My Favorite Whine

You know that joke about the JAP whose favorite whine is “BUT DADDYYYYYY, I WANT THIS ONE!”?
That’s not what this post is about. Nor is it really a favorite whine of mine.
That first whine of the sirens going off when rockets are being fired at Beer Sheva again. That instant in which I very quickly go from telling myself “Dude, no way,” to “Way, dude, way,” and “what the fuck are you doing talking to yourself like a metalhead stoner, get moving.”
All it takes is for it to happen once, and then for weeks later my ear will be constantly tuned to that frequency, seeking it, waiting for it, knowing it’s going to come any moment now, so we have to be ready for it ALL THE TIME.
During operation Cast Lead, three and some years ago, the sirens weren’t working properly. I had to follow the radio to know if there were sirens going off in town, because we couldn’t hear them on our street. On the first few days, before it became the neighborhood bomb shelter, the kids’ daycare was still active, and it was a major relief for me because I knew they were behind thick, safe concrete walls whether we could hear the sirens or not.
On one of those days, Yiftah had a fever and stayed home with me. We were still having breakfast and I hadn’t turned the radio on yet and I heard a loud and close explosion. I don’t remember the exact sequence, it was sheer instinct, but in a heartbeat, I had knocked him onto the floor and was shielding him with my body on the living room floor.
So having sirens that actually go off before the explosions do is a relief. Did I just say that having sirens that go off before the explosions do is a relief?
I don’t react like that to sirens when I’m alone. Having kids makes it different. I will not have them hurt. This is where the unreasonably stubborn me comes out.
The truly annoying part is that I do not want to see anyone’s kids hurt. And I always remember that everybody has a mommy. There has got to be a better way for all of us to work this out. Surely we can evolve that far.

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Ms. Hilter

I experimented with a new avatar on twitter for a weekend.

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The result was interesting. I quickly took on the personality of the kind of dictator I would like to be.

 

Here are my conclusions, to be read from bottom to top:

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שומר דלתות ישראל (NSFW)

חברות וחברים,

לצורך עבודת אמנות אודה לכם אם תהיו מוכנים לשלוח לי צילום ובו שד חשוף

    אחד

ועליו כתוב ״שומר דלתות ישראל״ לכתובת האימייל שלי: yberry AT netvision DOT net DOT il

בעבודה תשארו לחלוטין בעילום שם אלא אם תציינו במפורש שמותר לי להודות לכם.

כמובן שמותר גם לשלוח לי יותר מתמונה אחת, אבל אנא, שד אחד לתמונה.

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A Little Bit Of Everything

The first show of last night was Yael Deckelbaum, with Shaul Eshet on piano and keyboards, Gil Lewis on electric guitar, Adam Ben Ezra on double bass and bass guitar, and Barak Kram on drums. Another show that at face value could perhaps end up not being all that jazzy, though from what I know of her material, she’s kind of a little bit of everything.
She comments on how the warm breeze is actually enjoyable. The wind on the stage at the festivals is often wild, with everybody’s sheet music scattering. I think that’s sort of an apt commentary on the essence of live jazz, maybe live music in general. Anything can happen.
Yael Deckelbaum may not be a jazz musician, but she is a brilliant vocalist, writes wonderful songs, and gives a hell of a performance. And just because we are at a jazz festival, she did give us several jazz numbers, starting with this.

Anyway, bottom line, it wasn’t all jazz, far from it, but I enjoyed it very much. A good start to a good evening.

The most surprising last minute booking of the festival, no doubt, was Dianne Reeves. She is stellar.
So, she was called to duty on Sunday and flew in right away, with pianist Peter Martin joining her, and bassist James Genus and drummer Clarence Penn who just happened to already be here (they’d been performing with Grégoire Maret at the festival). It’s kind of funny, but from where I’m standing, the international jazz scene looks sort of like classic “Beverly Hills 90210″, in the sense that everybody’s played with everybody, and they all know each other and have no problem putting together a seamless ensemble on a whim. You see this at festival jam sessions as well, where you’ve got the biggest names there are, like Reeves for example, playing with up and coming musicians and high school students, and all like they’ve been doing this forever.
Reeves is really your classic kind of jazz singer. Scat ain’t no problem, she seems like an endless fountain of standards taken and performed so as to knock one’s socks off. No lyrics? No problem. Any story can be sung. And who needs words anyway. This is her third time in the 25 years that the Red Sea Jazz Festival has been held, we had seen her once before and when we heard she was coming again, we immediately adjusted our show schedule to accommodate because we knew she is not to be missed.

