The Israel Festival International Jazz Festival
June 15-17, 2008
This year's scheduling of the programs for the Israel Jazz Festival was promising. The grouping of the Bill Frisell Quartet, Nils Wogram's Root 70, Marcin Wasilewski Trio and Anat Fort Trio performances in three successive days enabled festival-goers to examine some common conventions about the differences between European Jazz and American Jazz, since all these outfits presented their own distinctive interpretations of the jazz legacy.
German trombone player Nils Wogram's quartet, Root 70, opened the festival. The quartet comprises two German musicians: Wogram, who now lives in Switzerland, and drummer Jochen Ruckert; and two New Zealanders: alto saxophonist Hayden Chisholm and bassist Matt Penman, who now resides in New York. The quartet has been working now for eight years and so far released five albums. Their rather short quartet concert at the King David Citadel in Jerusalem's Old City was based on their release Fahrvergnugen: Music for Driving (Intuition, 2006) and featured their sophisticated aesthetics.
Nils Wogram's Root 70
Wogram references the mainstream Afro-American jazz legacy, but his references are full of playful shifts of intonation, colors and details that transform the accessible themes into a much more elaborate and undogmatic musical vocabulary. The ensemble's tribute to Charlie Parker, "Bird's Trip," demonstrated this approach, as the quartet patiently articulated complex chord sequence associated with Bird but rearranged this theme in gentle ways that reflected on Bird's innovations and commented on his longstanding legacy.
Chisholm's sweet and vibrating tone on the alto sax was captivating, and Wogram's confident playing was aware of the legacy of other great German trombone players, mainly the late Albert Mangelsdorff, and like Mangelsdroff he adds overtones and speaks through the trombone. Wogram's other compositions "Lost Keys" and "Lunch Break"were inspired by daily incidents and were humorous, stressing the quartet's ability to move freely between imaginary traditional structures and much more open-ended improvisations. Unfortunately, due to the festival's decision to push two performances on to the same bill, this concert ended too soon.
The second day presented two ECM recording artists in the same location. The Polish trio of Marcin Wasilewski presented a program that was based on its latest release, January (ECM, 2008). If Nils Wogram's Root 70 was trying to recharge the American jazz legacy with new aesthetics, this trio was distancing itself from the American legacy with a severe and thoughtful attitude, even though its repertoire featured compositions by American composers such as Gary Peacock and Carla Bley. The trio gravitated into abstraction, drama and lyricism, with great emphasis on detail and color. Their cover of Peacock's "Vignette," identified with Keith Jarrett's pre-standards era, acknowledged the trio's indebtedness to Jarrett but lacked the flowing and powerful reading of this composition that was captured on the disc. Only Bley's humorous "King Corn," written originally for her husband at that time, Paul Bley, featured the Wasilewski Trio in a much looser and exciting manner, with some nice interplay between bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz.
New York-based Israeli pianist Anat Fort played with her trio Gary Wang on bass and Roland Scheneider on the drums on the second half of the evening. The trio covered Fort's engaging compositions from her latest release A Long Story (ECM, 2007), and shined especially on the audience favorite, "Something 'Bout Camels," but lacked the focused and often poetic interplay of the ECM recording that featured such outstanding musicians as Paul Motian, Ed Schuller and Perry Robinson. Fort's attempt to broaden her musical canvas with Middle-Eastern colors with the help of local musicians Samir Mahoul on oud, Moshe Nuri on percussion and Abatte Brihun on sax offered a glimpse for the potential of such a sextet, but only after more rehearsals and careful arrangements. Maybe it was the wind that marred any attempt to reach a decent sound balance in this open- air location or just simply that the one rehearsal was indeed short of delivering a meaningful performance.