Exploring the sounds of the Middle East

Submitted by Josh Grossman on Thu May 3 3:35pm

This Sunday, May 6 at The Rex Hotel, we are excited to co-present, along with the Canada-Israel Cultural Foundation, the 2018 Israeli Jazz Showcase, as part of the wider Spotlight on Israeli Culture. Sunday's event will mark the 4th Israeli Jazz Showcase; with each edition of the Showcase we aim to present artists who accurately represent the diversity of music coming out of Israel and the wider Middle East - and I wonder if this year's artists provide the widest variety yet.

Kicking off the evening at 7:30 pm is vocalist Aviva Chernick, in what she calls "a reimagining of traditional Balkan Ladino repertoire along with original Hebrew melodies." She'll be joined by Ernie Tollar (woodwinds), Justin Gray (bass), Naghmeh Farahmand (percussion) and Derek Gray (drums) - a group of musicians who represent an impressive range of musical traditions even before tackling the repertoire Aviva has put together. I became familiar with Aviva through her work as a long-time member of the ensemble Jaffa Road, but the breadth of her work in impressive - she's performed with top musicians in a variety of world music traditions, blues, jazz, pop, and folk; most recently I heard her name as part of the cast of a Soundstreams production about Claude Vivier!

Aviva's instrument is pristine and flexible (as it must be to perform so easily in so many different styles), readily soaring overtop of the ensemble as the lead line or working within the ensemble, almost as another horn. Her most recent album, When I Arrived You Were Already There, also shows off the creativity which drives her (and which previously earned her and her co-writers a John Lennon International Songwriting Grand Prize) - the performances give new life to what may be familiar texts. The full range of her voice is sure to be on display on Sunday; it will be a treat to hear her perform, with this particular group of musicians, in the intimate setting of The Rex.

The Showcase "headliner" this year is trumpeter Itamar Borochov, who will bring along bandmates Rob Clearfiled on piano, Sam Weber on bass and Francesco Ciniglio on drums. It was his association with Yemen Blues - he served as arranger and co-producer for the acclaimed world music sensation for three albums - which first brought Itamar's name on to my radar. But his approach to writing and his approach to playing the trumpet stand on their own. A fluid player with a beautiful sound, his soloing is impressively melodic, whether on an up-tempo contemporary jazz tune or a more soulful tune drawn from the Muslim, Jewish or Christian traditions which surrounded him growing up in Jaffa, Israel.

Listening again to his 2016 release Boomerang, I'm impressed first (and fundamentally) by the trumpet playing - melody rules here, regardless of the style of the piece. But the variety of music is also unique: there are post-bop jazz tunes; traditional melodies from various traditions; and songs clearly inspired by the land of his youth. Itamar sites a variety of influences when it comes to his music-making - his father is a musician, so Itamar's toys when growing up were musical instruments of all sorts; he talks about listening to blues and jazz, but also learning Arabic scales. More recently, he's worked closely with a Moroccan Jewish cantor and Morocco's Innov Gnawa, which performs Moroccan spiritual music with roots in Islam (he will, in fact, produce their next album). And rather than let these various influences create a strange mishmash of musical traditions, Itamar carefully chooses musical influences from one tune to the next - creating an interesting and always compelling sound.

Particularly exciting to me about the combination of musicians we get to hear on Sunday is their fresh approach to mixing jazz traditions with Middle Eastern traditions. This is music free of cliche, and which I suggest will defy any preconceived notions of how Israeli jazz sounds.

This has been an outstanding week of music, with two excellent Special Projects presentations last weekend (kudos again to Adrean Farrugia and Aline Homzy for all of their work) - I look forward to wrapping up our pre-Festival activity on Sunday with what is sure to be a beautiful night of music.

The Israeli Jazz Showcase is this Sunday, May 6, starting at 7:30 pm at The Rex Hotel. Complete details on our website. I hope to see you there!