The song that says “Dianne Reeves” most to me is definitely “Afro Blue”. And in the middle of it, she started singing that she has a friend backstage, whom she’d like to invite to come sing with her. And then this happened:

Michael Kaeshammer at first looks like another staple trio, with Marc Rogers on double bass and Roger Travassos on drums. And then after a few numbers, they are joined by a whole horn section, with William Sperandel on trumpet, Gilad Ronen on saxophone, and Yonatan Voltzok on trombone.

Even though he admits to being Canadian, the music has a good ol’ badass New Orleans vibe to it. And Kaeshammer is fantastic. He’s brilliant on the keyboard, and also uses the piano as a drum. And then himself. And he comes down into the audience and grabs one of the women for a quick dance. When he gets back up on stage he arranges a birthday surprise for Travassos, with the audience holding up lighted sparklers and singing Happy Birthday To You, and asking for a beautiful girl from the audience to give the drummer a kiss, because it’s “the custom in Canada”.

Nobody really wanted the show to end. If the festival were not outdoors, he’d be bringing the house down.
Even though there was barely any time for it, at the end of the show, to the audience’s standing and stamping ovation, the band gave a quick encore, crackling with energy. When it was over, we were just exhilarated.

The last show of the last night was Steve Smith & Vital Information. The program named them a “leading fusion force”. Fusion is scary to us. We still fear the dreaded Spyro Gyra effect, under which a group of perfectly skilled and talented musicians end up playing live elevator music with all the spirit and gusto of a bunch of dentists playing Guitar Hero.
This is not elevator music, but Tal for one finds them troubling. I’m worried for him. He says there’s a little bit too much self-adoration on stage. I get what he’s saying.
I think what’s bothering me is that these guys sound a bit too much like they belong on the set of a late night talk show. Tal says that’s harsh of me. It’s not that they suck, they’re even quite good. But they’re a little too polished and flashy. Tal put his finger on it. TOO EIGHTIES. Jazz for corporate climbers. POWER JAZZ. Where are my shoulder pads?

Anyway, we walked out of that show after finishing up all the snarky commentary we had, including declaring that they looked more like gynecologists than dentists and comparing them to Hamas.

I was planning to finish writing this up and posting it as soon as we got home Thursday, however we had the very unpleasant surprise of our air conditioner kicking the bucket on Wednesday, and ended up enjoying the 3.5 hour drive home in 43C weather with the windows rolled down and an awful lot of sweat. So it took me a bit longer. All apologies.

See you next year, Red Sea Jazz.

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Sparks of Discovery

The first show of the night is Gretchen Parlato, with Justin Brown, drums, Alan Hampton, bass, and Gerald Clayton.
Tal and I were first acquainted with Parlato on Monday morning, when she kindly held the door open for us at the hotel. I love that we’re staying at the same hotel as all the musicians. We get the full groupie experience without the STD’s.
Not two bars into her singing, I know this is going to be good. She’s got a warm and soft voice, and her band carries her with a deep richness of sound. They all have an easygoing and intimate vibe going.
Just two numbers in, she asks if there’s a trumpeter in the room, and up to the stage comes Avishai Cohen for a beautiful performance of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints”.

After that, Parlato and Hampton stay on stage together and sing their beautifully cowritten “Still”, and I’m completely sold.

If we’ve talked about thinking drummers, who make melody with the drums, Parlato is a thinking singer, who makes rhythm. With various instruments, with her hands, and with the dulcet tones of her voice.
Also memorable was a haunting rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Ugly Beauty” in piano-voice duo.
Immediately after the show, we raced to nab her latest cd, and I’m expecting endless hours of pleasure.

