There is no doubt that Jews have contributed as much to the evolution of jazz as any ethnic group. A short list of great Jewish jazz musicians would include Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Stan Getz, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, and Paul Desmond. Jews have made some great contributions to jazz in other ways as well. Blue Note founders Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff were both Jewish, just like Leonard Feather and Nat Hentoff. And then, of course, there’s yours truly.
But while Jews have been playing, producing, and writing about jazz for almost as long as jazz has been an art form, jazz itself is rooted in African-American culture. This is not to say that Jews like Goodman and Getz did not made the music they played their own, but ultimately jazz is and has been an African-American form. It is only comparatively recently, through the work of John Zorn and his Tzadik label, that Jewish music has been fused with (largely avant-garde) jazz.
The Chassidic Jazz Project is trying to take it one step further.
Drummer Reuben Hoch is jazz musician. He is also a Jew. In 1998 he and a group of like-minded musicians set out to create music that would fuse jazz and traditional Chassidic music in new and exciting ways. For those not in the know, the Chassidic movement was founded in Eastern Europe around 1736 by Israel Ba'al Shem Tov. While most people today associate the Chassidim with the ultra-orthodox sect of Judaism (characterized by somber black clothing, wide-brimmed hats, and forelocks), the movement founded by Ba’al Shem Tov was religiously ecstatic, emphasizing a deeply personal connection between man and God. This was often done through celebration, dancing, and – of course – music. Chassidic music is often vigorous and celebratory. It is also deeply soulful, touching the spirit in an amazingly profound way. It is no exaggeration to say that Chassidic music is as uplifting as the gospel of Mahalia Jackson, and as reflective as the deep Mississippi Delta Blues.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Chassidic music lends itself superbly to jazz interpretation. This debut recording by the Chassidic Jazz Project is magnificent, containing some truly astonishing performances by a group of musicians that, I must admit, were largely unfamiliar to me. Each track is outstanding, capturing a group in full swing. From the joyous opening track, “Avinu Malkeinu,” to pianist Don Friedman’s two astonishing feature tracks (a breathtakingly lovely reading of “Shalom Aleichem” and an upbeat version of “Shabbat Shalom,” which is transformed in Friedman’s hands), each performance is a winner. Hoch himself drives the show from his drum kit, while Felipe Lamoglia’s tenor and soprano saxophones leave no doubt that this is jazz of the highest order. Live at the Broward Center comes highly recommended as a unique blend of two distinctive musical traditions. After the Chassidic Jazz Project, neither tradition will be the same.
Personnel: Reuben Hoch, drums; Tom Lippincott, guitars; Felipe Lamoglia, tenor & soprano saxophones; Marie
Randel, viola & violin; Barbra Corcillo, cello; Dan Feiszli, bass; Bobby Thomas Jr., percussion; Don
Friedman, piano (Shalom Aleichem & Shabbat Shalom).