Israeli Trio Fuses Modern Jazz With Middle Eastern Sounds In Connecticut Debut

May 21, 2014

While playing his weekly gig at Manhattan’s Caffe Vivaldi some four years ago, pianist Assaf Gleizner, a Tel Aviv native, decided to please his parents by mixing traditional Israeli folk music with the modern jazz fare that he and his fellow Israeli sidemen, Koby Hayon and Nadav Snir-Zelniker, were to serve that night at the popular West Village restaurant and live music hot spot.   

"My parents had flown in from Israel to visit with me, and would be there at Caffe Vivaldi," Gleizner said by phone. "I said to Koby and Nadav, 'Let’s bring something to the table that my parents would be more interested in hearing. We can’t just do jazz. Let’s play some Israeli stuff.' We started the mix then."

What began as a dutiful son’s spontaneous gesture to please his loving, supportive parents has evolved into something quite special and permanent called Trio Shalva (Hebrew for serenity). The trio, which often plays with a brilliant intensity far surpassing serenity, is an on-the-rise alliance of three bold Israeli fusioneers who specialize in mixing a vibrant blend of modern American jazz and Israeli folk and pop music, employing a variety of Middle Eastern harmonic and rhythmic flavors.

Trio Shalva in action.
Credit PJ Valentini

With performances from Birdland to Brazil (its furthest ranging tour as yet), plus the release of its second album, Breeza (Hebrew for Breeze), the trio is on a run that no one could have foretold back when Assaf, as a mitzvah for his parents, casually threw open the door for the trio to freely mix Israeli songs and musical traditions with jazz. Its swinging, celebratory hybridization is done both collectively and individually by its accomplished members in their own distinctive way, a joyful mode for both artistic creation and the celebration of their beloved Israeli heritage.

Trio Shalva, which has played everywhere from bars, clubs and other  jazz venues to synagogues and non-profit groups throughout the New York region and beyond, makes its Connecticut debut as it performs at 6:00 pm on Sunday, May 25, at Pizzeria Lauretano, a jazz-loving Italian bistro at 291 Greenwood Avenue, Bethel.

Along with the pizzeria’s wood-fired pizzas and Neapolitan cuisine, you can savor the exotic textures, lyrical, bittersweet melodies and red-hot, Israeli folk dancing rhythms that Trio Shalva  generates so exuberantly on Breeza, which features Gleizner on piano, melodica and guitar; Hayon on bass and oud (a  lute-like stringed instrument of ancient Middle Eastern origin); and Snir-Zelniker on drums and percussion. On the trio’s debut CD, Riding Alone, stringmeister Hayon played guitar as well.

Trio Shalva will tap into zesty selections from Breeza, a delightful CD potpourri that opens with "Mizmar Laila (Melody of the Night)," a song which, Gleizner said, often transforms into a sing-along whenever the trio performs it for largely Jewish communities. Cavorting on Middle Eastern scales and melodies, the song has a spirit and universal appeal all its own.

Along with catchy traditional melodies and harmonies and improvised jazz inflections, the trio also brings its interpretive “jazzraeli” instrumental voice to bear on such surprising selections as The Beatles’ hit, "Eleanor Rigby," and Bjork’s "Bachelorette."

Trio Shalva.
Credit Jon Chatman

Asked about the Bjork selection—a surprising musical link connecting Iceland and Israel—Gleizner said that he has long admired the single-named, singular Icelandic diva.

“I heard "Bachelorette" on my iPod on the way to the studio recording session for Breeza,” Gleizner said. “When it came on, I thought to myself, ‘Wow! This has an Isreali melody!’ It just hit me for some reason. I don’t know everything about Bjork, but I find her music enjoyable.” 

On another song, "Ani Godin," which the pianist recalls hearing in his childhood, the trio does its hardest swinging as a jazz unit. This more virtuosic jazz side is yet another ingredient in Trio Shalva’s rich melting pot approach that runneth over with melodic hooks, high spirits, pretty, even ethereal passages (a kind of Middle Eastern musical impressionism); something that sounds like a minor blues and happy, handclapping-inducing moments reminiscent of Chick Corea’s euphoric Spain.

