The JazzTimes refers to Israeli-born and internationally renowned saxophonist Eli Degibri as “an exceptionally melodic improviser with a big, bold tenor tone.” The Philadelphia Inquirer calls him “a bewitching fellow who shows impressive chops.”
“Well,” said Degibri by telephone from his home in Tel Aviv, “melody is at the heart of what I do. But while many jazz musicians play melody, improvise and then go back to the melody, my signature style is to create work where everything is connected and fluid.”
The Eli Degibri Quartet, which consists of Degibri and his band of Israeli musicians – pianist Tom Oren, acoustic bassist Alon Near and drummer Eviatar Slivnik – are again on the road after completing an international tour. They will perform Feb. 7 at Nighttown in Cleveland Heights.
Degibri was an integral member of jazz icon Herbie Hancock’s sextet from 1999-2002 and legendary drummer Al Foster’s band from 2002-11. In addition to learning a lot about musicianship, he also picked up some pointers about being a bandleader.
“Herbie was always loving and supportive,” Degibri said. “He made you feel like everything you did was great. Al offered tough love. He’d let you know he enjoyed your playing, but.... I tend to fall right in the middle. I know exactly what I want and I give the band all the space they need to get there, but I make sure to tell the guys when they are not there yet.”
Hancock noted Degibri “treads uncharted waters” and “has the potential to be a formidable force in the evolution of jazz.”
When asked if being a “formidable force in jazz” was a goal, Degibri said he feels “blessed and very honored to be considered a member of the jazz family that influences other members. I just want to be the best I can be.”
In late 2015, Degibri’s recording “Cliff Hangin’,” which launched a North American tour, received a rare 5-star review from DownBeat magazine. In October 2018, Degibri and his band released the well-received album “Soul Station,” which is a tribute to the late, great saxophonist Hank Mobley and his 1960 album of the same name.
As a jazz student in Tel Aviv, Degibri studied Mobley’s profoundly soulful solos for inspiration and guidance, and he would later come to adopt elements of Mobley’s even-keeled style as an undergraduate at the Berklee College of Music in Boston from which he graduated in 1994.
Degibri’s tribute to the soul-jazz masterpiece – his eighth album – covers the original “Soul Station’s” tunes in their entirety and does so, according to DownBeat magazine, in “reverent yet innovative ways that push the music into the 21st century.”
On its way to Cleveland, the quartet will head to New York and back in the studio to record new material. Some of it will make the song list for the Nighttown performance, said Degibri, along with tunes from “Soul Station,” some of his older compositions and a standard or two.
“And because it’s jazz, things often get changed on the spot if the audience needs or wants something else,” he said.
The Eli Degibri Quartet appears in association with the Tri-C JazzFest.