Philadelphia will once again play host to some of Israel’s — not to mention the world’s — best jazz musicians when the fifth annual Israeli JazzPhest kicks off on Nov. 11.
The outsized contributions of Israeli jazz musicians will be on full display as the festival showcases some of Israel’s most musically successful exports, including relative newcomer Dida Pelled, who will be performing her hard-to-categorize blend of world, roots, jazz and blues with her eponymous trio at a jazz brunch at World Café Live in University City on Nov. 18.
For Deborah Baer Mozes, the director of cultural affairs for the Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia and the director of the festival, the 25-year-old Pelled’s appearance is part of what makes the event. “Each year, I try to include someone young, someone who might be a rising star.” Mozes explains. “She was at the top of the list of people I wanted to invite.”
In addition to bringing in Pelled, who could be the next big thing, Mozes has lined up a number of established and acclaimed performers, including Uri Gurvich, who will open the festival with a jazz brunch performance at Ortlieb’s in Northern Liberties. The 30-year-old saxophonist/bandleader/composer first came to the United States from the Tel Aviv area to attend Boston’s Berklee College of Music on scholarship in 2003. Since then, he has become part of the New York jazz scene in a big way, moving to the city in 2005.
“I enjoy playing for New York audiences,” he says. “They are very — how can I put it — demanding.” That’s not to say that he doesn’t find the audiences at his Israeli shows intense as well. “In Israel, it is very spiritual, a very intense place, and that helps the performance of the music”
Just as he draws inspiration from the people of different cultures, so too does Gurvich plumb different wellsprings for his compositions and arrangements.
“My music is based on a lot of Israeli and Jewish music from different places, which I combine with New York contemporary jazz,” he explains. In his live performances and on his debut album, The Storyteller, Gurvich manages to achieve his goal of bringing everything together without one overcoming the other. While he refuses to get too specific on which styles will predominate at his festival performance, he does promise that “it’s gonna be groovy, with different elements of Jewish music.”
Like Gurvich, 33-year-old clarinetist Oran Etkin, who will take the stage at Chris’s Jazz Café in Center City on Nov. 15, is uncomfortable being described simply as a jazz musician. “I’m not even sure what the words mean at this point,” he says. “My roots are in jazz — that’s the music I grew up listening to — but I’m trying to take inspiration from all the places I visit around the world.”
One of those places, West Africa, has made the biggest impact on his career. Etkin’s most recent album, the critically acclaimed Kelenia (the Bambara word for “love between people who are different from one another”), featured his synthesis of Jewish and African rhythms through playing with Malian griots and musicians from around the region, including the Grammy-winning performers Lionel Loueke and John Benitez.
A Grammy winner himself, for his participation in the 2012 compilation, All About Bullies … Big and Small, Etkin isn’t just posturing when he says he doesn’t like to be categorized. In addition to his “day job,” he has also made a well-received children’s album, Wake Up Clarinet, and has developed Timbalooloo, one of the most popular methods of teaching music to children in New York.
One way that he is like a traditional musician: He loves to get together with his Israeli compatriots like Gurvich. “A couple days ago, we played in a big band together and we were hanging out,” he recalls. To him, the group of Israeli musicians in New York “really is like a fraternity and a sorority. It’s a big community. We have a friendship and a common language together.”
One member of the New York “sorority” is Hadar Noiberg, who plays at Ortlieb’s on Nov. 17. The 30-year-old flutist/ composer, in the United States by way of Holon, has been playing her instrument of choice since she was 10 — thanks to her sister. “I was playing the recorder in school. My sister actually played the flute, so it was lying around the house. I just picked it up one day.”
Noiberg was playing professionally in Israel when, at age 21, she decided it was time to move to the United States. “I just had this urge to see how I would do on the international scene,” she explains. “I also felt like a bit of a misfit in the different scenes. I never felt like I was 100 percent a classical musician, or 100 percent a jazz musician. I felt that in New York I might be able to find a scene of people who are bringing different things and influences together” — an absolute necessity for someone who cites influences ranging from John Coltrane to Bjork to Brahms to New York street musicians.
Those influences and more can be felt on Noiberg’s latest release, Journey Back Home, and in her live shows. She seems to understand better than most what her audience is looking for when they come to see her. “People who come to the concerts want to be touched, they want to get involved with the music, to feel the artist in front of them.” In a venue as intimate as Ortlieb’s, with a performer as in the moment as Noiberg, that shouldn’t be a problem.
For more information on the festival and the performers, go to www.jazzphest.com .