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Itai Kriss & Telavana At The Jazz Room

Itai Kriss & Telavana At The Jazz Room

Courtesy Daniel Coston


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Tel Aviv + Havana = Telavana. The band name defines the main elements in the sound: Cuban music combined with Middle Eastern sounds, along with some other Caribbean influences.
Itai Kriss & Telavana
The Jazz Room
Charlotte, NC
October 14, 2022

Flutist/composer Itai Kriss brought his world music fusion to the Jazz Room to inaugurate its 17th concert season. The set opened with a new, unrecorded tune with the Cuban groove that characterizes most of Kriss' music. Kriss and trumpeter Wayne Tucker had the first of many exciting solos trading fours, in Latin jazz style, and pianist Alon Yavnai played an especially rhythmic solo. As he often did when not playing, Kriss joined the rhythm section with a small percussion instrument, shakers in this case. Kriss introduced the band, which also included Israeli electric bassist Tamir Shmerling , percussionist Samuel Torres (from Colombia), drummer Dan Aran, and special guest oudist/guitarist Amos Hoffman (like Kriss, originally from Tel Aviv in Israel).

The meaning of the group name is evident if you think about it: Tel Aviv + Havana = Telavana. The band name defines the main elements in the sound: Cuban music combined with Middle Eastern sounds, along with some other Caribbean influences. The next tune was "Rak Beinatayim" (composed by Nurit Hirsh, arranged by Kriss) from the first album Telavana (Avenue K Records 2018), an Israeli tune arranged in Cuban style. It included a montuno section with coro vocals, a Cuban music mainstay. The round of solos featured trumpet, flute and electric guitar, and included a conga solo over a vamp. "Snowflake" began with a spellbinding unaccompanied electric bass solo. After being joined by the rest of the rhythm section as well as flute and fluegelhorn, Shmerling returned for another very lyrical bass solo. The tune was quite a showcase for his excellent playing.

As a freelance musician who had all his gigs canceled, Kriss said that he had taken the COVID pandemic as a challenge. He tried to compose a new tune every day for 100 days. Looking back on them, he jokingly acknowledged that they weren't always great. The previous tune "Snowflake" was also known as "Day 66." Many more of them found their way onto Supermoon (Ave K Records 2021), where most of them were given astrological titles in keeping with the album's zodiac cycle theme. "Sagittarius" has a hypnotic Middle Eastern flavor, greatly enhanced by Hoffman's oud playing. He was featured in an extended solo accompanied only by bass and percussion.

"El Alacran" (Scorpio) was next, another Cuban tune, which featured Hoffman on electric guitar this time. The performance was also graced by the elegant belly dancer Elena Nayiri (who accompanied the band from New York City), resplendent in a red and gold outfit and carrying two swords. Afterward, Kriss told the story of his early days playing with Hoffman at the jam sessions he would host during his weekly trio gigs in Tel Aviv. He considers Hoffman a mentor, even if Hoffman was not aware of it. At the very least, it showed how far back their musical relationship goes. Hoffman played a sinuous oud solo to introduce the next piece, which also included an expansive, lyrical unaccompanied piano solo from Orozco (powerful enough to recall Keith Jarrett). For the encore the group played a tune with a heavy Middle Eastern flavor, and Nayiri made another appearance, this time in a white and silver outfit with a long veil. The whole company took a well-deserved bow.

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