Jerusalem Jazz Festival : Musical museum muses

The current moniker stems from the fact that the ensemble is based in the province of Bohuslän. “When that happened, we basically became a jazz orchestra.”

Musical museum muses (photo credit: BARRY DAVIS)
Musical museum muses
(photo credit: BARRY DAVIS)
A few weeks ago Jerusalem Jazz Festival artistic director Avishai Cohen unveiled an intriguing program for the fifth edition of the event, which will take place at its perennial berth of the Israel Museum December 4-6.
Jazz purists should be pretty happy with Cohen’s lineup. While jazz festivals, including the most prestigious the world over, tend to feature a host of offerings from genres that are not even remotely connected to the titular discipline – to bring in the crowds and pay a few bills – Cohen has dipped into numerous areas of jazz, and is offering festivalgoers a broad sweep of relevant colors, strands and nuances to experience over the three days.
A bona fide internationally renowned musician himself, the trumpeter’s own onstage appearance sees him join forces with the Bohuslän Big Band. The number of Israeli jazz fans familiar with the troupe in question is probably in the fingers-of-one-hand category, but trawling the recesses of the Internet reveals that the band has been around and casting its stylistic net far and wide for a long time.
Sweden is not generally noted for being a jazz powerhouse, even though it has produced the likes of the feted Esbjörn Svensson Trio and pianist Bobo Stenson over the years. But the big band coming over here has been up for it, venturing into uncharted waters whenever it could, for over a century. Bohuslän Big Band started out in the 19th century as a military outfit.
As the ensemble’s manager and producer, who is also a dab hand on saxophone, Eric Brandström Arellano, notes, the group has been through quite a few transformations in its time, musically, too.
“The band has been around in different forms. We started out as a military orchestra, and, over the years, it moved to different locations in the region of the west coast of Sweden and changed names.”
The current moniker stems from the fact that the ensemble is based in the province of Bohuslän.
“When that happened, we basically became a jazz orchestra.”
That occurred, says Arellano, “around 30-40 years ago,” and was the result of a general zeitgeist shift.
“I think that was because there was a change in the culture climate in Sweden, when jazz became popular, and people thought it was less interesting to have a military orchestra than to have a big band.”
Arellano, himself, grew up in suitable jazzy climes.
“I come, originally, from California. I grew up playing in a big band – I have been playing tenor saxophone ever since I can remember. I grew up with that big band heritage, and, when I was a teenager, I used to go to the Lincoln Center [in New York] for the jazz festival there.”
He relocated across the Pond, around 11 years ago, in order to further his craft.
“I came to Sweden as a musician and to study here, in Gothenburg. I have also played flute and clarinet, and I have been interested in big band music, and I have had my own musical projects along the way. I started a jazz festival in Gothenburg, and also a few clubs. That experience gave me the opportunity to apply for the producer job with this big band. I took the opportunity to do it, because of my positions as a musician and an organizer and a producer.”
Arellano really digs his current job, and says it presents him with an outlet for his various skills and talents.
“I am really happy and appreciative to be working with this band, because I think they are one of the best. When I first came to Sweden and I saw them for the first time, I was blown away by the level of musicianship and creativity and the productions they were doing. They are very high quality. I also have a lot of respect for the history, and the musicians and the people that work with this organization. They are fantastic.”
THERE ARE the jazz police who like their musicians to stick to the stylistic straight and narrow, and there are the broader thinking folk who understand that jazz, like any art form, must – by definition – constantly tread where previous artists have not dared to venture. The members of the Swedish gang have made a habit of dipping into new areas, cutting their individual and collective teeth on all kinds of material.
And, scrolling through their discography to date, they appear to have made a good job of their envelope pushing, too. The ensemble’s Bohuslän Big Band Plays Zappa recording, captured live at a gig at the Nefertiti Jazz Club, in Gothenburg, in 1999, may not be the most adventurous of Zappa renditions, but they attack the source material with gusto, joie de vivre, and just about the appropriate amount of tongue-in-cheek verve to pull it off.
