JAMIE SAFT'S NEW ZION TRIO
The Roots Reggae Spiritual Jazz Evolution of Radical Jewish Culture
by Benjamin Malkin
"There is a life of tradition that does not merely consist of conservative preservation, the constant continuation of the spiritual and cultural possessions of a community. There is such a thing as a treasure hunt within tradition, which creates a living relationship to tradition and to which much of what is best in current Jewish consciousness is indebted, even where it was -and is - expressed outside the framework of orthodoxy."
—Gershom Scholem (taken from John Zorn's 2006 Essay Radical Jewish Culture - http://tzadik.com/rjc_info.html
Jamie Saft speaks to me at his kitchen table up in the Catskills, with a backyard view out the window that overlooks the entire Hudson Valley. The use of space in New Zion Trio creates an openness where you can let life in. So too does Saft's backyard view. "New Zion to me is really the logical path my music would take. (It) is something that I've been working towards my whole musical life, combining the improvised music paths that are so crucial to my music with the reggae and dub paths that is equally as important to my music. And so those are the two sort of pillars in sound that I think about all day, every day. These are my two paths and combining them together was just obvious to me, and it wasn't until I met someone like Craig Santiago who's been living the reggae path his whole life and has absorbed that music on such a deep level that I was able to put them together."
So, who is Jamie Saft and who are New Zion Trio? Saft is the keyboardist on perhaps the greatest live album of all time, Electric Masada's At the Mountains of Madness. Saft is also the keyboardist for Bad Brains, The Dreamers, The New Standard and so much more. He has collaborated with everyone from Jerry Granelli to Merzbow, Ben Goldberg to Roswell Rudd, Wadado Leo Smith to Bobby Previte, Mike Patton to Yamatsuka Eye, The B-52’s to The Beastie Boys, John Adams to Joe Morris and many many more. He is a jazz piano player but that doesn't even come close to defining him, releasing everything from metal albums (Black Shabbis, Kalashnikov) to roots reggae spiritual jazz dub, total improv insanity (Angel of Death, Ticonderoga, Merzdub) to very gorgeous improv first thought best thought (Nowness with Jerry Granelli) and Doom Jazz (with Bobby Previtte). He's also contributed a few albums to the Radical Jewish Culture series on Tzadik (Black Shabbis, Borscht Belt Studies, Breadcrumb Sins & Sovlanut), released a cover album of Bob Dylan tunes, and has band that plays his wife’s children’s songs (New Raspberry Bandits).
But this article isn't about any of those things. I'm not going to tell you about how Harvey Pekar (the jazz writer and comic book genius behind American Splendor) asked Saft for his album as he was coming out of the New England Conservatory on the advice of Saft's teacher, Joe Manneri, and then Pekar told Zorn to check it out, and Zorn called Saft out of the blue, left him a message, Saft sent him the album, and two days later, Zorn told him the checks in the mail and he was releasing it. You can find that all over the place (click here for one example 27 minutes in http://thejazzsession.com/?s=jamie+saft).
This article is about New Zion Trio, whose other members include Brad Jones on acoustic and electric Bass, and Craig Santiago on drums, who, together with Saft, have released two albums on Veal Records (Saft's label): Fight Against Babylon (2011), and Chaliwa (2013). Larry Grenadier played acoustic bass on Fight Against Babylon, and more recently Ben Perkowsky has taken the drum chair live. They also have a new album, New Zion w.Cyro Sunshine Seas, coming out on RareNoise in the Spring of 2016 (and the Cyro in question is none other than legendary percussionist Cyro Baptista, but more on that later).
A mensch in every sense of the word, Zorn wrote the first volume of The Book of Angels (the second book of the Masada Song book), Astaroth, Vol. 1, specifically for Jamie Saft. It was Zorn who brought Saft back to acoustic piano by writing him a modern piano trio album (through whose lens Saft could project his vision of what it meant to be a Jew in the modern world, and through Zorn's tunes, literally play in the Jewish scale). Bringing Saft back to the acoustic piano is vital because he's sooooo good at this it just makes you wanna cry about how beautifully this man can tickle the ivories. To be able to play acoustic piano so gorgeously and not share it with the world would be such a shame, so Zorn writing him an albums worth of material to cajole this out (performed by the Jamie Saft Trio of Greg Cohen [from Masada and Ornette Coleman] and Ben Perkowsky), subsequently led to New Zion Trio. Astaroth became a really popular album and Saft ran with this return to the piano trio format. Zorn, whether intentionally or not, gave a gift to the world by bringing Saft back to the piano, which subsequently led Saft to start building the architecture of New Zion.
New Zion is one of a thousand things that Saft does, but this project caught fire and captured the imagination of far more people than any other Saft project previously. New Zion, not unlike Masada, can't hope to compress the breath of Saft (as Masada can't hope to compress the breath of Zorn), but simultaneously is the gateway for many to enter Saft's musical world. New Zion's Chaliwa is Saft's Highway 61 Revisited by Dylan, Bad Brains 1982 ROIR Cassette, Alice Coltrane's Journey to Satchidananda, i.e. the entry point. The world awaiting those who enter is HUGE, vast and deep, but New Zion is the palatable entity that allows the journey to begin, and for me at least, is the most pleasing culmination of the journey thus far, containing all sorts of beauty whose eyes are wide and glowing with splendor.
