The program said "The Kenny Garrett Quintet," but there were only four musicians onstage. It turns out that drummer Marcus Baylor did not board the plane to Israel "for reasons we will not elaborate on here," as Eli Degibri, the artistic director of the Red Sea Jazz Festival, said just before inviting Garrett to come on stage.
Since the famous saxophonist's quintet also includes a percussionist who took his place beside the drums, there appeared to be no irreversible damage. Still, one could not help wondering whether the concert by the festival's lead artist would be affected by the mysterious absence of the drummer.
Seventy five minutes later at the end of an outstanding concert, the first thought that came to mind was: If this is how Garrett sounds without a professional drummer accompanying him, it's scary to imagine how terrific he'd sound with one (the answer to this will come at Garrett's second concert at the festival tomorrow: Degibri promised that Baylor will arrive in Eilat before then ).
The fact that Garrett is an amazing saxophonist is nothing new. When you begin your career with Miles Davis' band, presumably you must be a decent musician.
Yet it was instructive to see and hear Garrett in action. His playing was so focused, so sharp, so precise, not to mention its intense power. And the most beautiful thing: a fine balance between the intellectual element and the physical element, between clear thinking and deep groove. Both burst forth continuously from Garrett's sax.
Rising young jazz musicians in the audience, including some saxophonists at the start of their careers, appeared to be rapturous. For the concert's first 15 minutes, even after it was already obvious that Garrett was demonstrating some of the best saxophone playing, it seemed that the band accompanying him was floundering a bit. You could hear that the percussionist was having a hard time getting comfortable in the drummer's chair.
Garrett seemed amused by this and did not stop joking about it with the pianist and the contrabassist (at the expense of the percussionist? If only it had been possible to hear these exchanges ).
But in the middle of the second number, the jokes stopped, the percussionist got used to his new role, the contrabassist and the pianist also showed that they are great musicians (mainly when it comes to groove ), and the whole band took off.
The only reservation about this great concert relates to the building of the repertoire. The third piece lasted almost 30 minutes and that was too long, despite the beauty of the music. The fourth piece, on the other hand, was an incredibly moving bluesy lament that lasted just three minutes and unfortunately did not feature any improvisation by Garrett.
Even without that, this concert will likely compete for the title of the festival's best performance.
It may be a little unfair to write about the Yuval Cohen Septet's performance, which opened the festival, while under the influence of the Garrett concert, but that's the nature of festivals - and in any case, there's nothing to compare. Garrett is a superstar saxophonist. Cohen is an excellent, ordinary saxophonist. He played well in his concert at the festival, as did his accompanists, but still this concert was a little disappointing.
Cohen, who frequently uses Hebrew songs in his work and praises the good, old Israeli melodies, played a tribute to composer David Zahavi.
He did this in a rather ambitious manner. Some of the songs he arranged (for a sextet ) seemed like a long and complex suite and all took on a jazzy beat with a deep, fleshy swing. In other words, Cohen did a deep overhaul of Zahavi's songs. "There's going to be a twist, so hang on tight and don't be afraid," he said before the band started playing a free arrangement of "Shtultem Nigunim."
But with all due appreciation for Cohen's boldness, it seems that he went too far. The impression while listening to the songs (and it must be confessed that it was hard to catch everything in one hearing ) was that the melodies Cohen learned from his parents (original Hebrew songs ) and the ones he learned later on (the jazz that forms the basis of the new arrangements ) did not manage to blend together. They did not create a single common melody.
Until in the end, it happened. The arrangement of "Mal'u asameinu bar" which ended the concert was fantastic, among other reasons because it emerged from a wonderful variation of the original melody and thereby remained close to it and moved away from it at the same time - a complex and refined position that was lacking in most of the other songs.
Singer Craig Adams and the Voices of New Orleans' concert was pure entertainment with no artistic pretensions. Legitimate, but still disappointing for three reasons. First, based on the first half hour of the show, even as entertainment it was not a dazzling success (Adams, for example, turned out to be mediocre singer ). Second, at the start of the festival's first night, the ear is still searching for the artistic experience; the entertainment can be saved for the festival's third and fourth nights. Third, until an act with some gospel in it comes to Israel (it happens once every few years ), it's unfortunate to discover that it is not gospel verging on soul, but gospel-lite made from plastic.
I wanted to leave the concert after the third song, but I lingered. They had come all the way from New Orleans. And then Adams launched into a song that gave me full, total and absolute permission to leave, and essentially forced me to flee: Foreigner's "I wanna know what love is." That's fine for a 1980s party, but at a jazz festival it's an act that borders on the criminal.
In the adjacent hall there was an intimate performance by two young pianists, Eden Ladin, 25 and Gadi Lehavi, a 16-year-old protege. The two musicians, who had to perform with Craig Adam's performance seeping in, managed to persuade me that the unusual format of two pianists, which could look like a gimmick, could be a productive place of creative playing. They ping-ponged ideas back and forth and played a few standards, a nice piece by Lehavi that introduced jazz and state-of-the-art rock, and an Ornette Coleman piece in which they hosted Yuval Cohen. After the concert, I heard a teenage girl around the same age as Lehavi excitedly tell two other teenage boys: "There was that bit where Yuval Cohen came up. F*** they just took off."
Red Sea Jazz Festival, first night. Kenny Garrett Quartet, Yuval Cohen Septet, Craig Adams and the Voices of New Orleans, Gadi Lehavi and Eden Ladin
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