The propulsive rhythms of Latin America and the serpentine melodies of Israeli and Middle Eastern music may not seem like the most intuitive match. But fusing those sound worlds not only comes easily, says Itai Kriss, but, “For me it’s a challenge not to do it. Maybe there’s something about the Middle Eastern temperament that has a lot in common with the Caribbean. The warm spiciness and the informal, laid-back attitude make it easy to bridge those cultural gaps.”
The Israeli-born flutist will debut his new sextet during Sunday Jazz Brunch at World Cafe Live this weekend as part of Philadelphia’s sixth annual Israeli JazzPhest. The 10-day festival kicks off Friday with a tribute concert by the Mattan Klein Ensemble to the late Israeli composer Naomi Shemer, and closes Nov. 18 at International House with the North American concert debut of Ethiopian-born singer Ayala Ingedeshet. The lineup also includes performances by trumpeter Itamar Borochov, who draws on Arab and pan-African influences, and R*Time, a trio led by trombonist Reut Regev bridging avant garde jazz, funk grooves and hard rock.
That diverse roster showcases the eclectic and fruitful Israeli jazz scene, both abroad and in its ever-expanding New York contingent. Kriss says when he moved to the city 12 years ago, he found a large and welcoming support network. “A lot of people move to New York without knowing anybody, but when I came I knew dozens of people that I had known or heard of in Israel. The jazz community is very supportive in general, but within it the Israeli jazz community is quite sizable in New York – totally disproportionate to the size of Israel.”
Kriss’s new sextet is evenly split between Israeli and Cuban musicians, a balance that he says is reflected in his compositions for the ensemble. He discovered Latin music while studying jazz in Tel Aviv, but became deeply immersed upon moving to the States. “When I got to New York I started working with a lot of Afro-Cuban and Nuyorican bands because I play the flute,” he says. “There’s a really rich tradition of flute in salsa and Cuban music, but it’s a little more marginal in jazz. So naturally I had more work in the Latin world. Plus, I love the music.”
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