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Michael Stephans: OM/ShalOM

AAJ Staff By

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Some may associate a certain repetitive quality with Jewish melodies—they're either upbeat and highly rhythmic, or almost mournful pieces more suitable for listening than dancing. In some cases they're both. Drummer Michael Stephans adds to this two- dimensional notion on OM/ShalOM, his very personal and well-rounded new self-released project, what might have been a prime candidate for John Zorn's "Radical Jewish Culture series.

Featuring the stellar and diversely talented Dave Liebman, Bennie Maupin and Munyungo Jackson—all Miles Davis alums—along with bassist Scott Colley, this sensational group is an intriguing meeting point of Jewish melodies with mid- to late-period Coltrane. With a potpourri of group textures at Stephans' fingertips, he ably supplies colorful tempo changes and a percussive approach, supplementing each soloist and creating a leaderless ensemble sound. Their late February, 2007 CD release concert displayed this honed concept (minus Jackson) at the Blue Note for two sets of some of the most memorable music heard live this year.

"Avinu Malkeinu marks the correlation of what Stephans refers to as his epiphany. Avoiding the fusion of Coltrane themes with Jewish melodies or klezmer-ifying Coltrane tunes (as interesting as that actually may sound), instead Stephans retains a common thread by utilizing bass lines and the droning, quest-like qualities of Trane's music. Liebman, who sums up Stephans' unique project as "Jewish music with a twist, plays soprano as if a clarinet, delivering cantor-esque lines ("Play the Balalaika ) and klezmer inflections out of his straight horn. Liebman, however, is most exemplary on the ever-familiar theme of "Hava Nagilah. With everyone sitting this one out except Stephans, the duo give the building rhythmic melody perhaps its greatest jazz workout; it's like an unearthed recording of Coltrane and Elvin Jones at a Bar Mitzvah!

Track Listing: Nigun #5; Let My People Go; And the Angels Sing; Avinu Malkeinu; Dayeinu; Shalom Alechim; Ich Hob Dich Tzufil Lieb; Om/Shalom; Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen; Kaddish for Elvin; Tumbalalaika; Hava Nagilah; Moon Over Miami; Adon Olam/Resolution/Hatikvah.

Personnel: Dave Liebman: tenor and soprano saxophones, wood flute, piano; Bennie Maupin: tenor and sopranino saxophones, bass clarinet, alto flute; Scott Colley: bass; Michael Stephans: drums, percussion, vocal; Munyungo Jackson: percussion.

Title: OM/ShalOM | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: ENDemik Records


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