Cityfront: Midsummer night sessions

Jerusalem shows off its European, eclectic jazz ethos at the picturesque Sergei's Courtyard.

sergei courtyard 248.88 (photo credit: )
sergei courtyard 248.88
(photo credit: )
Contrary to the generally held view - especially at the western end of Highway 1 - there is jazz in our capital city, and of the best kind. "I don't think you could have something like this series in Tel Aviv, it's too American-oriented over there," says Kon. "Jerusalem has got a more European, eclectic, ethos." The "series" in question is the 2009 Jerusalem Jazz Sessions currently taking place on Wednesdays, at 8:30 p.m., at Sergei's Courtyard, with the support of the Jerusalem Foundation and the Jerusalem Municipality. And "Kon" is Uriel Kon, the series' Argentinean-born artistic director along with Adin Weiner. Kon has been involved in off-center musical endeavors in Jerusalem for the last four years, and previously helped former Jerusalemite pianist-composer Yitzhak Yedid put out similarly artistically oriented material as part of the Swedish Chef program. The sessions kicked off last week with the Orchestral Session, with trombonist-composer-bandleader Avi Lebovich and his 13-piece orchestra performing material based on the combo's debut album Groove Collage. The picturesque courtyard was packed, and a good time was had by all. "Yes, the atmosphere was great. It was very encouraging to see so many people at the show," says Kon. The lineup for the rest of the series, which lasts through August and then picks up again in October, is wide-ranging and imaginative. This week's show, the African Session, featured Jerusalemite saxophonist Nadav Haber and his septet playing jazz heavily laced with African rhythms and European harmonies. Next week, Tel Aviv and New York will make their way up to the capital in the form of saxophonist Assif Tsahar and his trio. Tsahar has been one of the beacons of avant-garde jazz since his return to these shores after a highly successful 16-year sojourn in New York, both as a player and as co-owner of the Levontin 7 club in Tel Aviv. All the shows, other than the opening gig, also feature a musical warm-up vignette. The Tsahar show will be preceded by a compelling synergy between free-roaming saxophonist Yonatan Kretzmer and Jerusalem-based guitarist Steve Peskoff. The last August slot sees Kon spread the ethnic net farther with the Brazilian Session, featuring the Israeli Choro Ensemble playing, as the brochure puts it, "a combination of the traditional Brazilian style with jazz, ethnic touches and Israeli influences." Kon says he was also delighted to see tourists among the crowd at the Lebovich show, and says the series is intentionally designed to bring in Anglos and tourists, particularly considering the musical terrain the series covers. "This type of music is generally popular among 30- to 50-year-olds. But most people in that age group have a family and don't tend to go out to downtown Jerusalem in the evenings much. There isn't really an urban culture in Jerusalem, unlike Tel Aviv. That's also why I only gave the series a name in English." The October roster is similarly diverse, kicking off with Jerusalem-born now Australian-based pianist-composer Yitzhak Yedid performing his Tachanun Suite in Five Movements. That will be preceded by a short duet by violinist Daniel Hoffman and guitarist Udi Horev. The Local Session, on October 14, is spearheaded by pianist Avi Adrian who, together with acoustic bassist Arieh Volinez and drummer Roni Holan, will tackle a highly variegated program that ranges from works by bebop founding father Thelonious Monk, through Jewish melodies and intriguing arrangements of Israeli Songbook items written by the likes of Sasha Argov, Matti Caspi and Naomi Shemer. Bringing up the Jerusalem Jazz Sessions rear, on October 21 there is a powerhouse double header European Session. The first set will be led by Danish keyboardist Christer Ingers Muller, who performed in last year's White Night program in Tel Aviv, alongside Jerusalemites flutist Dvir Katz and double bass player Ora Boasson-Horev. The work the trio will perform, called Games, is described as "free improvisation incorporating humor and lyrical touches." The second set on October 21 features a contribution from the Kadima Collective, under the aegis of bass player Jean-Claude Jones. Jones has long been a mainstay of the improvisational scene in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the country, and often hosts free flowing musical soirees at his Nahlaot home. The rule of thumb for Jones's sessions is "expect the unexpected." Jones's partners in exploration on the Between the Strings foray include viola player Nori Jacoby and cellist Yuval Messner, with a guest contribution from saxist Ariel Shibolet. Possibly signaling his intent, Kon closes the Jerusalem Jazz Sessions on October 28, with both barrels blazing, with a daredevil sextet led by Kretzmer. Besides Kretzmer on tenor saxophone, the band includes Levontin 7 co-owner Daniel Sarid on Fender Rhodes piano, Shmil Frenkel on bass guitar, Shay Ran on double bass, Roi Hermon on trumpet and Haim Peskoff on drums and percussion. Despite the comparatively healthy turnout for the Lebovich show - around 200 - Kon says he is not exactly laboring under any illusions that the kind of music the session offers will soon be packing in the thousands. "It's a matter of creating culture, and the kind of entertainment I enjoy personally," he muses. "I'm not looking for those jazz series that come with wine and cheese accoutrements. I want to see cultural events that, for me, are contemporary, that engage in the here and now." In that respect, Kon doesn't see a divide between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. "People may think Tel Aviv is more open than Jerusalem, but we are a very conservative country. In that respect, there's no difference between here and Tel Aviv. People want to hear the same music and read the same books the whole time. I also edit books, and we are at least 50 years behind the rest of the world when it comes to literature. But I believe that true culture is only created in the margins of society, not in the mainstream." That said, this year Kon has gone for more accessible material. "It's not so much a compromise. It's more a matter of generating continuity and establishing a hard nucleus of people who come to the shows. I'm also getting a bit older, and I've found that it doesn't help to bang your head against a brick wall the whole time. I like all the bands in this year's sessions, but I took a lateral approach rather than getting in deep into a particular genre." Kon also says he has not quite nailed down his ideal musical entertainment format. "I'd like the series to present something between the [off-the-cuff] gig format and a concert setting. I think some of the shows will be more formal and others will have a more laid back ambiance. Either way, I hope we manage to bring in a varied audience and, as said, to establish the sessions as a permanent feature in Jerusalem." Kon is already planning a festival which he hopes will take place at the Jerusalem Cinematheque in the spring. "It's just at the planning stage right now, and I naturally need to get the funding," he says. "But there's a lot of good music around, and I really want to see and hear as much of it as possible in Jerusalem." For more information about the Jerusalem Jazz Sessions: Ticket reservations 625 2357 or visit