02/26/12

Opening Night of the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival 2012

Scott Krane reports from jazz festival in Israel

Last Tuesday night marked the opening of the 23rd annual Tel Aviv Jazz Festival at the Tel Aviv Cinametheque. The festival, hosted by former attorney and arts and culture entrepreneur Barak Weiss, ran from February 21-24.

Spread out in two separate auditoriums at the cinematheque in the center of the city, the audience was privy to performances by the Mary Stallings Quartet, Yuval Cohen and Yonatan Avishai, The Henry Grimes Trio and the Baptiste Trotignon Trio. This is not to mention a free outdoor performance of swing, bop and gypsy jazz by the Shai Brenner Quartet: Brenner on soprano, Ori Ben-Zvi on guitar, Adam Ben Ezra on bass and Matan Ben-Zvi on cachon.

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Tuesday night was the first time French pianist Baptiste Trotignon has appeared in Israel, he told the audience. He played with contrabassist Thomas Bramerie from New Zealand and the Belgium drummer, Andre Pallemaerts. The trio entertained a middle-aged audience with funky uptempo numbers of weightless, playful melodies, accented by Trotignon's distinct piano voicings, dripping in romantic harmonies and suspension chords. The set list consisted of all originals, save for Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy" and Arthur Schwartz's "You and the Night and the Music."

The rest of the two-hour set consisted of the tunes "First Song," "Peace," "Moods," "Awake," "End of the Gig" "Kaujira," "Fly," "Gone," "No Attachment," "Schizo," and, finally, "Chorinho."

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Next door to the Baptiste Trotignon Trio was another special treat. Giving their performance in a slightly larger auditorium for a slightly younger audience, the Henry Grimes Trio provided a decidedly mysterious experience. You might say the 76-year-old Grimes is a throwback to the days of free jazz and an underhanded homage to plastic surrealism.

In his younger years, Grimes performed with such great as Gerry Mulligan, Coleman Hawkins, Lee Konitz, Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Benny Goodman, Roy Haynes and Charles Mingus, as well as the avant-garde artists Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor and Don Cherry, an innovator of free jazz who must have left an indelible impression on Grimes.

The mystique of Grimes' sound may be due in part to his strange tale: After the Juilliard-trained bass player made a name for himself playing with all of the aforementioned cats, legend has it he disappeared somewhere in California, sometime in the 1960s, while working with Al Jarreau and Jon Hendricks. His bass had broken and he hadn't money to repair it. He was thus forced out of the music world. Grimes went to work as a custodian and maintenance man, while penning volume after volume of poetry.

Then, in 2002 in Los Angeles, he was "discovered" by a jazz-enthusiastic social worker who hooked him up with another avant-garde bassist, William Parker, who lent him his instrument. Ever since then, the elderly hipster has been constantly in the studio and on stage. Since 2003 he has played more than 475 concerts in 27 different countries.

Grimes appeared in Tel Aviv with Andrew Lamb on saxophones and Newman Taylor Baker on skins.

The set list of musical improvisations and spoken-word poetry for the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival gig went as follows: "Invoking," "Splashing In Sound," "Conjure," "Walk of the Brothers," the poem "Mother Africa," "Washboard and Fiddle," "Flutation," "Walkabout," "Tel Aviv Tempest," the original poem "Easternal Mysticism, Virtue and Calm," "Futuristic," "Harmonicat" and "Prayerful."

Throughout the evening, Grimes switched between double-bass and violin. Lamb played tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute, percussion and the rare chromatic harmonica. Taylor Barker played a drum kit and washboard.

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