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Monday, August 29, 2011

Filling gaps with flair

Riff Cohen

Shlomi Shaban and Riff Cohen, who replaced foreign no-shows at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat, did not disappoint.

Shlomi Shaban was called to the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat to fill slots vacated by musicians who canceled appearances at the last minute. Yet a large portion of singer-pianist Shaban's interaction with the audience was devoted to bemused reflections about his tenuous connection with the world of jazz.

He outlined his personal biography "for anyone who has dropped into this concert without knowing what's going on." In 2007, Shaban said, he abandoned the musical genre with which his name had been associated - bebop. Since then, he has basically reinvented himself as an Israeli rock singer.

Anyone who forgave him for his loose connection with jazz (it bears mention that jazz festivals around the world frequently invite performers associated with other popular forms of music ), enjoyed an excellent, uplifting performance. Shaban offered crazed, high-spirited renditions of favorites such as "Don't talk about Arik," and his performance was distinguished by his characteristic mix of verbal sarcasm and almost violent pounding on the piano keys.

One highlight of the concert was the staging of a democratic referendum on the question of who wanted a song about life, and who wanted one about death ("As always, the aspect of death is more uplifting," Shaban reflected ).

Another high point was the spontaneous, and much welcome, appearance of guest artists Yoni Rechter and horn player Avishai Cohen. It appeared that Shaban had no reason not feel at home in the festival: His instrumental work always includes an element of improvisation, and in Eilat his playing was particularly sharp, expressive and precise - if you will, jazzy.

American jazz singer Gretchen Parlato has a voice that astounds audiences in live performances. Her voice reaches such incredible heights that it becomes hard to believe that the sounds are emanating from a creature of flesh and blood. Her accompanying musicians add greatly to the performance - they play sophisticated melodies professionally and smartly, and offer jazz music in an appealing, accessible atmosphere.

Nonetheless, someone who sat next to me responded astutely to the performance, opining that "there's something missing here, maybe desire." The performance rendered by Parlato, 35, which opened the evening, was not bad. In fact, it was a good concert, with some very strong moments that occurred when something went out of control, when a musician began to improvise and stepped away from the disciplined musical lines followed by the singer. Most of the time this was an impressive performance, enjoyable in a light, non-demanding way.

As in the case of Shlomi Shaban's appearance, the performance by singer Riff Cohen was arranged quickly, as a result of cancelations by overseas performers. The question arises: Why weren't the festival organizers prepared for this possibility of cancelations?

Cohen works in Paris and Israel, and will soon release her debut album. Whoever saw her show on Tuesday, toward the end of the evening, witnessed an unusual and charming stage presence, along with a fine accompanying ensemble. Most impressive were her songs, which feature strong melodies with jazz tempos, along with influences from rock and other genres.

Hers was the first concert at the festival during which one could see young people crowding around the stage and breaking spontaneously into dance. This was also one of the only performances at the festival after which you were left enjoyably humming some of the melodies. Most of the songs were in French, but words of one number performed near the end, "Here is the Light," were engraved in one's memory for hours after the event, and the song constituted one of the festival's highlights.

On the one hand, it was unfortunate that more people were not there to witness one of the festival's most scintillating performances; on the other, in view of Cohen's songs and stage presence, there is little doubt that many will come to see her perform in the future.