A good seven thousand miles separate the Middle East and the Caribbean, but are they truly that far apart? With flutist Itai Kriss and his band, Telavana, spanning the two, that distance seems to vanish.
Kriss, a native Israeli, has spent the past fifteen years immersed in the scene in his adopted home of New York. There, he’s involved himself in straight ahead sounds, Latin jazz circles, the salsa scene, Afro-Cuban projects, and a good number of other scenarios, ultimately filtering all of these influences through his flute. What comes of all of that through his own imagination is an amalgam that speaks both to roots and the act of branching out. All is one in this music, and the project, as a whole, is a true sum of Kriss’ experiences.
Album opener “Sahadi’s Serenade” is instructive in demonstrating the manner by which Kriss is able to merge various strains (or toggle between them). Arriving with Kriss and trumpeter Michael Rodriguez‘s clear call from the arid afar, this band caravan’s across the desert atop Or Bareket‘s bass line in seven. Marcos Lopez‘s hand drumming adds a slight Caribbean flavor to the party, as do early solos. But when Rodriguez and Kriss trade, the percussive foundation really opens up and pianist Cesar Orozco lends a helping with montuno ministrations. That tips the balance decisively to the West. As all of this unfolds, Kriss and company never abandon any concept or region wholesale; there’s just a shift of emphasis in the cards.
As the album plays on, so too do the acts of synthesizing and globetrotting. “Rak Beinatayim” seems at first to speak directly to the stately allure of Argentina’s dance floors and mournful Hebraic tides, eventually leaving both in the rearview mirror for a trip to Cuba. “Shabazi” sets its sights on Eastern ideals, blending Egyptian, Moroccan, and Turkish accents, with guest Tamer Pinarbasi adding volumes on qanun, a string instrument descended from the Egyptian harp. And then there are obvious geographical nods—”Para Venezuela,” a number that shines brightest when Kriss and Bareket go to town together, and “Havana Special,” a peppy production that finds Kriss and Rodriguez playfully batting things back and forth—which still manage to absorb aspects from other realms. Those songs, along with what precedes and surrounds them, mark this man and this band as a set taken by musical wanderlust and cultural networking.