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Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat goes back to ‘bassics’

CM 21/04/2021

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 Jazz is a fundamentally improvisational art form. That necessarily demands not only skilled musicianship in the individual technical sense but also keen ears and an ability to listen to your bandmates. Numbers often start out with a pleasing melodic foray but, if the jazzy offering is really worth its salt, things are likely to veer off the sonic straight and narrow, challenging players and audience alike to stay on board.

Adam Ben Ezra has less of the above to worry about than most. The 38-year-old Israeli artist has, for some time now, made his bread performing solo. Then again, that does not mean he follows a single stratum of attack. For starters he has diversified his instrumental arsenal, adding keys, clarinet and percussion to his double bass. Over the years his work has also become ever more stratified as he employs loops and all sorts of electronic gizmos to lay down line upon line of rhythmic textural and harmonic structures.
That is evident in his evolving body of work which, thus far, takes in three studio albums, with a fourth due out any day now, some of which will be unfurled during his spot in this weekend’s Red Sea Jazz Festival, which kicks off in Eilat on Thursday, running through to Saturday.
Ben Ezra says he didn’t just wake up one fine sunny morning and decide to branch out into previously, for him, uncharted sonic domains. He readily admits to being something of a one-man band. “Yes, I’ve added more and more sounds and skills and, if I can do that, that’s great. It’s a process that has taken 10 years to get where I am today.”
Where he is today is a fascinating brew of sounds, texture and rhythms all fused through Ben Ezra’s sharp mind and ears to produce the sort of show which, while it might lack something in terms of visual action and interpersonal exchanges, certainly offers the listener plenty of layers to ingest and groove to.
Then again, he is not exactly starting from scratch. “I began playing the piano when I was 7, and I played the violin when I was 5. I started [professionally] on double bass, and then I added percussion and then loops, and also oud and clarinet, and I also play flute in my shows.”
All of which makes for fascinating richly and densely layered delivery as Ben Ezra offers intriguing, rhythmic, renditions of his own original material, jazz standards and stylized covers of pop and rock hits, such as Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and “Dear Prudence” off The Beatles’ White Album. There have also been some juicy readings of TV program theme tunes, including Dexter and Mad Men. There is evidently a strong percussive side to his musical ethos, and that also comes over loud and clear in his occasional forays into the realms of flamenco material.

MOST PEOPLE do not associate the double bass or, for that matter, drums as solo instruments. In jazz bands, the aforementioned generally occupy the rear of the stage, and provide rhythm section anchoring for the more acceptable lead instruments, such as saxophones, trumpets and piano. Ben Ezra appears to be more in the mold of such bassists as Czech veteran Miroslav Vitous, one of the leading lights of the 1970s fusion scene. Some years ago, when I interviewed him ahead of an appearance at the Red Sea Jazz Festival, Vitous told me he’d given up playing for a while because he was fed up with bass players being “the slave of the band.” By that, he meant that he and his fellow instrumentalists don’t normally get too many opportunities to shine at jazz concerts.
That lamentable state of affairs prompted Ben Ezra to get out there with his unwieldy-looking four-stringer and do his thing on his ownsome. Added to that, when soloing bassists tend to head for the upper registers of the instrument which, basically, contravenes its very textural and sonic essence. But that is often the only way the bassist can rise above the accompanying melodic bedding of his or her bandmates.
Ben Ezra was not about to settle for that and felt he needed to get his full range of sounds and stylistic sensibilities out there. “That pushed me to go solo,” he explains. “When you play in a band it is much harder for the bass to stand out, and get away from its normal role.”
After several years of occupying the front, side and rear stage, as a one person act, Ben Ezra says he now has a handle on that and is fully capable of having his musical say even when he is not on his own. “I can do that now, as I did with my trio on my first album.” The record in question is Can’t Stop Running, which came out in 2015. Since then he has released Pin Drop in 2017, and last year’s Hide And Seek. “That came out just as the pandemic was starting,” he laughs wryly. A fourth offering is due out soon.
Ben Ezra is enjoying his solo work, although he did go through a challenging baptism. “It is a lot of responsibility to take on my own shoulders. It took me a few years to get to the point where I was having fun on stage.” That refers more to the peripheral goings-on than the need to constantly hit high points in terms of musicianship. “I have to speak at shows and communicate with people. I come from bass playing, so I am more used to supporting bands rather than being at the front.”
Today, Ben Ezra complements all the above instrumental endeavor with his own special vocals. “I started out as a sort of singer songwriter, so I sang even before I started playing bass, and I wrote songs with lyrics,” he notes. “My singing is kind of Mizrahi style, but I don’t sing words. I often use the svara discipline, which is like Indian scatting. But, anyway, I feel you can tell a story even without words. You can convey emotions and content to an audience just by playing an instrument too.”
Ben Ezra’s last live gig was in Switzerland, back in September, so he is very eager to get out on stage in Eilat. He says he accrued some weighty personal and professional baggage during the interminable lockdown era. “I had time to look inward and to write music. I feel my work now comes from a more genuine place.”
For tickets and more information about the Red Sea Jazz Festival: www.redseajazz.co.il, www.eventim.co.il or call *9066.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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