Israeli Jazz Musicians Make Mark

On Foreign Turf, New Generation Reshapes American Genre

New Swingers: Israeli jazz players jam at Smalls in New York’s Greenwich Village.
dana morgan
New Swingers: Israeli jazz players jam at Smalls in New York’s Greenwich Village.

By Phillip Lutz

Published August 27, 2012, issue of August 31, 2012.
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According to Avital, Remez is one of the “very few serious ones who have the whole package, yet keep on growing and learning.” In the past two years, Remez has led groups at spots like the club Twins Jazz, in Washington, and Philadelphia’s Chris’ Jazz Café, as well as Smalls and, in an early evening set, New York’s Blue Note Jazz Club.

This past May, Remez co-led a group with Avital at the Atlanta Jazz Festival. The group, which featured a cadre of like-minded players who would soon form the nucleus of the Band of the East, was received enthusiastically. A different Remez-led group appeared in June at the Palatia Jazz Festival, a two-month affair staged amid the fresh air and fertile soil of Germany’s wine country. That ensemble — saxophonist Uri Gurvich, pianist Shai Maestro, bassist Haggai Cohen-Milo and drummer Ziv Ravitz — was part of a bill also featuring combos led by two other young Israelis bidding for jazz stardom: pianist Omer Klein and guitarist Gilad Hekselman.

Back in the less pristine provinces of New York, the musicians from Remez’s Germany band have turned up in Brooklyn at the Shapeshifter Lab and the Douglass Street Music Collective, where the intimate rooms have become gathering spots for young Israeli expatriates keen on testing their ideas. The collective’s casual performance space — with its low-rise stage, folding chairs and discerning audiences — has given rise to some heated experimentation resulting in all manner of cultural synthesis.

Remez, for example, has fashioned an aesthetic that, by his own account, combines a fealty to Israeli tradition with an affinity for indie rock, especially as practiced by bands like Radiohead. This blend finds expression in a series of originals on “So Far,” his latest release on Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records.

While most of the album’s tunes do not have explicitly Jewish themes, at least two explore such themes directly: “Lecha Dodi,” a treatment of Ashkenazi and Sephardic melodies decoupled from their Sabbath liturgy, and “The Last Exile,” a sonic picture Remez likens to Jews on a bench positing a postwar future in which they are secure in their own land. The pieces use Remez’s spare guitar to haunting effect.

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