EHUD ETTUN with Haruka Yabuno (photo credit: Maya)
EHUD ETTUN with Haruka Yabuno (photo credit: Maya)
Mitzpe Ramon hosts top musicians, both local and from Japan

Mitzpe Ramon is, at least in plain geographical terms, delightfully beyond the densely populated central Israeli pale. Sitting on the edge of the wondrous tranquil Ramon Crater, it offers a unique natural ambiance for anyone looking to develop their artistic skills. It is also a really cool place to hold the Jazz on the Edge festival, the seventh edition of which takes place December 28-31, under the artistic aegis of internationally renowned bassist Ehud Ettun. Ettun also runs the Internal Compass jazz school at Mitzpe Ramon where he and a bunch of other seasoned musicians have been enlightening students about the heart, soul and dynamics of musical creation for some years now.

The peripheral reference in the event title fits the topographical bill nicely. It also takes the creative intent into account, as Ettun and other local musicians dovetail and duel with counterparts from Japan during the course of the four day spread. The contingent from the Far East includes guitarist Hirokazu Yamaguchi, whose festival gig schedule includes a match up with pianist Daniel Schwarzwald, and bassist Noriaki Hosoya who will appear in The Source lineup which also features Yamaguchi and Schwarzwald, as well as saxophonist David Alfandary and drummer Amir Bar Akiva.

Naturally, bass player Ettun will do his best to keep the jazz beat going when he links up with Japanese pianist Haruka Yabuno for the Israeli-Japanese festival curtain raiser. The pair have been sparring partners for quite some time, ever since they relocated Stateside. “We met in 2010 when we moved to Boston [to attend Berklee College of Music],” Yabuno explains. The creative chemistry was there from the start. “Right after the very first jam session we formed a band called Water Esc, with Israeli saxophonist Tal Gur, and Israeli drummer Nathan Blankett.”

The quartet did quite well for itself, playing gigs in Boston, New York and other spots around the country, before Gur and Blankett opted out to pursue other musical avenues.

PIANIST DANIEL SCHWARZWALD (left), bassist Ehud Ettun (center) and drummer Nathan Blankett kick off the Rooftop Festival tonight. (credit: BRIANNA PERETZ)PIANIST DANIEL SCHWARZWALD (left), bassist Ehud Ettun (center) and drummer Nathan Blankett kick off the Rooftop Festival tonight. (credit: BRIANNA PERETZ)

And so, The Yabuno Ettun Project came to be. 

It is, says the pianist, a malleable arrangement which has borne rewarding fruits. “It is a duo format, but always free to collaborate with other musicians, and also genre-less music. Ehud and I traveled a lot – our music brought us to so many countries like Canada, East Europe, Korea, and of course Israel and Japan, our home countries.”

And now in Mitzpe Ramon. “Since we started playing together he already had a vision – to make a music program in the Negev. I still can’t believe that he made it happen, but this is one of the parts that I respect about him the most,” Yabuno states.

She says it is a win-win deal, and that she gains a lot from the innovative Israeliness of her bass-playing pal. “Ehud is very spontaneous and always on top of the thing. When he comes up with a new idea he’s already giving it a try, no fear. I’m the opposite, always thinking about the worst case happening like ‘what if,’ being very cautious. After I spent so many years with him, I found that ‘never trying is the biggest mistake.’ I’m still very careful and always worried, but I started to try stuff at least.”

SOUNDS LIKE a classic example of a mutually beneficial exchange. The twosome brought out their debut album, BiPolar, in 2014 and the long-awaited follow-up release is due out any day now. The sophomore outing, says Yabuno, is a fully cooperative effort: “It was our very first time writing together. Of course we’ve been inspiring each other musically, writing one song together was the most interesting experience I’ve ever had in my musical life. Ehud came up with the cool ostinato line with his bass, I added the melody on top of it and harmonized the section, then we discussed how we develop in the next part.”

Naturally, in the intervening eight years, the pair made strides, individually and collectively. “The song we wrote sounds completely different from what we’ve done in our first album, but it still really sounds like two of us,” she notes, referencing the title track of the new CD which goes by the alluring name of “Knights of Silence.”

“BiPolar has a fresh sound. Knights of Silence has a more deep, intimate, sophisticated sound. One thing we’ve been taking very seriously since we started this duo is dynamics, especially pianissimo. It’s very easy to play loud, but playing very quietly and sounding, is one of the most difficult things in an ensemble.”

In truth, Yabuno has plenty of tricks in her own instrumentalist locker. She started out in the classical field, making the transition to jazz as a student at Kunitachi College of Music in Tachikawa, to the west of Tokyo. She says that backdrop comes in handy and helps to broaden her creative horizons. “Learning classical music gives me so much flexibility when I’m improvising on the instrument. Without the technique of playing an instrument you’ll always go down a blind alley because you can’t control your touch, dynamics, and articulation as you want. Learning classical music also allows me to emphasize polyphonic sound when I’m playing jazz, not only focusing on chord progression and playing by each measure.”

There was little in the way of labor pains when she made the switch: “It was a very natural thing for me to start playing jazz since improvising is definitely ‘how I started playing the piano.’ When I first listened to jazz, when I was a high school student, it was ‘My Favorite Things’ by [iconic modern jazz saxophonist] John Coltrane. I didn’t even feel that this is new to me, but ‘this is something I was looking for so long.’”

YABUNO MAY have spent much of her formative musical years in the States, but her cultural genes followed her there. “When I wrote songs for my portfolio recital at Berklee, my teacher said: ‘it’s funny, after you spend so many years in the US, your music doesn’t sound American at all.’” 

The overseas Berklee student brought a template with her to Boston: “In Japan we have this term called ‘Ki Sho Ten Ketsu,’ the four parts of structures of Japanese writing; introduction, development, turn, conclusion. This general idea of writing is always giving me an idea of how I start the song, then how I develop, how the things turn out, and what’s gonna be the end, like one by one. When I’m writing in a through-composing style, this general idea is always there, I’d say.”

The pianist has performed here in the past and says Israel brings out the best in her. “The culture is completely opposite from my country, however I really feel good when I’m in Israel, like I’m being my real self. It’s probably because Israeli people are very honest and natural, also loving having discussions with others, even if there’s a huge disagreement. After I spent my time in Israel, I started to think that it’s cool to be honest, not to be afraid to have a discussion, not hiding my opinion and taking a detour.”

Integrity and improvisation are core to artistic creation, in any field, and should come through loud and clear in The Yabuno Ettun Project gig, as well as Thursday’s show with the Nishkaf Trio, when Yabuno is joined by Hosoya and drummer, Kentayo Nakayama. The Nishkaf slot also provides an opportunity for Ettun’s Internal Compass protégés to show off some of their own evolving skills.

We will also get a glimpse or two of the forthcoming Yabuno-Ettun release. The album title seems to suit the festival setting. When I asked Yabuno about the thinking behind the name she left me hanging, only saying the title has “many special meanings, that only the true knights of silence know.” Stay tuned.

For tickets and more information:

Load more