FeaturedIssuesJune 2024

New Album Release: All Aboard Vol. 1 Departures by Itai Kriss & Telavana

From the desert shores of the Mediterranean to the tropical beaches of the Caribbean, Telavana brings together the musical spheres of the Middle East and Latin America. Led by Grammy-nominated flutist-composer Itai Kriss, the NYC-based band features master musicians from Bogotá, Jerusalem, Havana, New York, and beyond who contribute their diverse musical identities and personalities. Though drawing inspiration from multiple traditions and fluent in various musical languages the music speaks in a clear voice and is intelligible to anyone with ears and a heartbeat. Telavana is based in New York City and has performed in many premier venues including Dizzy’s Club - Jazz at Lincoln Center, Smalls, Minton’s Harlem, Lunatico, Exit Zero Jazz Fest & Riverside Jazz Fest to name a few. With its message of openness, pluralism, cultural diversity & celebration of differences, and its joyfulness of expression Telavana has cultivated a multifarious following of music lovers and continues to woo new fans around the globe.

Itai Kriss - flute, vocals and compositions
Wayne Tucker - trumpet and flugelhorn
Ahmed Alom Vega - piano
Tamir Shmerling - acoustic bass,
electric bass and vocals

Dan Aran - drums and vocals
Samuel Torres - congas and percussion
Special guest: Amos Hoffman - oud and guitar

Interview with Itai Kriss

Can you tell us a bit about your musical journey? 

I have been fascinated by music for as long as I can remember. As a child, my first instrument was the recorder, followed by the guitar and then the flute. My earliest musical memories are jamming with my dad, playing blues, folk, and rock n’ roll. Over the years I picked up and dabbled with more instruments including the piano, saxophone, upright bass, congas, various percussion instruments, and the Cuban trés. During my childhood and adolescence, I was lucky to study classical flute at a conservatory, sing in a multilingual choir and vocal quartet, play in a youth orchestra, study jazz at a high school for the arts, play in multiple ensembles and a big band and perform regularly for in school concerts and events. It was during that time that somebody gave me my first salsa cassette and ignited my lifelong infatuation with Latin tropical music.

How did it lead you to become a flutist and bandleader in the jazz and world music scenes?

During my formative years in Tel Aviv, I had many teachers and elders who have lived in NY and they inspired me to move there after my high school. In my first years in New York, I met lots of amazing musicians in the Jazz, Salsa, Cuban, and Brazilian genres and so I had a great pool of players to play gigs with. I’ve always enjoyed composing and directing so starting my own band seemed like a natural thing to do to play my music. After about a decade of living and playing in NY I had the idea to write some music that would combine my passion for Latin music with my background in Jazz and the Middle Eastern cultural heritage I picked up through osmosis growing up in Israel, and that’s how Telavana was born.

 Can you share a pivotal moment or piece that solidified your passion for music and particularly for jazz?

As a young person I used to go every year to the Red Sea Jazz festival where I got to see many of my heroes. It was almost the only opportunity to see world class artists perform live, you could get a pass for the whole night and I used to get a kick out of walking around and seeing all the diverse shows. Every night after the shows were done there was a poolside Jam session till sunrise and I really wanted to be able to one day be on those stages.

Congratulations on your upcoming album "All Aboard Vol. 1: Departures" with Telavana. What inspired the theme for this album, and how do you feel it's represented musically across the different tracks?

Much of the music for “All Aboard” was penned during the pandemic, when we were all confined to our homes. At some point, with lots of time on my hands, I challenged myself to write 100 tunes in 100 days, just to see what would come out and many of the songs on the album were born from that project. Since I couldn’t travel physically I enjoyed letting my mind take me to imaginary destinations to explore different landscapes and local flavors. The theme of All Aboard is travel, which can be done in the “real” world but also in the imagination. I love traveling to new places and the feeling of experiencing life through a new and different lens, and I feel that music has the power to transport us and immerse us in a mood, a language and an atmosphere. The whole concept of Telavana is an imaginary place, not quite Tel Aviv nor Havana, so it seemed to me like a good idea to explore other places along the journey.

