Oded Lev-Ari
Oded Lev-Ari

Instead of having to choose among performances running simultaneously at Detroit venues, the audience can watch all performances as they run consecutively, Friday-Monday, Sept. 3-6.

Composer-arranger Oded Lev-Ari, musical director of the Anat Cohen Tentet, had been looking forward to appearing before a live audience at last year’s Detroit Jazz Festival when COVID-19 forced cancellation of the performance. 

This year, he again looked forward to appearing live with the Tentet when COVID-19 and area construction changed the format. Although based in Detroit, performances will be livestreamed — the Tentet at 4 p.m. Sept. 5.

While still disappointing, this year’s Labor Day weekend audience has one advantage: Instead of having to choose among performances running simultaneously at Detroit venues, they can watch all performances as they run consecutively, Friday-Monday, Sept. 3-6. 

“This is the first time we’ll be playing together as a group since early 2020, and that’s very exciting for us,” said Lev-Ari, 46, whose career launched in Israel. “Basically, we’ll be playing material from our two albums, Happy Song and the Grammy-nominated Triple Helix.

“There’s a substantial number of originals written by both Anat Cohen and me, but we play songs by other composers that we feel are good fits for the ensemble. When we got together as a group, the intention was to perform as many types of music as possible.”

One Lev-Ari number performed by the Tentet is “Frills and Thrills,” written for the ensemble’s first album. It features a folk-like melody that turns into a rock anthem ballad with clarinet and electric guitar solos. 

“The unexpected thing was that I brought the composition to the band with the clarinet and electric guitar solos dovetailing,” Lev-Ari said. “Certainly, there is not the feeling that it’s overpowered by the guitar.”

Another composition is “Triple Helix,” a concerto for clarinet in three movements. It was commissioned by Carnegie Hall and Symphony Center Presents in Chicago.

The ensemble considers its attributes to include being very collaborative, open and free to create strong and memorable moments on stage. Tentet is a tongue-in-cheek title for the 10 musicians. The appropriate name for a 10-piece ensemble would be dectet.

Oded Lev-Ari and his wife, Amy Cervini, originate programs from their living room.
Oded Lev-Ari and his wife, Amy Cervini, originate programs from their living room. Nathan Vicar | Detroit Jewish News
Lifelong Love of Music

“I always knew I liked music,” said Lev-Ari, who takes on independent initiatives in composing and arranging and has worked on more than 1,000 projects for chamber and wind ensembles, big bands, orchestras and jazz combos. 

“I grew up in a family where a career in the arts was not impossible. My late father was an actor, so I knew I could have a family and be an artist. 

“I got serious about music when I went to high school. I didn’t need any prompting to practice, and I think that’s a sign that you can’t really do anything else. I spent my Israeli military service with the Israeli Defense Forces Orchestra.”

While in the military for three years, he performed on piano and saxophone. Afterward, he earned a bachelor’s degree in jazz composition from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and decided to settle in New York because of the jazz opportunities.

With diverse interests, Lev-Ari established a record label, Anzic Records, with Anat Cohen, a friend since high school. The label releases their projects and the work of others. 

“The impetus to creating the label was to keep complete control and ownership over our music, which is both an artistic and a business goal,” said Lev-Ari, who occasionally performs for the congregation at B’nai Jeshurun in New York City. “I learned a lot about how business is operated and conducted, and that’s a net positive.”

Another interest is studying the way music is perceived. He works with neuroscientist Beau Lotto, first paired in a performing arts program by presenter NationalSawdust+ in Brooklyn.

“The truth is the way we experience music has to do with environmental and biological aspects,” Lev-Ari said. “One of the best examples is that musicians know different halls of various sizes will have an effect on how fast or slow they play a piece. You tend to play a piece slower in a bigger hall where there’s a lot of reverberation.”

While work slowed during the pandemic, Lev-Ari returned to piano performance digitally to accompany his wife, jazz singer Amy Cervini. The programs originated in their living room and may continue depending on how quickly they return to their usual commitments. 

Their favorite number was a version of “New York, New York,” which they purposely did in a very different style from the upbeat approach made a hit by Frank Sinatra.

Two projects are moving Lev-Ari away from the pandemic limitations. He is composing numbers for The Three Cohens — clarinetist and saxophonist Anat and her brothers, trumpeter Avishai and soprano saxophonist Yuval. He also is preparing a program for a German big band. 

Details

The Detroit Jazz Festival runs Friday-Monday, Sept. 3-6. The Anat Cohen Tentet will perform 4-5:05 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 5. To get the livestreaming schedule, go to detroitjazzfest.org. 

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Suzanne Chessler’s writing-editing career has spanned many years, and her articles have been featured in secular and religious publications across the state and around the country. There was a period of time when she maintained three regular columns in three different publications – one appearing weekly to spotlight metro volunteers, another appearing weekly to profile stage enthusiasts in community theater and a third appearing bimonthly to showcase upcoming arts programs. Besides doing general reporting, she has had continuing assignments involving health, monetary subjects and crime. Her award-winning work builds on majors in English-speech and journalism earned at Wayne State University, where instructors also were writers-editors on Detroit’s daily newspapers.