Live Wire / A Less-than-perfect Marriage

Anat Fort and Abate Barihun are impressive musicians, but their recent performance together didn't do their talent justice.

Toward the end of their performance, the quartet of Anat Fort and Abate Barihun played an arrangement of a popular Ethiopian passage called "Gadaye." "What's 'Gadaye?'" Fort asked Barihun on stage, and the saxophonist became a little confused and in the end said "It's a wedding song."

The encounter between Barihun and Fort, which concluded the jazz festival at the Givatayim Theater this weekend, reflected an attempt to conduct a creative marriage between two wonderful musicians who are very different from one another in both style and sound. Barihun brings the heady sound of Ethiopian music, as incorporated in his expressive playing and moving vocals; pianist-composer Fort's "dowry" is delicate and lyrical chamber jazz, with very subtle echoes of classical music and free jazz.

Daniel Tchetchik

Can an encounter of this kind work? Good question. Barihun first made his mark among local jazz audiences when he cooperated with pianist Yitzhak Yedid. The encounter between the two gave rise to "Ras Deshen" in 2004, one of the most wonderful Israeli albums of the previous decade. When they joined forces, however, Barihun and Fort had no chance of recreating the excitement aroused by "Ras Deshen" - one reason being because that before that album came out Barihun had been totally unknown, and his sudden debut was amazing. There was still hope that the marriage between the saxophonist and the pianist would be enjoyable, organic and fascinating. And it was enjoyable, but not very organic or fascinating. A classic example of the whole being smaller than the sum of its parts.

Barihun and Fort's quartet, which included contrabassist Avri Borochov and percussionist Gilad Dobrecky (Fort called them "Avri Gilad" - a popular Israeli entertainer ), played two types of pieces at the festival: melodies by Fort and arrangements of Ethiopian folk songs. Fort's selections were nice for the most part, although Barihun's contribution was not particularly interesting. There was even a short section in the piece called "Something About Camels" in which Barihun didn't play, while the trio of Fort-Borochov-Dobrecky together achieved a deeper dimension of musical depth and intensity. At that moment I didn't want Barihun to go back and join them. Who would have believed that I would feel that way about my favorite Israeli jazz musician?

But the real problem was with the Ethiopian selections. Fort arranged them in a jazz style, and although she is usually an excellent arranger, this time something didn't work. In the middle of the song "Monai", for example, the contrabass began to play swing, which in effect removed Barihun's singing from its natural context. And in the "Bati" selections, Fort introduced harmonies that diminished the magic of the Ethiopian scale. This time I wanted Fort to stay outside, and Barihun to play with the contrabassist and the percussionist, albeit without harmony.

In effect, as the performance continued I understood that in my fantasy, I had hoped it would look different: First, I'd envisioned that Fort, Borochov and Dobrecky would go onstage and play a few selections as a trio; then Fort would leave the stage and Barihun would get up and play as a trio with the contrabassist and the percussionist. I think that two such mini-performances could have been outstanding. And in the end, for the encore, the four musicians would have played together the selection that they actually did play for the encore: the third movement of Fort's suite "Sweet Light" - a profound and calm musical meditation, with bewitching percussion by Dobrecky. A wonderful end to a mediocre performance.