For the next show, we had a dilemma, because neither of them was Liz Wright whom we were planning to see in that slot but had cancelled at the very last moment. So, Erez Bar Noy or Shlomi Shaban? We tried to postpone making any brash decisions and opted for hamburgers, and then decided to give Bar Noy a chance, because, as opposed to Shaban, he is an actual jazz musician and this is a jazz festival.
We approached Bar Noy with caution. He is of an older generation than the Israelis we’ve seen so far, the group of musicians we often feel are trying too hard for their own good. Tal says it looks like a teacher leading his class. And after less than a number, I have to agree that something’s missing, and it sort of looks like a jazz camp graduation performance, with the brilliant instructor showcasing his most talented campers.
I will never know if it’s just a bias that we can’t shake from the days in which the Israeli artists at the festival were billed as gap-fillers between the seemingly more prestigious big names from abroad, but still, it’s the impression we got and it became rather tedious rather fast.
Another thing that probably had a negative impact on our reception of the show was the fact that we were sitting in the back and there’s a lot more noise from surrounding members of the audience who feel comfortable having phone conversations and what have you while the band is playing.
So we got up and crossed over to Shlomi Shaban. It was packed. At first, we felt sad that the shows that attract the most audience are these last minute bookings that aren’t even jazz, what’s up with that?
But this guy is funny as hell. I’m happy. And talented. So maybe we don’t care that this one isn’t really jazz. His communication with the audience is leagues more enjoyable than Asaf Avidan’s drunken rants of last night.
Suddenly he’s joined onstage by Avishai Cohen. If Gilad Abro is the hardest working bassist in Israel, Avishai Cohen is the hardest working trumpeter. The dialogue between piano and trumpet is engaging and escalates into something explosive.

He’s also brilliant on the piano. And sticks it to Asaf Avidan with a hilarious impersonation. Made of win.
By now, his show is running into overtime, when he says, “I know that you think that all of the foreign performers cancelled…” and in heavily accented English, invites his friend “Jonathan”, with whom he says he’s been collaborating for many years, and out comes Yoni Rechter.

The, because the genius insanity onstage is not enough, the dude pulls out a Casio PT30, and delivers this:

except with a twist of Rechter and Cohen for an epic grand finale, ending with Shaban and Rechter abandoning Cohen unaware onstage while he’s wrapping it up with a trumpet solo.
Wow, what a fun show. We were pleased that we ended up ditching Bar Noy in favor of it.

We were late to Raul Midon because of the epic geniosity of the previous show.
Midon is interesting. He’s a one man show. And he’s blind. While the music itself is not quite our taste, he gives an impressive performance, and he’s quite funny. Take, for example, his description of house music. “Two characteristics: one that it goes (insert impeccable imitation of house drum beat here), second that it does that for a VERY LONG TIME.”

So, Midon plays guitar with one hand while beating percussions with the other, and provides very credible trumpet solos with his lips, bass solos too. The man is harmonizing with himself, taking the whole concept of a one-man band and setting a whole new standard for it.

Durimg the song “Invisible Chains”, Tal points out that it’s interesting that a blind man is singing about something invisible. Would that be like me writing about balance?

Funny how if I were just listening to this music, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it half as much. Is the fact that this blind man must be seen to be fully appreciated poetry in motion or what?

The last show of the night is the Shai Maestro trio. Very little audience, but a very promising start. It’s interesting to see how many different takes there are on the same classic staple of jazz, the piano, double bass, and drums. Their sound is so different from that of the Abro trio, for example, or so many other such trios I can think of.
Maestro’s piano has a lush beauty to it, and if the trio we had seen the night before was more a balanced trio, here, Maestro is definitely, well, the maestro.
At one point he said something nice about how his trio is a relatively new ensemble and every performance is an experience of getting better acquainted with each other, and about how they thank us for being a part of it.
There were moments you could actually see sparks of discovery occurring onstage, when their music reveals another new element in its evolving language.

Toward the end of the show, I tilt my head back and look up at the starlit sky. At once I am together and alone, and one.

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I Believe It Is Called Harmony

I’m sitting on the balcony of my hotel room, listening to the jam session going on downstairs. This evening was a good one.

The first show we caught was Jesse Palter and the Alter Ego featuring Sam Barsh. Sam Barsh, who is currently going totally wild on the stage downstairs, started the show with a soft piano solo. It’s moments like these, with the hushed music and the warm Eilat evening breeze, that are so typical of the festival that I’ve developed a Pavlovian response to jazz music, and whenever it gets intimate like this, I can feel that warm breeze, even if it’s February and I’m in New England.

