[Dixielandjazz] Israeli Jazz in NYC

Stephen G Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sun May 6 08:05:12 PDT 2012

Here is a description of what jazz is, as compared to what jazz was.  

Steve Barbone

May 4, 2012 - NY TIMES - By Nate Chinen
 From Israel, a United Nations of Jazz

The proposition that jazz is a global language, spanning continents  
and cultures, has been a reliable diplomatic device for so many years  
that it now has the ring of a banality.

“Jazz became the world’s music long ago,” said Susan E. Rice, the  
United States ambassador to the United Nations, in that organization’s  
General Assembly hall on Monday night. “There is by now a rich  
tradition of Nordic jazz. There’s South Asian jazz, there’s Russian  
jazz and Chinese jazz.”

Ms. Rice was speaking at a concert to celebrate International Jazz  
Day, an initiative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and  
Cultural Organization, and if her quick catalog left out Israeli jazz,  
that was probably just as well: no need to state the obvious. Over the  
last 15 years, Israel has produced and exported so many serious young  
musicians that the jazz landscape is hard to picture without their  
influence, particularly in New York and especially now.

Last week the Anzic label released a pair of albums that illustrate  
the point: “Suite of the East,” by the bassist Omer Avital, and “Songs  
and Portraits,” by the collective known as Third World Love, which  
consists of Mr. Avital, the trumpeter Avishai Cohen, the pianist  
Yonatan Avishai and the drummer Daniel Freedman. (The label also  
released “Bamako by  Bus,” by Mr. Freedman, the only member of the  
collective who wasn’t born in Israel.) And over the next week and a  
half, a different contingent of musicians will take part in Jazzrael,  
a festival of jazz and world music presented by the Israeli Consulate  
in New York.

The festival begins on Sunday night at the Solomon R. Guggenheim  
Museum, with a trio led by Omri Mor, an articulate young pianist from  
Jerusalem. Its closing event, at Joe’s Pub on May 16, will feature the  
multireedist Amir Gwirtzman and the singer Nurit Galron, both  
traveling from Israel for the occasion.

Elsewhere on the schedule are Israeli musicians now residing in New  
York, like the pianist Alon Yavnai, who leads a big band at Joe’s Pub  
on Tuesday. A concert next Saturday at Temple Israel of the City of  
New York, on East 75th Street, will feature Mr. Mor, the flutist Hadar  
Noiberg and the accordionist Uri Sharlin, among others.

Jazz has long had its share of what you could, with tongue in cheek,  
describe as “the Jewish tinge.” The clarinet players Benny Goodman and  
Artie Shaw both drew from cantorial traditions, however obliquely, and  
there are many other examples past the swing era, including the  
sprawling Masada project initiated by the avant-garde saxophonist and  
composer John Zorn in the early 1990s.

The recent outpouring of musical talent from Israel represents a  
different strain of Jewish jazz, one less concerned about connecting  
with a distant heritage. Even with a population under eight million,  
Israel has both the polyglot cultural mix and the educational  
infrastructure that are conducive to training in jazz.

It’s impossible to discuss these foundations without paying tribute to  
Arnie Lawrence, a tenor saxophonist and educator who moved from New  
York to Israel in 1997, creating the International Center for Creative  
Music in Jerusalem; among his students was the clarinetist and tenor  
saxophonist Anat Cohen, now a mainstay on the contemporary New York  
scene (and the namesake and anchor of Anzic Records).

Mr. Lawrence had also helped found the jazz and contemporary music  
program at the New School in Manhattan, so it was only natural that a  
process of international exchange would take hold. Since his death in  
2005, that process has been formalized. The New School now offers a  
joint four-year degree with the Center for Jazz Studies at the Israel  
Conservatory of Music: student musicians spend two years at each  
institution, starting out in Tel Aviv and finishing in New York. Which  
partly explains how Israelis make up nearly 10 percent of the  
enrollment in the New School jazz program. (Martin Mueller, the  
executive director of that program, put together the lineup for the  
Jazzrael festival.)

But the Israeli jazz cohort has also forged its strength outside the  
academy. While there were early outliers, like the guitarist Roni Ben- 
Hur, who moved to New York in 1985, critical mass began forming in the  
late 1990s, after the success of the bassist Avishai Cohen. Mr. Avital  
and others formed a scene around Smalls Jazz Club, which remains a hub.

Subsequent arrivals included the tenor saxophonist Eli Degibri, whose  
most recent album is “Israeli Song” (Anzic); Anat Cohen and her  
brother Avishai, not to be confused with the bassist; Gilad Hekselman,  
a guitarist with a cool and slippery style; and Omer Klein, a pianist  
who works with two other transplants, the bassist Haggai Cohen Milo  
and the drummer Ziv Ravitz.

What’s striking about these musicians, beyond their nationality, is  
their air of earnest cosmopolitanism. The music they create might  
include elements of traditional Israeli music, but only as one hue on  
a broader palette, mostly unconcerned with assimilation.

Anat Cohen, for one, made her name in New York partly by playing  
Brazilian music with Choro Ensemble. Mr. Avital has an abiding  
fascination with North African and Middle Eastern music, which he  
explores on “Suite of the East.” The new album by Third World Love  
includes tunes inspired by Senegalese kora patterns and Spanish  

And then there was Mr. Degibri at the United Nations General Assembly  
hall on Monday night, about an hour and a half into the Unesco  
concert. Enlisted to play in an ad hoc combo that included the  
trumpeter Terence Blanchard and the pianist Hiromi Uehara, he  
projected in strong, clear bursts. What he was playing was a modal  
jazz arrangement of “Sakura,” the Japanese folk song. He sounded as if  
he’d been playing it all his life.

Jazzrael runs Sunday through May 16; facebook.com/jazzraelfest.

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