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Latino-America Festival returns to Tel Aviv amid war

If Latin sentiments – and, more to the point, sounds – are your cup of tea (or rum), you should be delighted with the offerings lined at the Tel Aviv Museum March 7-9. Over those three days, the second annual Latino-America Festival, under the aegis of artistic director Ziv Ben, will roll out 17 shows with artists from across the globe – predominantly from the Latin-leaning spots including Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Cape Verde, and also the Netherlands. They will be joined by our own leading purveyors  f various strains of the broad genre.

The latter includes Russian-born jazz saxophonist Lenny Sendersky, who fronts a quintet in the curtain raiser on March 7 at 5:30 p.m. The other band members are fellow Russian-born Israeli musician and internationally celebrated trumpeter Gregory Rivkin, and a triad of Yonatans – Ricklis on piano, Cohen on bass and Rosen on drums. “I have a problem remembering names, so I thought it would be easier like that,” says Sendersky, with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

The opening slot of the festival feeds straight off a solid, well-established and enduringly popular artistic foundation, with Sendersky et al charged with providing their own reading of Bossa Nova, a record put out by saxophonist Cannonball Adderley in 1962. At the time, the disc did not attract too much in the way of positive reviews, but it seems to have aged like a good wine and makes for rewarding listening these days. 

The legendary sax player appropriately added a bunch of Brazilian musicians to the album, including the now 83-year-old feted pianist, songwriter and bandleader Sergio Mendes, who has picked up several Oscars and Grammys in the six decade-plus interim.

 MARIA DE BARROS (credit:  Courtesy of Shamayim Productions)
MARIA DE BARROS (credit: Courtesy of Shamayim Productions)

‘Strong bond with Latin Jazz’

Sendersky says he and Latin music have been pals for quite a while. “I have a strong bond with Latin jazz – it probably sounds funny,” he chuckles. I learn that the perceived risible element stems from the fact that the reedman got his first hands-on taste of the emotive and joyful sounds of South America at an inchoate stage of his artistic continuum, and in a geographically and culturally very different spot on the planet. 

“When I was a young musician living in St. Petersburg, I played with people from Cuba and Brazil,” he recalls. It was basically love at first instrumental exhalation – and he has been enamored of the syncopated and soothing sonics of Latin jazz ever since. 

That was some years after he got his first taste of musical renderings in public. “I sang in the synagogue choir when I was about 10 years old.” That was a well-taken opportunity to begin honing his performing skills as well as providing him with an intro into religious tradition.

THE NOW 42-year-old reedman made the transition from Russia to Israel 13 years ago, although he encountered the global powerhouse of Israeli jazz prior to that. “I lived in New York for six months and I met Israeli jazz musicians there. It was tough to be in New York but it was good.” Sendersky duly returned to St. Petersburg but eventually made aliyah and joined what he calls “a robust Israeli jazz scene.”

His discography to date includes a couple of Latinesque releases and he frequently performs in this country with Brazilian-born guitarist Marcelo Nami and renowned percussionist Joca Perpignan. Perpignan has been a fixture on the Israeli pop and folk scene for three decades, and has played with several A-listers the likes of Arik Einstein, Mati Caspi and Yoni Rechter. Patrons of the festival will be able to catch Nami and Perpignan in action on March 9 (7 p.m.) when they appear as something of a super-duo pairing.

Sendersky also participated in last year’s inaugural edition of the festival, when he teamed up with Spanish trumpeter- saxophonist- vocalist Andrea Motis. There have been other fruitful Latin music synergies on these shores. “Through the Hot Jazz series [also captained by Ziv Ben], I played with a wonderful duo from Portugal: [vocalist] Carmen Souza and [bass player] Theo Pascal.” 

It has proven to be a long-term mutually beneficial working matchup. “We played here quite a few times and we became friends. They later invited me over to Lisbon and we made two albums together. We also performed in Spain.”

It was an eclectic stylistic experience. “It is not Latino-American music. It has sounds from Portugal, Senegal and all sorts of colors in there. Also from Cape Verde – that is important. Carmen Souza is from there.” In fact, Souza is Portuguese-born of Cape Verdean ancestry. 

The opening day of this year’s festival (at 9 p.m.) features a sextet fronted by Senegal-born vocalist Maria de Barros in a tribute to the most famous musician from the archipelago off the coast of West Africa: the late singer Cesario Evora, who performed in Israel several times before she died in 2011 at the age of 70.

LIKE MANY a jazz musician over the past six or seven decades, Sendersky’s entry into Latin-leaning jazz led through the groundbreaking work of Jewish American tenor saxist Stan Getz, who joined forces with Brazilian guitarist Joao Gilberto in 1963 to record their wildly popular record of jazz and bossa nova material. That was just a year after Adderley’s own contribution to the Latin jazz cause.

Sendersky is fully primed for his Tel Aviv Museum date. “I have been playing Cannonball’s record for years,” he notes. He has lined up the requisite personnel to get the job done next week. “Gregory Rivkin is a fantastic trumpeter. He trained academically at a conservatory in Paris, and also lived in New York. He can play classical music too, like Wynton Marsalis.” That’s a pretty flattering juxtaposition. “Gregory can play anything – Haydn or Handel and also [the late iconic jazz trumpeter] Freddie Hubbard – all at the same high level.”

Surprisingly, Sendersky says he did not embrace the Adderley record from the word go. “It is an important record but not as important as Kind of Blue,” he declares, referencing the pioneering 1959 release by Miles Davis, the biggest-selling jazz album of all time on which Adderley played. “Most jazz musicians are more familiar with that record.”

Still, Sendersky believes Adderley proved his worth, and then some, with his 1962 Latin project. “Bossa nova is less usual for him; I think it was a kind of experiment for him. The record succeeded because Cannonball was a genius. He could play anything and everything. He plays like a mix of bebop, swing and other things, together with the bossa nova rhythms.”

Sendersky says the source material is so wonderful he didn’t feel the need to play around with it and add his own baggage to the reading. “I took the original arrangements. There is joy in there and sadness, and wonderful music which we all need, especially at this time. There is no need to change a thing. They do say: ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!’”

Source: The Jerusalem Post