This year, the Ottawa Jazz Festival has what can only be described as a monster of a lineup. Featuring musical legends Bobby McFerrin, Bela Fleck and Earth Wind and Fire, it is sure to start Ottawa’s festival season on a high note. But there’s much, much more to the festival than the headliners. The magic of Jazzfest, much like jazz music itself, lies in the unexpected — an unknown artist that dazzles, a unique collaboration, an improvised jam that transcends musical definition. That magic happens because the festival is willing to experiment, to expose Ottawa audiences to unfamiliar, exciting new sounds from the world over.
And this tradition continues as this year’s Jazzfest showcases some of Israel’s most talented musicians in celebration of the country’s 65th birthday. Six Israeli artists are peppered throughout the festival from June 21 to July 1. From traditional Jewish music to Latin rhythms, the artists reflect the eclectic nature of Israeli music. Each of these artists was hand-picked by the festival’s producer Catherine O’Grady, who toured Israeli music festivals in preparation for the showcase.
“We’ve invited some projects we think are reflective of what’s happening in contemporary urban music in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem,” O’Grady said, adding that, though many artists stood out, “We couldn’t invite them all.”
While she was there, O’Grady noticed something about the way people enjoy music in Israel. She saw a country enthralled and excited by the new music coming from within its borders.
“There’s no kind of elitism about the music,” she said. The audiences at the concerts she attended were particularly enthusiastic: “They’re absolutely engaged, really profoundly, in ways that make me really jealous.”
We can only hope to experience some of the same enthrallment ourselves. The showcase kicks off with Itamar Borochov and Jonathan Greenstein on Saturday the 21st, a unique collaboration between two incredible artists. Expect plenty of trumpet and saxophone improvisation fueled by the diverse musical and cultural backgrounds of both artists.
Next, on the 22nd, the series takes a more vocal turn with Dida, an artist whose sultry tones have been making waves in New York. Along with her voice, Dida is very handy with the guitar and recently recorded an album with jazz legends Roy Hardgrove and Gregory Hutchinson. She’ll be followed later on that same night by the Shai Maestro Trio, another New York based project. Featuring virtuosic piano playing backed by a smooth rhythm section, this trio is sure to get audiences grooving.
On the 25th, Daniel Zamir and Omri Mor take over the stage with their fusion of traditional Jewish music with jazz. The interplay between Zamir’s saxophone and Mor’s piano is instantly compelling and unexpected. The pair has a truly unique sound. They are followed on the 26th by the incredible pianist Anat Fort, currently the only Israeli pianist to be signed to the venerable label ECM.
The showcase will be closed by Michael Greilsammer who is the only act to have previously visited Ottawa. His mix of jazz, rock, and traditional Middle Eastern music is a treat not to be missed. He recently made the international press with his mashup of the Israeli national anthem with the Game of Thrones theme, a perfect example of the creativity and playfulness for which Greilsammer is known.
Each of these artists are a reflection of Isreal’s east-meets-West culture, combining the musical styles of each.
“You can just hear it in the music,” O’Grady said. “They’re trained in the western classical jazz tradition, but the emotional life of the music is very much from the Middle East.”
The showcase represents an exciting opportunity to experience this blend first hand, as well as a look at the burgeoning musical culture of Israel. It’s new and exciting—a perfect fit for the Jazzfest.
Complete List of Israeli Acts:
June 21 – NAC 4th Stage – 9PM – Itamar Borochov & Jonathan Greenstein
June 22 – NAC 4th Stage – 5PM – Dida
June 22 – NAC 4th Stage – 9PM – Shai Maestro Trio
June 25 – NAC 4th Stage – 6PM – Daniel Zamir & Omri Mor
June 26 – NAC 4th Stage – 6PM – Anat Fort
June 29 – OLG After Dark Series – 10:30PM – Michael Greilsammer
Tickets for the Ottawa International Jazz Festival are available here.