Sound in the Eilat sun: Red Sea Jazz Festival

The band ran the gamut of disciplines and genres, from drum and bass to heavy metal-leaning passages, straight-ahead jazz, intoxicating bluesy lines and freely structured psychedelia.

JAH WOBBLE at the Red Sea Jazz Festival. (photo credit: DIGI DEKEL)
JAH WOBBLE at the Red Sea Jazz Festival.
(photo credit: DIGI DEKEL)
It’s always a joy to head down to sunny Eilat at this time of the year, especially in the middle of this thankfully rainy winter.
And, besides soaking up some rays, if you can wrap your ears and heartstrings around some delectable, groovy, fun and sonorous sounds, that makes the trip south even more meritorious and worthwhile.
As usual, perennial artistic director Dubi Lenz dished up a multifaceted program of musical offerings, from straight-ahead jazz to rapid-fire Cuban material, Middle Eastern numbers filtered through electronic beats, and soft rock ballads with Arabic coloring and jazzy statements.
In fact, on a personal musical front, things did not get off to a good start, with Cuban pianist Jorge Luis Pacheco proving to be a disappointment. The man clearly knows his craft, but his dexterous approach, to my mind, was short on invention.
But things picked up immeasurably when British bassist John Wardle – better known as Jah Wobble, hit the Sports Hall stage with his Invaders of the Heart quartet. Wobble has been around for many a year – since the late seventies, to be precise – and brought his seasoned performance nous, instrumental and arranging expertise, and delightful sense of humor to the proceedings.
Wobble is a most entertaining bloke, and peppered the show with theatrical asides, and some dramatic – albeit tongue-in-cheek – poetic slots.
The band ran the gamut of disciplines and genres, from drum and bass to heavy metal-leaning passages, straight-ahead jazz, intoxicating bluesy lines and freely structured psychedelia.
Wobble may be the colorful frontman, but he’s got a helluva bunch of like-minded band members with him. There were polished, adventurous solos throughout, with George King reeling off high-end bluesy jazz riffs aplenty, while guitarist Martin Chung would not have looked out of place at a Frank Zappa gig, with drummer Marc Layton-Bennett underscoring the whole energized shebang, and having his own individual say in the rhythmic textural developments.
There were lyrical passages, although generally with a sense of a feral undertow just bubbling beneath the surface, scat and even some master class-like sound effect instruction, with Wobble getting the soundman in on the act, too. The bassman’s post-punk upbringing surfaced here and there, as did his penchant for exploring a vast hinterland of cultural sounds, with some Arabic flavoring working its work through the structural seams.
It sounded as if Wobble and his capable cohorts have been there and done that, and they were more than happy to share as much of that as possible with the packed Sports Hall crowd. We all left with smiles on our faces, a lingering wiggle in our hips.
Meanwhile, over at the Wow auditorium, Neta Elkayam’s continued attempts to bring her Moroccan musical roots up to date appear to be gathering pace. Elkayam has a cultured voice and the requisite cultural backdrop, but the jury is still out on whether the idea of channeling that through computerized filtering, punctuated by electronic beats, is a creditable path to follow. I, for one, prefer her captivating more grass roots delivery.
Tom Oren’s show was eagerly anticipated. Still only 25, the Israeli pianist is well on his way to establishing himself as a name to be reckoned with on the global jazz circuit.
Accompanied by seasoned bassist Gilad Abro and ever-smiling drummer Shai Zelman, Oren managed to convey a palpable sense of the lyrics of the Georges Brassens’s numbers the trio rendered for our listening pleasure, even without the help of guest vocalists Eran Tzur and Corinne Alal.
Oren displayed artistic maturity beyond his chronological years on terra firma, putting out some pyrotechnics that had my jaw heading south, but never overdoing the fast stuff. He is clearly taken with the blues, and there were intoxicating slots on, for example, “Mourir pour des idées,” which simply oozed sumptuous bluesy juices.
Abro delivered some deliciously delicate solos, and Zelman provided simpatico support throughout, with some commensurately deft solos in there, too.
The contributions by Tzur and Alal may have spelled out some of Brassens’s lyrical genius, but neither is exactly blessed with pristine vocal capabilities. That said, Tzur does have the bearing of a chansonnier.
Elsewhere over the three days, balladeer Assaf Amdursky’s show was a lightweight affair, while pianist Uriel Herman played a mostly emotive lyrical program, unfurling his impressive classical training in the process, with some rock-heavy asides driven by guitarist Ilan Bar-Lavi, complete with distortion.
Then it was out of the air-conditioned hall and back out into the delicious Eilat winter sun.