Itai Kriss together with Hadar Noiberg is one of New York’s worst-kept secrets. Both flutists wear their Middle Eastern heritage just as well as they blend into the New York contemporary music scene. Of the two Mr Kriss leans more towards the traditional antecedents of his music using ululating Middle Eastern cadences melded in with strong and spicy Phrygian Modes to flavour his music. When thrown into the volcanic, molten mix of Latin Jazz music Mr Kriss’ music comes across in fascinating, fluttering and rippling Middle Eastern melodies that can just as quickly morph into Afro-Caribbean dance forms such as son and danzón. Both are equally authentic, which indicates Mr Kriss has matured into a musician who bestrides the two musical worlds of the Middle East and Latin America like a Colossus.
His 2018 recording Telavana, which is also the name of the ensemble he fronts, presents his unique ability to move easily between musical styles. This is a recording that evokes the heat and shimmering imagery of rippling Afro-Caribbean percussive grooves that make abrupt right turns towards the Middle East with the swagger and jiggle of Arabic music as well as Israeli folk forms. In any other instance one might assume that this comes from a musician who is proverbially-speaking neither here nor there. But in the case of Mr Kriss the ability to shape-shift, body and soul, from a Bedouin to a Cuban is utterly convincing. And it’s not simply because Mr Kriss is a consummate musician, able to make his true identity. Rather it’s because Mr Kriss’ true identity is one with a myriad of authentic personalities rolled into one.
This is a rare gift indeed and it has also enabled Mr Kriss to attract some of the finest musicians to render his music with aplomb. So whether he is evoking a Cuban comparsa (“Havana Special”) or write a soundtrack for a romance unfolding on a sand-dune silhouetted against the desert sun (“Sahadi’s Serenade”) or simply to paint a picture of the sparkling beauty of the Caribbean Sea (“Azules”) Mr Kriss does so with authentically beautiful melodies that he plays with majestic virtuosity on his oh-so-magic flute. And he does this with the assistance of musicians who are completely attuned with his vision and artistry – from Michael Rodriguez and Cesar Orozco to Or Bareket and Dan Aran, each musician is on top of his game. Two welcome surprises include Tamer Pinarbasi on the Middle Eastern qanun and Yosvany Terry on chékere – an instrument on which he is without par – bring a much greater sense of the irresistible to “Hong Kong Overture” and “Shabazi” respectively.