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Jazz goes beyond backyard to embrace world traditions

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Jazz musicians have always drawn to disparate influences for their material -- popular songs from Broadway, say, or, more recently, Radiohead tunes.

A group of New York-based musicians with Israeli roots looks a little farther afield for its inspiration: Jewish, Middle Eastern, North African and Iberian music, with Andalusian rhythms thrown into the mix.

Third World Love -- consisting of trumpeter Avishai Cohen, bassist Omer Avital, drummer Daniel Freedman and pianist Yonatan Avishai -- embraces those traditional elements, and still swings like it should.

Its latest CD, Songs and Portraits, is just one of three recent releases featuring Cohen, Avital and Freedman making modern jazz with traditional sounds. For example, Cohen's trumpet -- open, muted or run through an effects unit -- is simply played well, very well, whatever influences the listener may discern.

Bassist Avital's Suite of the East melds Middle Eastern and European classical music behind a front line that includes Cohen and saxophonist Joel Frahm, with Freedman on drums.

Freedman's Bamako by Bus travels with a full load of musical influences: rhumba, reggae, West African (with the help of Beninese guitarist and singer Lionel Loueke), Moroccan, Afro-Cuban and jazz.

If that seems like a busy musical mix, maybe even a mish-mash, it isn't. All three discs offer fine jazz and the skilled musicians make the fusion of styles seamless.

These three albums, on Anzic Records, have Cohen, Avital and Freedman in common but the label's roster sometimes makes it look like Blue Note Records in its heyday.

Starting in the 1950s and for decades Blue Note was known for a revolving lineup of artists and recordings -- a sideman today would front a session tomorrow -- and for the quality of those musicians.

Anzic, as well as the Third World Love triumvirate, features Avishai Cohen's sister Anat, a tremendous clarinet and saxophone player (who appears here next March as part of the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances series), their brother Yuval, a saxophonist, and pianist Jason Lindner, to name a few. Avital and Freedman are frequent sidemen on Anat Cohen discs. Anzic, in fact, is a contraction of ANat and muZIC (music spelled using artistic licence).

To some extent, they all draw on their influences and tradition; their geographic and cultural roots. But, that's what jazz has always done -- that sphere of influence is just wider now. As the world becomes smaller, the jazz palette gets bigger, and better as evidenced on these three discs.

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Saxophonist Craig Bailey is joining the University of Manitoba faculty of music's jazz studies program for the upcoming academic year. Bailey "is an exceptional artist with a vast amount of performing experience (and) a highly respected and gifted teacher," dean Edmund Dawe said in a statement.

Previous saxophone professor Jimmy Greene has taken a job in the jazz studies program at Western Connecticut State University.

Greene played his last Winnipeg gig on July 7 at the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden in Assiniboine Park and his leaving also left a gap in the annual U of M jazz camp, Aug. 19-25.

Baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan, winner of this year's Downbeat Critics' Poll for baritone sax (his third win), is stepping in. Smulyan is coming off a new CD, Smul's Paradise (Capri Records), a tribute to the classic jazz organ combo.

Smulyan will be a featured player on Aug. 22 when jazz camp instructors perform at the Winnipeg Art Gallery's Live on the Rooftop series. Tickets can be ordered at

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Paris-based drummer Karl Jannuska, a former Brandon resident, returns for a performance Aug. 18 at Brandon University to close out the musical Augustfest that begins on the 13th.

The title of Jannuska's new CD, The Halfway Tree, refers to a cottonwood tree that stands halfway between Brandon and Winnipeg along the Trans-Canada Highway, but the term halfway also alludes to the fact Jannuska and Canadian singer Sienna Dahlen each wrote half the lyrics on the instrumentally and vocally engaging recording.

Dahlen will perform with Jannuska, along with Toronto's tenor saxophonist Ben Dietschi and bassist Jesse Dietschi, Brandon's Greg Gatien on alto sax, and Winnipeggers Larry Roy on guitar and Will Bonness on piano.

Augustfest concert information is available at or 204-727-5682.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 16, 2012 D3

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