Whatever nutritious ingredients they pour into their cultural blender, it all comes out sounding not only cool but kosher, 100 percent faux-free fusion fit for healthy consumption by one and all. Best of all, it all sounds like a celebration by a highly-skilled, fun-loving trio whose genesis was a son’s surprise for his parents, and whose own story is still happily unfolding.

All that pleasure and delight that the three musicians are obviously experiencing is summed up best by the word shalva, or serenity, which has a special spiritual meaning for them when they’re getting deeper into the music. “The music itself isn’t necessarily that serene,” Gleizner said, “but I think we feel serene playing it. We have a feeling of home, of coming to peace when we play this music that we grew up on.” Information: pizzerialauretano.com and (203) 792-1500. 

Stephen Haynes.
Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR

Mega-Spectacle Focuses on Free Jazz

Improvisations, the much-lauded monthly celebration of free music curated by guitarist/bassist Joe Morris and cornetist Stephen Haynes, grooves on a mighty crescendo from 6:00 to 11:00 pm on Saturday, May 24, in a mega-production called Spectacle, featuring more than 15 past performers in the series and other practitioners of improvisation jamming in the moment at Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor Street in Hartford.

What is described as “a festival-style evening of ‘free music,’” presents a legion of cutting-edge players breaking down into a variety of small ensembles -- crack squads and take-no-prisoners swat team companies -- culminating in a collective performance by the entire contingent.

Among RAW’s Praetorian avant-garde are cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum and Tatsuya Nakatani, drums and percussion. Look for abstract expressionist tonal colors swirling from the varied instrumental palette that includes: cello (Daniel Levin), violin (Mat Maneri), vibraphone (Andria Nicodemou), bassoon (Joelle Wagner), clarinet (Zoe Christianson) and flute (Minta White). Add to this, colorful hues and cries pouring from other instruments ranging from tuba, trombone and various reeds to bass and guitar. Admission: $15.00 general; $12.00, RAW members. Information: realartways.org and (860) 232-1006. 

Fiery Powerhouse 3 at Firehouse 12

Barry Altschul, a legendary percussionist/composer who leads his torrid trio Friday night, May 23, at Firehouse 12, first made a name for himself in the 1960s and '70s with his exciting, innovative work with cutting-edge giants like Paul Bley, Sam Rivers and the quartet Circle (a short-lived but awesome foursome of Anthony Braxton, Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Altschul). Along with his free music creds, Altschul was also the inventive, savvy drummer of choice for such formidable modern jazz saxophonists as Sonny Criss, Art Pepper and the perpetually adventurous Lee Konitz.

Over the decades, he’s led his own groups, collaborated with the fissionable trombonist Roswell Rudd and was a charter member of the aptly named FAB Trio, with double bassist Joe Fonda and the explosive violinist Billy Bang. More recently, there’s been the drum master’s acclaimed album from last year, The 3dom Factor, his first release as a leader in 25 years. That TUM Records disc united him with Fonda, his FAB soul mate, and with the young saxophonist Jon Irabagon, winner of the Thelonious Monk Saxophone Competition in 2008, who has since soared impressively in many diverse directions.

Altschul’s white-hot 3dom, his freedom triple alliance—with the same searing lineup as on his 2013 CD-- performs at 8:30 and 10:00 pm on Friday, May 23, at Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven.  Look for crackling dialogues between Fonda, who’s fond of exchanging rapid-fire ripostes in the heat-of-the-moment, and the quick-witted Altschul and the spontaneous combustion of his streaming rhythms. Admission: $18.00, first set; $12.00, second set. Information: firehouse12.com and (203) 785-0468.

Like Dali’s Melting Watches

Singer/composer/lyricist Fay Victor’s art has been compared to everything from Salvador Dali’s surrealist melting watches in his "Persistence of Memory" to sorcery and a galvanic force by critics who find her iconoclastic approach evocative of historic trailblazers ranging from Jeanne Lee and Abbey Lincoln to Kurt Weill and Arnold Schoenberg.

