Yearot Menashe 2019

Beautiful anonymous dancer – Yearot Menashe 2019/Photo: Ayelet Dekel

Trees tower against a background of endless sky, silver green on blue, and the saxophone is singing out. Friday morning at Yearot Menashe and I’ve made it to the Armageddon stage just in time for one of my favorites, a wonderful tradition at the festival: Ronen Shmueli, Director of the Rimon Jazz Institute, performing with an ensemble of students. The music is bright, and led by Ronen Shmueli on keyboards, these performers really shine: Shahar Amdor – Alto sax, Rotem Gerad – Trombone, Shajar Siroski – Guitar, Ron Barzilai – Bass, Nitzan Birnbaum – Drums. There’s a light-hearted vibe onstage, everyone’s having fun, and the young musicians take their solos with style and verve. In the manner of the best traditions, this year Ronen brought something, or rather someone new to the mix – hip hop artist Sagol 59 (Khen Rotem) for a show titled: Futuristic Hard Bop with Rolling Israeli Rap. The setlist included Ronen’s renditions to selected works by jazz composers of the 60’s-70’s tailored to fit with Sagol 59’s freestyle rap. “Let’s get dirty,” said the “captain of words” (my rough translation) – Hebrew and English, words and music did a cool dance together, and it was great fun. When the concert ended, I heard a voice behind me say: “It’s a nice way to start the day.” Very.

And what a day it was! Photos of the wonderful happenings on this link. I’m updating, adding more photos throughout today…

I love Yearot Menashe – the festival takes place in all the beauty of nature, surrounded by trees. Live music is an entity unto itself, charged with the excitement of the present, disappearing moment. Listening to music outdoors, there are literally no walls, and the connection between stage and audience becomes very intimate. Those wide-open spaces generate a relaxed feeling, there’s room to move, wander about, jump around and dance like crazy. Or, if the spirit moves you, like one festival goer I noticed, find a place in the shade with a good novel by S. Y. Agnon. It’s pretty amazing to see so many people gathered together in one place, of all ages and individual styles, in such harmony, brought together by a love of music. There are those wonderful moments when a crowd becomes a community. The festival has a very “live and let live” feel. There’s so much freedom to do your own thing (including some open stage time for those who want to make their own music), and I believe that freedom is the key to kindness. It’s a simple equation: free people are happy people, and happy people are kind. Like the young girl who went around at one concert with a big squirt gun, politely asking people if they wished to be squirted. As Friday was a hot, very, very, hot day, she heard a lot of “yes”.

My next adventure on the Armageddon stage was hearing the Yogev Shetrit Trio live for the first time – Moshe Elmakias on keyboards, Yoad Shoshani on bass, and Yogev on drums. Vibrant instrumentals by Yogev shimmered with Andalusian/Moroccan influences and bright hues. Even in the quieter interludes, you could feel the groove that is deep within the music. Percussionist David Dagmi joined on Mama Dialy, which Yogev said was inspired by the good feeling of home, with his mother creating the same rhythm heard in the song as she prepared couscous. Great vibes onstage and in the audience as songs with beautiful piano melodies opened out into different directions, creating layers of rhythms and moods, punctuated by the exploding energy of wild, incandescent drums.

The day was hot but the music was hotter! Tigris (Ilan Smilan – Guitar, Amir Sadot – Bass, Roei Hermon – Keys, Itamar Katzir – African Drums, Oded Aloni – Cajon & Percussion) worked their magic, the music like a sound-potion entering the bloodstream, revealing the wild animal that lives inside of us all, and lifting everyone up on their feet to dance. One song flowed into another in a happy, rhythmic acoustic-electronic glow.

Dov Balu conducted Blind Orchestra (the musicians perform blindfolded, responding to a pre-arranged code of touches with the baton) like a cook adding spices, and tasting as he goes. Opening kind of dreamy and mystical, the set soon took off for some crazy fun when the sax player sang “I’m in an igloo in Antarctica” voicing the secret desires of everyone under that hot Middle Eastern sun. Listening to Blind Orchestra, is like listening to a concert with scripted music that’s been struck by a lightning bolt, performed by terrific musicians. Onstage were: Tomer Mash, Nitai Marcos, Nadav Fast, Itai Reznik, Dor Levin, Shiri Shahar, Eyal Tafesh, and Yali Sharon. But it’s not scripted, it’s all improvised – and that makes it all the more amazing.

Wandering through the festival I moved to the reggae sound of Blue Meduza at the Kerhat HaYa’ar stage. Later, at the Tree stage I enjoyed Sapir Volach’s intimate, poetic songs, especially the last one: “only in total darkness was I able to see all the stars.” (my very rough translation from the Hebrew)

As the day moved on, and Friday looked towards Shabbat, Shai Tsabari and the Middle East Groove All Stars led a joyous congregation of song on the Shoresh stage, merging traditional piyyutim, contemporary poetry and arrangements dancing with groove. A moving rendition of the beautiful song Me’Alai Demama was dedicated to its composer, Ahuva Ozeri, may her memory sing on forever.  After hearing Shai sing Ana Ana (a Hebrew version of Leonard Cohen’s Lover Come Back to Me), I chatted with the lovely family standing next to me, who told me that their two little girls, one still young enough to be carried in her father’s arms, love that song, and even know all the words. Their other fave is Tahabil Tirbach by Quarter to Africa, who performed at the festival on Saturday.

After standing on my feet for several hours, I sought out a place to lay back and discovered, listening to Forestt, that the sound system was excellent, and I could hear really well, even from a distance. Lots of families with young children were at the festival, and beside me, a toddler was concentrating on colorful blocks, his back to the music. Suddenly, he sat up straight, looked at me, smiled, and pointed to the stage, as Orka Teppler sang: “Sing Pure Soul sing/until good love will come by.”

Gal de Paz brought on the woman power – I could feel the energy in the crowd surrounding the stage. “I love you all” she said in Hebrew, gendering “you” in the feminine – embracing not the rules of grammar, but the spirit of strength, beauty, and change. Bounding, dancing, jumping on stage, her curls flying and her voice soaring, she was wonderful and amazing!

Balkan Beat Box – I can’t even begin to describe, and all the superlatives don’t come close to the live experience. The fun began for me during the sound check, as very young fans (some looked as young as 8) crowded the barrier, waiting for a glimpse of the band members. Tomer Yosef was rocket-powered, mesmerizing the crowd, working the words, the moves, the rhythm and the groove! Eyal Talmudi and Ori Kaplan jumping and spinning in the air as they played the saxophone, Itamar Zeigler, Tamir Muskat (and others up there that I couldn’t see from my angle) – what a scene, what exhilaration, they made us all feel that we’re “part of the glory”.

Night, nearly 12 hours into the festival, I thought I was tired, but then I wandered over to the Armageddon stage and Malox (Eyal Talmudi – sax/clarinet/bagpipes, Assaf Talmudi – keyboards, Roy Chen – drums) were just starting to play Polka for Punks, and I realized that tired is a word that’s only relevant to people who are not listening to Malox. The energy was electrifying, surging higher and higher, and the sounds penetrating deep. At the very end of the set, there was a fun surprise as Eyal invited Las Piratas Piratas a 16 person, Jerusalem based, Brass Band to join Malox onstage. Fantastic! A taste of Yossi Mizrahi’s new musical project left me curious to hear more from this artist… Then, Gunned Down Horses filled the stage with drama, enchantment, terrific music, excitement and exhilaration! Thank you for the memories Yearot Menashe!