Israeli vibes to the world

Jazz-wise, things appear to be taking off nicely in Turkey.

Harun Izer, director of the Istanbul Jazz Festival, is coming to check out the loval Israeli talent. (photo credit: MUSHIN AKGUN)
Harun Izer, director of the Istanbul Jazz Festival, is coming to check out the loval Israeli talent.
(photo credit: MUSHIN AKGUN)
Israel has been a powerhouse of the global jazz and world music scene for some time now. Israeli jazz musicians have been high profile members of the music communities of New York and Europe for years, and our ethnically-inclined acts are regulars at all the top festivals and events in the field.
So it is not all surprising that artistic directors, from relevant enterprises, flock here from all over the world, every year, to attend the annual Israel Showcase for Jazz and Worldwide Music. This year’s bash takes place Wednesday-through Saturday, with three days of shows lined up at the Yellow Submarine in Tel Aviv, while Friday’s gigs will be held at Tel Aviv’s Abraham Hostel. All shows are free.
Among the industry professionals who will be jetting in this week – to catch the likes of stellar trumpeter Avishai Cohen, funk-driven world music band the Sandman Project, a free-wheeling jazz quintet led by bassist Shai Hazan and the wild and wooly klezmer-funk-theatrical Jewish Monkeys troupe – will be Harun Izer, who will make the relatively short trip over from Turkey.
Izer served for several years as assistant artistic director of the Istanbul Jazz Festival, and took over the top spot a couple of years ago. Despite being in “the neighborhood,” so to speak, this will be his first visit over here and he says he is looking forward to catching some of our talented boys and girls do their musical thing.
“I have been hearing about the showcase for some time, a lot of my colleagues have been there and I was also hearing good things about it. So, I’m glad that I’ll be able to see it myself this time,” he says, adding that nothing beats going to a gig in person and getting the full vibe brunt. “It’s also important to follow what’s happening at the local level. We do know some of the internationally renowned Israeli bands and musicians, but being such close countries, it’s always a good option to go and see what’s happening personally. “
Then again, Izer is not exactly a stranger to what we have to offer here. “This is also professionally important for us, since we regularly feature Israeli musicians in our festival. We had a lot of important names like Avishai Cohen, Yasmin Levy, Anat Cohen, Shai Maestro in our festival before.” Istanbul-based Israeli oud player and percussionist Yinon Muallem has also appeared at the Turkish festival, although Izer considers him a local. “He makes a wonderful example of how music can create cultural bridges,” he notes. “I am quite curious about the music and acts I will listen at this year’s showcase. Some of them I already know, some I will listen to for the first time and I am quite excited!”
IZER HAS BEEN on the scene for some time, and says he has been into music for as long as he can remember. “I have always been a good listener. I got caught by good music and melodies, always listening to some new album or song, always in search of the perfect melodies.” Besides his festival duties, he also does his bit to spread the word as far and wide as he can. “I am a good DJ myself. I have been doing this since my teenage years and played clubs, venues or on the radio (I still have a radio program on Acik Radyo in Istanbul).”
Still, it took a while until he got bitten by the jazz bug. “My real, conscious, interest in jazz started in my early 20s, when I started working in jazz and music organizations – such as the second edition of the festival I am directing now!”
Izer’s jazz consciousness initially focused on some of the big names before he started looking further afield. “[Stellar pianist] Keith Jarrett is a musician that I love in jazz, also Miles Davis with his Bitches Brew [late ‘60s-early ‘70s fusion] period. I also admire a lot of European jazz musicians who have taken jazz and turned into something else, which is still jazz but also not just jazz. [Norwegian saxophonist] Jan Garbarek was probably the start for me, but it did not stay there. [Norwegian pianist] Bugge Wesseltoft and his ‘New Conception of Jazz’ was also a big revelation at the time I listened to it.” There was an earlier more wide-ranging epiphany. “I should also mention the cult Turkish jazz-rock-fusion band Mozaik, to which I remember listening when I was about 10 years old!”
Even though this will be his first trip to Israel, Izer says he expects to have a sense of familiarity. He puts that down to the common strands that run through the sensibilities of this part of the world. “I believe that this bigger region of Asia Minor, Caucasus,
Mesopotamia and the Middle East is a big cultural pool. People have been, some way or the other, interacting with each other for many centuries and share a lot of values together. Music is one of them.”
You don’t need a PhD in musicology to get that. “The best examples are probably these songs in different languages which share the same melodies and stories,” Izer explains, nuances notwithstanding. “There are naturally distinctions, contrasts, different approaches to music and instruments. However, it’s very easy to feel that this is just different branches of the same tree. So, I see similarities, not just between Israeli and Turkish music, but in a broader perspective, a lot of similarities in all the music around those regions.”
Then again we are not talking about cut and dried disciplinary demarcation lines or interfaces here. “They are not the same. I would not want to attribute cultural elements to national identities, since these cultures are much older than the nation theory itself. In my terms I love to call music coming from my country and the neighboring countries as ‘Anatolian Jazz,’ which originates from a Greek term, Anatole (meaning ‘east’).”
COMMON DENOMINATORS abound. “The similarities between the music of [Armenian jazz pianist] Tigran Hamasyan, [bassist] Avishai Cohen or [Turkish guitarist-baglama player] Erkan Ogur are much more visible than their differences. And to me, it is also obvious that two clarinetists from Israel and Turkey would be able to play together much easier than an American jazz clarinetist would be able to do with one of them.”
There are local disciplinary technical subtleties to be taken into account. “The use of microtones are the most important detail here, which is not so much present (or mostly forgotten) in Western music,” Izer notes. “The scales that these microtones define are also some way or the other shared in these geographies – for centuries. And recently we also see a lot of good examples of eastern and western fusions. To me, [Israeli jazz pianist] Shai Maestro does that wonderfully. And there are also a lot of Turkish musicians who do similar fusions, meeting the east and the west in a wonderfully elaborated way, such as [fretless guitar player] Cenk Erdogan or [pianist] Baki Duyarlar.”
Jazz-wise, things appear to be taking off nicely in Turkey. There are jazz departments at three major universities across Turkey, in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, and Izer says the scene as a whole was galvanized by a short-lived academic venture a couple of decades ago. “The first jazz conservatory opened up in the mid-1990s, but did not last long. However, those musicians who graduated from there are now very important names in the field right now.” The latter crop includes saxophonist İlhan Ersahin, fretless guitar player Cenk Erdogan, drummer Ferit Odman and pianist-vocalist Selen Gulun, [singer] Bidar and jazz-funk outfit The Kites.
Plenty to listen to, here, there and everywhere.
For more information about the Israel Showcase for Jazz and Worldwide Music: