The Tel Aviv Jazz Festival is one of my favorites in the winter city scene, festival artistic directors Barak Weiss and Asher Kesher bring world class musicians together in the heart of the city at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. Free concerts every night in the festival tent outdoors; and two halls inside with a diverse program, full to the brim with music and excitement drifting out onto the street, filling the nights with sound.
The festival brings the world to Tel Aviv; and Tel Aviv to the world, connecting music and people. One of the most memorable experiences for me this year was Ronnie Cuber Septet’s tribute to the music of Horace Silver, “The Hippest Cat.” The concert was amazing – Silver’s music is ALIVE, it just sings through the body and makes you want to get up and dance! Just as exciting was a glimpse behind the scenes, at the rehearsals for the concert, watching Ronnie Cuber work with an ensemble of terrific Israeli musicians: Jonathan Greenstein on saxophone, Niv Toar on Trumpet, Avi Lebovich on Trombone, Ronen Shmueli on piano, Assaf Hakimi on double bass, Shay Zelman on drums, and Ronnie Cuber on tenor sax and baritone.
This is the essence of music and the thrill of the festival: musicians who have never played together before, who may never even have met before, communicating through the music, creating a new shared perspective on Silver’s music through this dialogue. When I joined them on Thursday morning, February 23rd at the Shablul Jazz Club, the group had been working together for a week. Coming into the room, I saw Ronnie Cuber at the piano, talking with Ronen, later when the group took a break; he played a quick set on the drums. Cuber is in the music at all times, intensely focused and fiercely disciplined, and at the same time letting the music flow through him, loose, easy, groovy.
As they worked on the nuances of each piece, from the “dark blues” of Senor Blues, to the Portuguese rhythms of Cape Verdean Blues, it was exhilarating to watch the intense preparation that goes into each song, the balance between precision and a playful feel. Talking to Shay, the drummer, Cuber gave very exacting instructions on the closing bars of a song, having Shay play short sequence over again several times. Yet, he concluded his comments by saying, “All right you can mess around with that.” Even with all the inevitable pre-concert tension, the pleasure and the love for Silver and his music filled the club – at one point, Cuber and Avi Lebovich got up and danced!
The amazing vibe they created flowed through the Friday night concert, I wish it could have gone on forever. The festival is over, but the groove goes on, both for the musicians who played together and the audiences who heard them, all connecting through the music. The concert closed with “Blowing the Blues Away” – it’s my favorite, and perhaps Ronnie Cuber’s favorite too, as he said, “That tune puts me in a nice place.” Taking place in the urban center of Israel, Tel Aviv, the place where everything is happening, makes the festival even more meaningful, taking the music out to where the people are, and connecting international musicians to the city. “I’d like to play in this club,” Cuber said that Thursday morning at the Shablul rehearsal, and I look forward to his return to the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival and to Tel Aviv.