Out come Ben Williams, bass (we saw him last year with Stefon [ed. thank you, Dr. Jazz] Harris and Blackout) and Gene Coye, drums, and then out comes Jesse Palter. Last year I discussed the matter of my issues with female vocalists. Not a problem here. Palter has a pleasant stage presence and does not steal the limelight from her collaborators.

Several songs in, she presents a song she wrote herself, which was inspired by watching Toddlers and Tiaras while on the treadmill.

This got me thinking that it’s kinda cool that jazz is staying enough of a living genre that the subject matter is constantly evolving from the old standards to cover present pop culture and society. As I was pointing this out, Tal said that he doesn’t think this show is quite jazz music. I was still calculating my ranty response, when Williams and Coye stepped off the stage and left Palter and Barsh to do this:

So ha, this is jazz, alive and kicking. We’ve come a long way from Strange Fruit, baby.

I went to bed after writing the above, not before listening to Palter jamming downstairs, and man, she really is a good singer. A good musician. Long story short, I’m not quite sure a studio album of theirs is in the cards for me, but their live performance is excellent and enjoyable. And I didn’t even mention anything about Barsh’s eccentricities, because he is a rather colorful character, but I hope the clip I made delivers a bit of that.

Tal and I were rather curious about the next show. Grégoire Maret heads his quartet with a harmonica. I haven’t seen many shows in which the harmonica is the main attraction, and not just a little something thrown in on occasion. On stage with him, James Genus on bass, Federioco Pena on piano, and Clarence Penn on drums.
This show has very little talk, and lots of introspection. Every solo is like a delicate conch shell, full of detail, but delivered smoothly, something you want to hold carefully so you can enjoy its beauty without breaking it. The harmony shared by the players is almost erotic, to me, something you want to reach out and touch. And Maret surprises me with his virtuosity. The harmonica solos are passionate and complex but still, oh so delicate.
There’s a silent and peaceful undercurrent to the music on stage, and just as I am thinking about how fragile it must be, Genus goes into a bass solo, starting so hushed I feel it might have been meant for my ears alone. And then some fuckwit from the audience starts snapping a beat, and tries to sweep the rest of the audience into doing so. Genus stops playing and just says one word. “Stop”. I would have perhaps dwelled on the shame I felt for even being in the presence of such idiocy, but once the audience falls silent, Genus resumes playing, and carries me back into the haunting echos of his plucks.

I’m thinking I need an album of theirs, to explore further, alone.

The next show was another last-minute change, Asaf Avidan, playing with cellist Karni Postel rather than with his usual band, the Mojos. Not much to say about this one. It wasn’t jazz. I would have perhaps enjoyed it much much more in a different setting, but it was crowded and hot, and I learned the hard way that secondhand smoke triggers vertigo. We left before the end because I was feeling awful, but did enjoy what we saw.

The next show, and last of the night, was the Gilad Abro Trio. The previous night we had seen Gilad Abro in no less than three shows, as well as Nitay Hershkowitz on piano and Amir Bresler on drums (both had performed with Daniel Zamir).

I was saying something about Abro being very rightfully the hardest working bassist in Israel. He is wonderful. He makes love to his bass. Looking at him, the similarity drawn between the double bass and a woman’s body is very evident. Another think he makes very evident is why the word for what you do with your musical instrument is “play”.

Bresler is a young thing, but as Tal had already put it on the first night, well on the way to becoming a “thinking drummer”. As he plays, and not just bangs the drums, you can feel he not only seeks out the rhythm, but puts endless volume and language into the intervals between every beat. Exploring not only the beat but also the sound.

Hershkowitz’s piano has that kind of effortless beauty to in, like the notes are just being tossed around without much method to the madness, and yet they still form a melody.

Giving a surprisingly bashful introduction to the band, Abro says they’re not *his* trio and it’s true, each one of them holds his ground, has his own voice and presence. The space conrained by the trio is constantly morphing, reshaping itself, taking on new colors and sizes. They are the beauty of live music. The life.

As I was looking for them on Youtube, I found this lovely interpretation of Radiohead’s “Scatterbrain”. I hope to see a lot more of them.


I think that might be just it. To me, there is no room in jazz music for ego. No one person on stage can count more than the others. If any one player serves as no more than a backdrop for another, you’re doing it wrong. This is the one common thread I can see that binds the performances I enjoy the most. This beautiful blend of individuality and unison. I believe it is called harmony. I want to have it present everywhere in life.

