Festival Review: Jerusalem Jazz Festival

The Impressionist Gallery was packed to the rafters for the show, as were all the gigs I managed to attend over the three days.

(photo credit: DIGI DEKEL)
Israel Museum,
December 4-6
Avishai Cohen, perennial artistic director of the Jerusalem Jazz Festival, laid out a wide-ranging spread of sounds, vibes, genres and styles for fans of jazz and other music, over the three days. There was, simply put, something in there for almost everyone.
Drummer Amir Bressler and his Liquid Saloon quintet churned out the decibels and kilowatts of energy, funneled through a set list of funk, jazz, African and other sounds. Then there was Turkish pianist Cagri Sertel and his trio who delivered an almost painstaking performance of “pretty” jazz, which, no doubt, was lapped up by those looking for polished aesthetics and pleasingly constructed numbers. In any case, the Impressionist Gallery was packed to the rafters for the show, as were all the gigs I managed to attend over the three days.
The same museum space hosted one of the best slots of the festival on Wednesday, when veteran Ethiopian-born saxophonist and vocalist Abatte Barihun played there with his Addis Ken quartet, with pianist Roy Mor, bassist David Michaeli and drummer Nitzan Birnbaum. This was Entertainment, with a capital E, in the purest and best sense of the word. The positive vibes flowed throughout, and all four musicians were at the top of their game.
I also caught their act at the Mazkeka backstreet Jerusalem venue a few months ago, and both times I came away with a song in my heart and a smile on my face. The festival show also featured vocalist Rudi Bainesay, who added much to the proceedings, which wended a merry path through jazz, soul, gospel, spirituals and some Ethiopian-rooted material. The latter included a surprisingly soulful rendition of “Behatito Kadus Kadus,” which has become a Barihun staple over the years.
One of the most eagerly anticipated shows was the DOMi and JD Beck twosome, with the 18-year-old French-born keyboardist and the 16-year-old quick-fire drummer, respectively, bringing an abundance of dynamics and youthful poise to the stage. But, while their technical expertise left us all agog, they did not produce much of interest. They seemed to be stuck in the same 100-mile-an-hour groove throughout, and things quickly became tiresome.
The other standout festival show was the confluence between Cohen and the Bohuslän Big Band from Sweden. The Scandinavian troupe has quite a history. It was founded as an army marching band over a century ago, but has been operating in its current artistic guise for around 40 years. Its recorded output includes a pretty convincing cover of material by mercurial American guitarist Frank Zappa, so they were clearly capable of handling challenging scores. And Cohen’s charts certainly had the ensemble pulling out all the stops, as the 16-piece band, fronted by Cohen, gave an excellent account of itself, flowing seamlessly through a demanding set of numbers that dipped into contemporary classical, bluesy, folkie, spirituals, groove, funk and straight-ahead jazz. Clearly, both Cohen and the Swedish troupe – who performed together in Europe a few months ago – had done their homework.
Cohen’s lineup also catered to jazz lovers looking for something a little more left field, with pianist Daniel Sarid’s URU trio –with Nadav Meisel on bass and Ofer Bymel on drums – playing an inventive and adventurous set which, somehow, always maintained a sonorous backbone.
The fun and dynamics were also boosted by a guest slot by veteran reedman Ori Kaplan. Many moons ago Kaplan was one of the mainstays of the avant-garde jazz scene in New York, before turning his attention to the highly popular Balkan Beat Box gypsy, reggae, electronica, punk, Middle Eastern jazz gang. It was good to catch him in a rare return to his jazzy roots.
The fun festival ambiance was also enhanced by the amateur musical vignettes positioned around the various corridors of the museum, which, once again, proved to be a welcoming and consummate host venue.