The troupe’s variegated performance and recording purview also takes in charts by a whole host of jazz, pop and soul artists, such as Duke Ellington, James Brown, Bob Mintzer, Steely Dan, Swedish pianist-composer Lars Jansson, Maria Schneider and George Gershwin.
“I think this is one of the most versatile bands in Scandinavia, and also in Europe,” Arellano notes. “We work with a very broad range of artists. We have worked with Avishai Cohen, Maria Schneider, [veteran jazz saxophonist] Joe Lovano and [trumpeter] Lew Soloff.”
The Bohuslän bunch are also just as happy to fuse their jazzy core with other avenues of musical expression.
“We have also worked with very well-known Swedish pop artists, like Jill Johnson, and with Swedish folk artists, like Ale Möller. We have also worked with [stellar jazz bassist] Steve Swallow, and the list goes on.”
Eclecticism is the name of the game for the guys from Vara, a region located near Gothenburg in the south of Sweden.
“The band has a very broad range of colors and of expressing the music.” Arellano continues. “I think that is one of the strengths of the band, that we are not afraid to jump in and do justice to the music in different kinds of genres. I would say the band is ready for anything.”
BUT, BACK to the previous mention of the Jerusalem Jazz Festival’s artistic director. As Arellano almost surreptitiously slipped in, the December 5, 8:30 p.m. date with Cohen will not, in fact, be the first time they have crossed musical swords.
“We were very glad when Avishai said he was interested in working with us again, and invited us to this festival in Jerusalem. We had a tour, at the beginning of the year, in Sweden and it went very well, and we also had a great concert, last year, at the Ystad Jazz Festival [in Sweden].”
As far as Arellano and the players are concerned, more of where that came from, and especially with a trip to Jerusalem thrown in, is totally cool.
“This production with Avishai has been phenomenal on many different levels. It has been great to work with him.”
It has also been something of a rite of passage for the overseas instrumentalists.
“It has been enriching and challenging for the individual artists and for the band as a whole,” says the big band honcho. “Our relationship with Avishai has grown quickly, and it has worked musically very well.”
The Jerusalem gig will feature Cohen playing some of his original scores with the 16-strong ensemble, with arrangements by New York pianist and composer Mike Holober, Swedish trombonist Niclas Rydh and Israeli guitarist Yonatan Albalak.
OTHER SLOTS to look out for at next week’s Israel Museum musical bash include the confluence between French keyboardist DOMi (Domitille Degalle) and American drummer JD Beck, who are said to be “two of the outstanding new voices of the future-sonic jazz movement.” The classically trained French keyboardist and Beck are just 18 and 16, respectively, and their show is guaranteed to get plenty of jaws dropping.
If you have ever been given to ponder the jazz scene in China, the performance by the Li Xiaochuan Quintet, fronted by the said trumpeter, should make you somewhat the wiser, while the Uru quartet of Israeli players led by pianist Daniel Sarid, with Nadav Meisel on bass and Ofer Bymel on drums, and featuring saxophonist Ori Kaplan – best known for his work with the Balkan Beat Box cultural border-hopping act – should provide some tasty tidbits for jazz fans looking for something more on the adventurous side.
And there will be plenty of fun, groove and slick instrumental renditions on offer when the Addis Ken quartet, fronted by veteran Ethiopian-born saxophonist-vocalist Abate Berihun, takes the stage.
Berihun, and fellow band members – pianist Roy Mor (piano), bassist David Michaeli and drummer Nitzan Birnbaum – will also host soulful Ethiopian-born singer Rudi Bainesay.
Add the Both Sides of Africa production, with Israeli pianist-trombonist-vocalist Nani Noam Vazana and South African cellist Abel Selaocoe, Maloya traditional music singer Tiloun, from Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean, and American instrumentalist-vocalist Becca Stevens’s rich melodic brew of jazz with touches of Irish/Appalachian folk, indie, pop, and West African music, and you have yourself one well-rounded music festival.
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