Victor, who has performed and recorded with Anthony Braxton and William Parker, among other cutting-edge titans, leads her fearless Ensemble in concert at 7:30 pm on Sunday, May 25, at the Arts Block Café, 289 Main Street in Greenfield, Massachusetts. The triumphant Victor will be accompanied by her longtime associate, the Swedish, New York-based guitarist/composer, Anders Nilsson, and bassist Ken Filiano. Tickets: $15.00 at jazzshares.org and at the door.

The concert is presented by Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares, a grassroots, all-volunteer group of music lovers who have devised a way to finance concerts through the purchase of what they call jazz shares. Like farm shares, where stakeholders ensure the success of the farm by pre-paying for food, PVJS members purchase jazz shares to provide the capital needed to produce future concerts with minimal institutional support. PVJS operates under the fiscal sponsorship of the Northampton Center for the Arts. Like tickets, jazz shares are also available at PVJS’s website, jazzshares.org, and at the door.

Alfonso the Great

Trumpeter/singer/composer Ricky Alfonso and friends convene at 7:00 pm on Saturday, May 24, to continue the ongoing celebration of the recent opening of the new venue, 226 Jazz at 226 Broad Street in Windsor. The repertoire is billed as “blues, swing and other things,” all delivered with the imprimatur of Alfonso’s regal trumpet style rooted in a royal standard of excellence, which is most welcome in any club, new or old.  Tickets: $20.00. Information: (860) 219-1947. Tickets available in advance.

All in the Family

Proprietor Ed Krech opens his indie, mom-and-pop jazz record shop to a special all- in-the-family performance at 1:00 pm on Saturday, May 24, in his popular, admission-free, jazz matinee series at Integrity 'n Music, 506 Silas Deane Highway in Wethersfield.

Guitarist Tony Davis leads his combo, which features his dad, the noted trombonist/composer/bandleader Steve Davis, and his mom, the gifted pianist Mary DiPaola. Backing the talent-laden musical family is bassist Josh Uguccioni. Information: (860) 563-4005.  

Jazz Roundup

Baritone saxophonist Norman Gage and trumpeter Kenny Reed, two modern jazz master chefs, serve steamin’ mainstream fare as they lead their quintet at 6:00 pm on Monday, May 26, at J’s Crab Shack, 2074 Park Street in Hartford. Information: (860) 231-9545.  

John Brighenti, a versatile jazz and big band pianist, is united with his bass playing pal Lou Bocciarelli in the admission-free John Brighenti and Friends Series at 6:00 pm on Thursday, May 22, at Casa Mia On the Green, 600 Cold Spring Road in Rocky Hill. On May 29, Brighenti’s best buddy at Casa Mia is the blue-ribbon bassist Phil Bowler. Information: (860) 563-7000.  

The industrious Brighenti and his protégé, the rising, young vocalist Erin O’Luanaigh, kick-off a new jazz series on May 28 at Royal Masala, 391 Main Street. Hartford. Called Tim Logan Presents Jazz Night at Sutra, the new series will run Wednesdays 7:00 to 10:00 pm. Information: (860) 882-0900.

Digging into favorites from the Big Band Era, drummer/composer Joe LaRosa's Simply Swing ensemble sets feet dancing at 7:00 pm on Thursday, May 22, at Enes Community Center, 150 Nevers Road in South Windsor. Joe’s wife, musical partner and band vocalist Vivian LaRosa helps swing and ballroom dancers get in the mood with her swing a la mode offerings. Admission: free. Information on band’s area tour: simplyswingmusic.com.

A young performer/explorer who likes to soar on flights of imagination over varied musical terrain, Orice Jenkins, vocalist, composer, multi-instrumentalist and arranger, leads his trio at 8:00 pm on Friday, May 23, at The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown. His original music hops from hip-hop anthems to Beethoven-like piano odes. His Buttonwood buddies and fellow travelers are guitarist Dan Liparini and bassist Tom Sullivan. Admission: $10.00, general; $8.00, students and seniors. Information: (860) 347-4957.

Please submit press releases on upcoming jazz events at least two weeks before the publication date to omac28@gmail.com. Comments left below are also most welcome.