The album takes listeners on a journey from Morocco to Senegal, Egypt to Paris, and beyond. How did you approach blending these diverse cultural influences while maintaining a cohesive sound for the album?

Living in our interconnected digital age, and especially in a multicultural city like New York, it’s easy to find inspiration in diverse sources and fountains. When I play music from my library in shuffle mode it often feels like spinning the globe and randomly skipping between destinations. For this album, we recorded live with all acoustic instruments, no synths or electronics and minimal overdubs so the sound is very organic and natural. Even though the tunes have diverse inspirations and express different musical styles, they were all composed in the same time frame and recorded in the same two days, which adds to the cohesive sound.

With "All Aboard Vol. 1: Departures" being your third release with this multicultural ensemble, can you share a bit about how Telavana has evolved since its inception and what you've learned along the way?

The more I perform with and compose for Telavana, the more I learn about blending styles and about music in general. My goal is to connect with the listener and there are countless ways to do so, be it through exciting and percussive music that urges one to dance, tender pensive melodies that tug on the heartstrings, or complex harmonic and rhythmic figures that stimulate the mind. With music being an endless & limitless form of expression, every concert and every recording are opportunities to explore and fine-tune our artistry. The 1st album “Telavana” was the beginning of our journey and represented our first steps in exploring the terrain of the Mediterranean-Caribbean landscape. In “Supermoon”, our 2nd release we went further afield, looking to the stars and constellations as we visited the astrological signs of the zodiac with a more produced sound which included astral synths, keyboards and post-production (contributed by the wonderful Shai Maestro). For the 3rd release “All Aboard Vol. 1 Departures” we return to our original rootsy acoustic landscape with the addition of oud and guitar by the incredible Amos Hoffman while widening our purview to include new rhythms and textures. This is also the first time we include a vocal song with lyrics (Beach Song) sung by the band members in unison, adding to the heartfelt and direct-from-the-heart energy.

As a Grammy-nominated flutist and bandleader, who have been your biggest inspirations in the world of jazz and beyond?

There are definitely too many big inspirations to list here and I owe a debt of gratitude to many musical masters who have opened my eyes and ears to some of the wondrous possibilities that exist in the world - To Sonny Rollins for the originality and joy, Miles Davis for the use of space and mastery of mood, Cannonball Adderley for pure swing, “Bird” Charlie Parker for lightness, spontaneity and ease of movement, Ray Barretto for flavor and solidity, Celia Cruz for authority and explosive jubilance, Eddie Palmieri for innovation and power, Oum Kalthoum for power and mastery, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas for group cohesion and incredible groove, José Fajardo for impeccable taste and simplicity and on and on and on….

You've explored a wide range of musical landscapes. Are there any artists or genres you are particularly looking forward to collaborating with in the future?

I look forward to continuing to learn about composition and songwriting. One of the things I’d like to create with Telavana is a vocal album featuring a bunch of featured singers to diverge a bit from the instrumental vibe and possibly connect with a wider audience. Another thing in the works is an intimate project exploring compositions inspired by Brazilian music, which is a universe unto itself.

The role of the flute in jazz is unique and evolving. What do you think sets the flute apart in jazz ensembles, and how do you see its role continuing to evolve?

The flute is a little bit of an “outsider” in Jazz and as such, it is underrepresented which means there is still a lot of room to innovate and invent. The instrument can have a sweet, mellow, and airy sound which lends itself to more relaxed moods but the flute can also be punchy and powerful, especially in the upper register - a quality that has been utilized extensively in Cuban music more than in the Jazz world. In the end the limitations of the instrument are superficial and the real test lies in what the player does with it.

What advice would you give to aspiring flutists who are interested in pursuing a music career?

I want to send an encouraging message to all aspiring flutists. Go for it! There may be people who say “there’s no place for flute in this type of music” but if you can imagine it, then it’s real. Ultimately there is a legitimate place for anything that is of good quality. I used to be worried that I would not be able to make a living as a freelance independent flutist playing Jazz and popular music and for a while, I tried to pick up the sax to have “options” and be more “hireable” but eventually I stopped trying because I realized there was space for me to do my thing and as long as it was good there would be demand for it. So my advice is - don’t stop developing your artistry and trust that you will find your audience and supporters.

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