Rabbi Avraam Izchak HaCohen Kook (1865-1935) was one of the most influential and inspirational religious Jewish thinkers of the 20th century. Kook was a man who was humanistic in his philosophy. He preached for vegetarianism and was interested in the arts (he thought that Rembrandt was a tzadik
, a righteous man), though his philosophy was deeply religious. He believed that the re-establishment of a Jewish state in the land of Israel had deep theological significance, a heavenly plan to bring about the messianic era.
Reed player Greg Wall, the co-leader of the seminal alt-klezmer Hasidic New Wave, and now the leader of Later Prophets, has chosen one of the greatest scholars of KookRabbi Itzchak Marmorsteinto appear on Ha'Orot: The Kook Project. This second project of Later Prophets (their first self-titled album was released on Tzadik in 2004) features Marmorstein as a natural spoken word artist, and a capable translator of Kook's poetry into English. Marmorstein explains in the liner notes that the poetry of Kook offers a clear guidance about the Jewish concept of Tikun Olam, or repair of the world. He chose a fitting quote from Kook's writings for the inner sleeve: "The heart must be filled with love for all...."
The arrangements of Wall, pianist Shai Bachar and Marmorstein are true to the spirit of Kook: open-minded and compassionate. The band offers this rare attempt to dress these profound Jewish texts about belief and mysticism with musical ideas that became associated with modern klezmer. The soulful performances of all the pieces succeed to parallel and complement the texts with organic affinity and unity, and leave enough space for reflection. Their inventiveness and the richness of the musical vocabulary of the band membersalso including bassist Dave Richards and drummer Aaron Alexandersuggest that these texts could, perhaps, have been part of a canon of modern Beat poets. In a way, these unorthodox arrangements undress the mythic character of Kook, and portray him as an accessible, passionate and compassionate man.
The poetic texts, recited in English and Hebrew, are at the center of each arrangement, and Marmorstein's pathos and deep understanding of the words charge the free-form and often minimalistic arrangements with intensity. But they also have an immediate and moving appeal.
Quite quickly, after the third piece, "From a Distant World," it's actually possible to begin believing in Kook's wordsthat heaven can be found in this world.
Personnel: Rabbi Greg Wall: tenor and soprano saxophone, clarinet, shofar, moseno; Shai Bachar: piano; Dave Richards: bass; Aaron Alexander: drums; Rabbi Itzchak Marmorstein: spoken word.