Jews Too Get The Blues
by Ken Waxman (July 1998)
En Adir: Traditional Jewish Songs (Music and Arts)
Gospel performers often cite the excellence of their music vis-a-vis the blues, by asking: "Why should the devil have all the good songs?" Jewish jazz musicians could ask the same thing regarding their heritage. Why do all "roots" explorations of the music have to be so-closely involved with Christianity?
Now, granted some of those performances are exceptional. Take guitarist Grant Green's 1962 Feelin' The Spirit (Blue Note) for example, a multifaceted mixture of spirituals, funk and jazz, or tenor man Johnny Griffin's 1960 workout on "Wade In the Water" (Riverside). Yet Jews have been involved with jazz from its beginnings without expressing their traditions.
One of the music's earliest performers was a New Orleans Jewish trumpeter named Johnny Wiggs. And throughout jazz history every style has had its Jewish practitioners from trumpeter Ziggy Elman and clarinetist Benny Goodman in the Swing Era; to boppers trumpeter Red Rodney and tenor saxophonist Al Cohn; to cool mavens tenor saxophonist Stan Getz and trumpeter Shorty Rogers; and on to pianist Burton Greene and bassist David Izenzon in the "New Thing" of the 1960's.
But, except for Elman's "And The Angels Sing" and some jokey cool-jazz sessions of the early 1960's: Shelly Manne's My Son The Jazz Drummer and Terry Gibbs' Jewish Melodies In Jazz Time, no one had really seriously adapted Jewish themes to contemporary jazz/creative improvised music.
That is until today. Hot on the heels of the self-conscious Radical Jewish Culture of saxophonist/composer John Zorn and his downtown New York cohorts comes Ivo Perelman's En Adir.
Unlike Zorn et. al., who seem to revel in their newly-found Jewish consciousness, Perelman, a Brazilian saxophonist resident in the U.S., released the disc without any PR posturing. In the past, in fact, Perelman has been best known for his mixture of jazz and traditional Brazilian themes plus his seeming affinity for the revolutionary sound of tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler. On this disc though, without the outright socio-political agenda of the downtowners, he seems to have adapted these tunes because he likes them and arranged them in such a way so they gave him and the other musicians ample room in which to create something new.
Using such traditional Jewish themes as "Avinu Malkenu" and "L'Shana Haba'a", Perelman extends them in such a way that they become "ecstatic" blowing vehicles, where the ferocity of his improvisation reaches the same trance-like intensity claimed for mystical followers of certain Hasidic sects. Others, such as "Chag Purim" are joyous dance melodies, while still others, especially the title track, are more "conventionally-jazzy", with the walking bass and comping piano you expect from modern mainstream performers.
Using every trick in an "out" saxophonist's book, Perelman clothes the tunes in Shabbos finery by overblowing, screaming and straining. In short, he reaches the most perfect and soulful saxophone-Jewish-melody mixture since boss tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin -- no "landsman", unless you consider a tenure with Charles Mingus suffering enough -- recorded "Bei Mir Bist Du Shoen" on his 1967 Heavy!!! album on Prestige.
Perelman's session mates aren't Jewish either -- as if that makes a difference. On piano is the always sensitive Marilyn Crispell; on bass, the powerful William Parker; and on drums, the exploratory Gerry Hemingway. The last two get a particularly memorable workout on "Retiro Bom", with the kind of duo interplay that wouldn't be out of place on any of the other multitude of sessions with which they're involved.
Although Perelman has done other fine work in the past for a variety of labels, this CD seems to have brought his evolving art onto an even higher plane. And it holds out the promise of what will come in the future.
What won't come, I'm sure, will be En Adir Vol. 2. Perelman is far too much of a searching chameleon for that. But someone else can surely take up the challenge.
(c) copyright Ken Waxman 1998. This file may download for personal use. But any use of it in any commercial form, either printed or as part of any sort of electronic product is expressly forbidden without permission of the copyholder: contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Ivo photo taken by Fernando Natalici, thanks to David Laskin
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