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Israeli JazzPhest Sets the Right Tones

November 6, 2013 By:
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Flutist Itai Kriss

Looking to hear a new Afro-Carib­bean band? Perhaps you would be interested in a live performance from one of the world’s best female trombonists and her band? How about a quintet offering a fusion of Iberian-inflected Middle Eastern melodies?

For anyone familiar with the global influence of and on Israeli jazz musicians, it will come as no surprise that some of the country’s most acclaimed performers — Itai Kriss, Itamar Borochov and Reut Regev — will all be playing concerts in the area under the banner of the sixth annual Israeli JazzPhest, which runs from Nov. 8-18.

It is this very range of musical styles that makes this festival different from all others, according to Deborah Baer Mozes, director of cultural affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia, which is sponsoring the festival along with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

“This is our most culturally diverse festival ever,” she says. And as the sole person responsible for choosing the acts that appear, she should know. “My tastes tend to lean toward jazz-fusion and world music, which works really well with Israeli artists. I’m much more interested in musicians who are composing rather than playing traditional arrangements of standards.”

Those criteria are why Mozes gets so enthusiastic when talking about Itai Kriss’ appearance at World Café Live on Nov. 10. Kriss is a 34-year-old flutist from New York by way of Tel Aviv who will be debuting his new band, The Itai Kriss Sextet. “It’s Israeli-Cuban — the music and the band. There are three Israelis and three Cubans,” he explains.

It is a natural progression for Kriss, who has been deeply involved with the Afro-Cuban music scene in New York City ever since he first arrived in 2002 as part of a joint Jewish-Arab musical peace initiative organized by the late saxophonist Arnie Lawrence. The music of his homeland and of the Caribbean figure prominently on Kriss’ first album, the 2011 release, The Shark, as well as the songs that will be featured on his as-yet-untitled follow-up disc. “My original music takes its inspiration from Middle Eastern music, and it incorporates some Caribbean elements as well,” he says.

Kriss began playing music when his father, the Tel Aviv rocker David Kriss, handed him a guitar at age 6. He says he switched to the flute because it seemed like the natural thing to do after learning to play the recorder in school. He says that one of the reasons he has found success playing such an unusual blend of styles has much to do with his instrument, which he acknowledges is not generally considered a traditional jazz instrument.

“Traditionally in jazz, the prominent instruments are the horns, the piano, the drums, the guitar — the flute is kind of an outsider — its tone isn’t usually associated with jazz. That is not necessarily a bad thing, because what I want to play is not the most straight-ahead, traditional jazz anyway, so I’m not too bothered by it.”

Baer Mozes’ desire to present acts that defy traditional expectations is why she included the trombonist Reut Regel in this year’s lineup. “I try to have at least one female artist each year,” she says. “And you don’t see too many female trombonists. Her work is incredibly intricate and unusual.”

Regev is the leader of the group, R*Time, which has released two albums since its inception. Regev takes pride in her style, which draws from all over the world. Her group’s signature fusion sound is so hard to classify that one jazz publication gave it the memorable sobriquet of “murky stoner funk.” She herself says: “I don’t really have a description for the style of music we play, although a little bit comes from Israel.”

When asked about her instrument of choice, the 35-year-old from Kiryat Ono (she has lived in the New York metropolitan area since 1998) laughs and says that it actually wasn’t her first choice. When she was 13, one of her friends started playing the trumpet, so she asked her music teachers if she could play the trumpet as well. “They told me it wasn’t right for me, and that I could choose from either the French horn or the trombone. I chose the trombone because I liked the way you had to slide it back and forth. Obviously, it worked out — I fell in love with it.”

Another featured artist, Itamar Borochov, picked his instrument as a school kid as well. Or, as he puts it, “Sometimes, I think the trumpet chose me more than I chose it. I was playing electric guitar at the time and I wanted to pick up the trumpet as a second instrument. I fell in love with it and dropped the guitar.”

Local jazz fans are no doubt more familiar with the 28-year-old Jaffa native’s performances with the highly regarded group, Yemen Blues, which is how he first came to the attention of Mozes. He has performed all over the world with artists like Bobby Sanabria, Aaron Goldberg, Greg Tardy and Omer Avital.

One of the most rewarding collaborations he has had, and one which he says took him on “a whole new musical path” that ultimately led to the recording of his first album as a bandleader, Outset, was one with his own family. Beginning in 2009, he worked with his father, Yisrael Borochov, who has been called “the father of Israeli world music,” and his brother, the bassist Avri Borochov, on Debka Fantasia, a disc that explores the Arab tradition of debka music.

Borochov says that playing with his family helped him realize that after a lifetime of performing on other people’s albums and at concerts, it was time for him to step out on his own. The recording of Outset took three years — so long that he has already begun work on his second album. “I was so busy doing other things that I always left my own thing last,” he says with a laugh. “All that is about to change.” l

For more information, go to the JazzPhest’s Facebook page.

Israeli JazzPhest

Nov. 8: Mattan Klein Ensemble
Tribute to Naomi Shermer

7 p.m. at Temple Sholom
(Kabbalat Shabbat service)
55 North Church Lane, Broomall
www.temple-sholom.org; 610-356-5165
Tickets are free

Nov. 10: Itai Kriss Sextet
Noon at World Café Live
3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia
philly.worldcafelive.com; 215-222-1400
$15/ticket

Nov. 16: Itamar Borochov Quintet
8 p.m. at Painted Bride Arts Center
230 Vine Street, Philadelphia
www.paintedbride.org; 215-925-9914
$25-35/ticket

Nov. 17: Reut Regev Trio: R*Time
Noon at World Café Live
philly.worldcafelive.com;
215-222-1400
$15/ticket

Nov. 18: Ayala Ingedeshet
7 p.m. at International House
3701 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia
ihousephilly.org; 215-387-5125
Tickets are free; for reservations,
go to www.ticketfly.com/event/372265.

 

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