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Siren Song

Yesterday morning Tal and I woke up in Beer Sheva, to the sound of a blaring siren, and marched ourselves downstairs to the safety room, aka the bomb shelter, in our house. It took two more such sirens for us to finish packing and get on the road to the 25th Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat.

The trip was the longest drive we’ve had to Eilat since moving to Beer Sheva, between us having to stop more frequently on the way for the benefit of my aching back and being stuck for over an hour in the entrance to Eilat, because after last Thursday’s terrorist attack on highway 12 outside of Eilat, security is insanely stringent.

Still, we made it here, we napped, we had dinner, and set out for a night of shows, overcast with last minute schedule changes due to last minute cancellations of artists deterred by Thursday’s attack and the ensuing exchange of fire between Israel and Gaza.

So, let’s get on to the music. I doubt I will be going into as much detail as I did last year, because, well, my health is not much to write home about these days (nothing lethal, just really annoying), and as much as I’m enjoying the music, my expressive skills are somewhat diminished. This first draft of this post looked something like this:

Live jazz music is the shit.

Yeah. You get the drift.

The first show we saw was Daniel Zamir with Nitay Hershkowitz, with Zamir on saxophone and Hershkowitz on piano. The show started considerably late, after the gates for the festival were opened *after* the opening shows were slated to begin. So some of us, and I’m not naming names, were a little disgruntled and were not particularly excited by the opening number, which was a jazzy take on very clearly Hassidic musical themes (for the record, I loved it).

There was a moment on stage, when they were starting what turned out to be a beautiful cover of Shem Tov Levi’s “Shuvi Le’Beitech” (“Come Back To Your Home”), when Zamir first started playing some solo notes, that the first memory that came to mind was of opening notes on a Joshua Redman piece. Something soulful and peaceful to carry you into the depths of the music. While still in this solo, a plane crossed the sky, and while the sound of its engines threw me back to the sound of rockets careening through the air back home, it took me just a few seconds to realize I couldn’t be farther, and to sink back into the peace of the music.

After several numbers as a duo, Zamir invited Gilad Abro, double bass, and Amir Bresler, drums, to take stage for several numbers. Watching them all perform together made me think that something really good is happening to the younger generation of Israeli jazz. I think back to the first festival Tal and I attended, 9 years ago, and how we stayed away from the Israeli jazz performances because for the most part they seemed to be just, well, excessively academic and pretentious. But what was happening here onstage was just the music. Alive and flowing and vibrant and captivating. Beautiful.

The next show we saw really reaffirmed our thoughts about the Israeli jazz scene. A show that was patched together to cover up for one of the last minute cancellations, featuring Jason Lindner on piano, Anat, Avishai, and Yuval Cohen (aka the three Cohens) respectively on alto sax and clarinet, trumpet, and soprano sax, Gilad Abro on double bass (yes, you’re seeing a theme here), and Alon Cohen (no relation) on drums. Apparently Lindner was on tour in Greece and decided to swing by to visit his friends in Israel, and after throwing together an impromptu show in Tel Aviv, they were all asked to get their butts down to Eilat and fill in a hole. Lucky us.

The three Cohens are siblings, and their parents must be wonderful, because those kids play very nicely with each other. They’ve got this family groove thing going for them, weaving in and out of brass cacophony at its finest and mesmerizing harmony.

The whole sextet on stage was everything you hope for in a good jazz show. Wonderful music, with no unnecessary delusions of grandeur. Sort of an all for one, one for all, and all with the audience thing going on. Hence, my above original draft. When it gets this good, what more can you say? Live jazz music is the shit.

We saw two more shows last night. One of which included Gilad Abro on double bass. Because apparently he is the hardest working bassist in Israel. We are going to see him headlining a trio tonight, after which I will no doubt expound on the immense justification for this status of his. I was, however, very dizzy and tired by this time, so I’m just going to let you sit back and enjoy a sample of the music, very much as I did last night.

So, it seemed that contrary to the original myth, for us, the siren song, rather than calling us to crash on the rocks, called us away from the rockets, to the peaceful jazzy waters of the Red Sea. Not bad, sirens, not bad.

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