music. There are all kinds of things in there, some of which are not at all connected to Korea,” Ettun adds. “There is material on the record which I wrote before I went to Korea, and there is a song by Leonard Bernstein – ‘Some Other Time’ – on the record.”
Although Schwarzwald and Blankett weren’t around “deep in the mountains” in Korea, Ettun says they got some of that laid-back vibe vicariously.
“When we went into the recording studio in Riga, somehow we were all wonderfully relaxed,” the bassist recalls. That helped to deliver the requisite musicianship. “You know, when you go into a recording studio, you really want to do your best, to play the best music ever. But then you often get into a state of panic, and the whole thing becomes more challenging. But in Riga we were all so calm. I don’t know why. It was the first time we’d been in a recording studio together. It all went well.”
It is to be hoped that that will be the case in Jerusalem on Tuesday evening as the members of the audience enjoy a rare opportunity to catch some musical magic as it unfolds before their very ears.
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