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.

4 Comments

Filed under Jazz, Red Sea or Not, Uncategorized

4 responses to “I Believe It Is Called Harmony

  1. Dr. Jazz

    Stefon Harris!!! Not Stephon!

  2. Dana

    I’m a big Jesse Palter fan so thanks for posting about her performance. I think it’s cool that the Red Sea Jazz Fest had a diverse mix of music and included something more mainstream. I will say that I’ve heard Jesse with her quartet and she can sing jazz and improvise amazingly. Have you seen this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPeHUZPOWcY&playnext=1&list=PL11D2AD1229CCEEC9 I also got to catch her set with Sam Barsh and I thought the whole performance was really fresh! Can’t wait to hear more.

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