Chock-full of blues

The spread of the genre is powerfully evident in the lineup of the upcoming festival at Tel Aviv’s Levontin 7 club.

Ravid Kahalani 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ravid Kahalani 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Blues music, one of the more subliminally pervading genres, will be front and center this coming week in Tel Aviv (January 23-24), when Levontin 7 stages a two-dayer chock-full of blues and blues-oriented acts.
While many people might not consider themselves to be blues fans, those same genre deniers may not be aware of the ubiquitous nature of the blues in, for instance, everyday rock.
The spread of the blues is glaringly evident in the lineup of the Tel Aviv club’s blues festival which features the likes of explosive US-born Chabadnik bluesman Lazer Lloyd, former Boom Pam guitarist Uzi Ramirez, soul-inflected Ravid Kahalani and Ethiopian-born saxophonist-vocalist Abate.
The blues has been a major ingredient of our everyday musical diet since the mid-Sixties, following the so-called “blues revival” spearheaded by the likes of British guitarist-vocalist Alexis Korner and later by compatriots John Mayall and Peter Green. Indeed, it is hard to imagine the evolution of rock music without the contributions of such iconic bands as Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and The Who, most of whose members underwent formative tutelage with Korner.
So, where does the forthcoming festival find our own blues community? Judging by the program, it looks like we’re in fine fettle and spreading nicely, thank you.
“The idea behind the festival was not to just present blues per se, but to also offers all sorts of genres that feed off the blues,” explains Shlomo Ariel, who, along with Levontin 7 co-owner Daniel Sarid, is responsible for the artistic content of the event.
“So we have a wide range of Israeli artists on board.”
Ariel sees a strong bond between the genre and this part of the world.
“I think the blues has a strong connection with genres like cantorial music and eastern European music. But I also hear things that come from music from the Far East and Africa.”
This is a good time to mention that Ariel features in the festival program, as vocalist-harmonica player of the Delta 5 Blues Band, with Jamaican-born vocalist Roy Young very much in evidence, and he also has a day job as a leading psychologist.
Tapping into the latter crust-earner, Ariel naturally also appreciates the curative properties of his chosen musical genre.
“I think psychology and the blues deal with the soul. Music is excellent therapy and I often play and sing with my patients. It has always allowed people to express their sorrows.”
Ariel is happy with the program that he and Sarid have put together.
“We wanted to reflect something of the range of Israeli blues artists, and to attract difference audiences. Abate brings in Ethiopian blues with jazz motifs and world music, while Uri Ramirez is bluesy rather than being a pure bluesman. Chicken Fish is a special project put together for the festival, and that has strong bluesy connections too.”
Ariel says he is encouraged by the state of the blues here.
“I am a member of the Israel Blues Society and we have sent several bands to the annual International Blues Challenge [held in Memphis] and we have a monthly blues jam at Mike’s Place in Ramat Hahayal on the penultimate Friday of the month. People come from all over the country for that. I think we have a lot to offer here.”
Lazer Lloyd, who opens the proceedings on Sunday, is one of the higher-profile artists at the festival. Born in Connecticut, the bearded, behatted guitarist-vocalist has been belting out rockinflected blues for almost 20 years, 16 of which he has spent in Israel. Mind you, he almost gave up music for a different spiritual path.
“I started becoming religious and I’d just got married, and I wanted to break away from the blues a bit. I also needed some money, so I started selling off all these vintage guitars which no one had ever seen in Israel before,” says Lloyd.
Luckily he was stopped in mid-sale. “One storeowner heard me play and told me to stay with my music, and I am really glad I did.”
Lloyd soon found a way of combining his spiritual path with his musical endeavor.
“I met [Rabbi] Shlomo [Carlebach] and for me, his singing opened up the heavens. I hear that when I play the blues.”
THE 38-YEAR-OLD bluesman came over here with an impressive CV.
“I was voted the most original blues musician at [Upstate New York liberal arts institution] Skidmore College,” he recalls, adding that his religious epiphany probably started before he was aware of it.
“I was lined up to do a recording for Atlantic Records, and the guy said he liked my rocking blues, but that the lyrics were a bit strange – and that was when I was secular.”
Lloyd was introduced to the blues at a very early age.
“My dad was a musician, and there was lots of blues and jazz on the radio. My dad took me to New York to see guys like Santana, Steve Ray Vaughan and George Benson live.”
By the time he was in his teens, Lloyd had put together a successful band called Legacy, which appeared frequently on the Connecticut club circuit.
These days, Lloyd keeps up a busy performing and recording schedule and funnels his spiritual ethos through his music.
“Some blues guys tell me their music is their religion. Everyone makes a religion out of something. That’s OK, music can also be kosher. Anyway, as Dylan once sang: ‘You gotta serve somebody.’”
Lloyd also sees a direct connection between the blues and Jewish music.
“The flat five note of the blues, that’s the yearning note of the soul struggling to get free from the body. That exists in hassidic melodies from 300 years ago. And there’s something so cool about the blues – the harmonies and the depth. Whatever mood I’m in, it works for me.”
It obviously works for Ariel and Sarid, too, who have covered generous territory in the two-day program. Besides the blues and rock-informed blues acts, there is the Acollective septet, which follows Lloyd on the first day of the festival. A collective feeds off all sorts of genres, from blues to rock, electronica to Americana.
The closing show of the festival adds some world music coloring to the program, with the Black Seeds band, led by Idan Raichel Project vocalist Ravid Kahalani. Kahalani will also have the heavyweight sideman services of Kaveret veterans Alon Olearchik and Ephraim Shamir; as well as Ramirez, jazz pianist-singer Maya Dunitz, oud player Amano Campino – who featured in Kahalani’s recent Yemen Blues project – percussionist Roni Avarin and jazz drummer Amir Bressler.
There is evidently plenty of scope for entertainment at Levontin 7 next week.

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