The great pianist Anthony Coleman in Claudia Heurermann's movie Following Eden (the addendum movie to Sabbath in Paradise) states: "Later comedians like Lenny Bruce & so on, he made his Jewishness an important part of his work without kind of underlining it, but you can't imagine Lenny Bruce's work, or you can't imagine Allen Ginsberg's work without Jewish Culture. It's a strong subtext." I feel Coleman's comments on Bruce and Ginsberg easily apply to Saft as well. Unlike Jewish musical artists from Massada to The Klezmatics or Brave Old World to Pharaoh's Daughter, New Zion Trio doesn't underline it. But it's there and all over the place. Hinted at in bass lines or chordings, not overt but a feel. Not over the top like the overtness of reggae in the music, nor overt like the spiritual jazz found there. But the music from "Twelve Tribes" to "Zion Heights," "Temples" to "King's Bread" to "New Zion," echoes it, and in these same titles lies a lot of double entendre straddling between Rasta and Judaism. Song titles such as the ones I just mentioned can be interpreted by the listener as both Rasta and Jewish, and they are both. There's more to New Zion than this, and certainly they more often than not lean Rasta ("Hear I Jah" to "BrazilJah," "Lost Dub" to "Chalice Pipe"), but even the word 'Jah' comes from the Old Testament, 'Jah' or 'Yah,' short for 'Yahweh.' Thus, to me this is Radical Jewish Culture in the Zorn definition of the sense:"As the Jewish people continue to grow into the 21st century, they carry their culture along with them. Tradition, history and the past have always played a strong role in the life of the Jews but it is also important to think about the future. As we grow as a people, it seems natural that our culture should grow along with us. Just as jazz music has progressed from Dixieland to free jazz and beyond in a few short decades, and classical music went from tonality to chromaticism, noise and back again, it has occurred to me that the same kind of growth should be possible—and is perhaps essential—for Jewish music." - John Zorn in his essay “Radical Jewish Culture."Thus it makes perfect sense one such evolution of RJC would take the form of Roots Reggae/Dub + Spiritual Jazz + Tikkon Olam = New Zion Trio ('Tikkun Olam' is a Jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to repair the world. Dub in the above equation is more in the Bob Marley & The Wailers live sense of emphasis on bass and drums [rather than the effects studio definition]).
Saft sees the connection this way:"The deeper essence underneath to me is the most logical connection to my spiritual practice as a Jew which to me is in the music... making what I consider to be Jewish music is something I do every day. All my music is Jewish music not because I'm Jewish, but because its populated by the intention of helping humanity, helping the world, making the world a better place through music. Judaism to me is about action. it's not what you believe in it's how you act in the world. And making music that makes people happy is like the greatest spiritual practice that you could imagine. I mean, it's why I can do something like music every day and justify it to feel like it's a meaningful path for my life, not just a way to feed my family. but it's a really satisfying way to give something back to people to everybody and it helps me too."It's an original concept, combining spiritual jazz, roots reggae, & tikkun olam to create something wholly unique and unheard before. This quest both fits firmly in the tradition and extends it forward into the future wholly organically, not unlike the sustainable universe Saft champions at every turn. Both of the New Zion Trio albums appeared on Saft's own Veal Records, and both were recorded live at Pottersville International Sounds (Saft's Studio) in The Hudson Valley.
The Radical Jewish Culture series on Tzadik, Zorn's label has only released one New Zion Trio song, the first in fact, found on Saft's Borscht Belt Studies from 2009. At the world premiere of Zorn's Masada Book 3, The Book of Beriah at Town Hall in NYC though, New Zion Trio did perform, and, to my ears literally tore the roof off with Saft's cascades of notes descending-ascending-pulling back the ceiling, revealing the stars while simultaneously a rhythm section so heavy your head couldn't help but drop, in time [and that's Brad Jones on bass], then back to the improv, which is just Saft's majestic effects laden acoustic piano, weightless, as fine a future as it gets.
New Zion started out exploring the acoustic spaces in reggae, initially combining Bill Evans lyricism with Alice Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders, and Lonnie Liston Smith searching mysticism, alongside Bob Marley, King Tubby, and Bunny Wailer rhythms and structures. Saft is a man whose dog is named Bunny Wailer, and he will be the first to tell you how profoundly Bunny's Blackheart Man affected his life. His keys are the lead vocal, the voice of the 'tzadik,' the righteous man, the one who believes in himself.
Saft is a world class player who began playing seriously at age two and a half, which is to say that the music is in him. Questions of technique have long ago ceased to bear meaning for him because it is second nature. Spiritual jazz & improv definitely sound finer when performed by virtuosic players. And Saft is none other than a rasta Bill Evans. His keys keep interest, no small feat in primarily instrumental music across the span of three albums. Saft's piano voice is like John Coltrane's saxophone, Erik Friedlander's cello, Andy Statman's mandolin, or James Jamerson's bass: a virtuoso's virtuoso and this is what makes New Zion different. It's not their vocal songs doing reggae with H.R. from Bad Brains, although that's pleasurable. And it's not Vanessa Saft (Jamie's wife) singing like a modern Astrud Gilberto, though this too can be divine. Saft's breakthrough with New Zion Trio is his keys' contemporary jazz innovations over a roots reggae trance-like rhythm section in the service of tikkon olam, or spreading kindness over the planet. Like Friedlander, he's a master of his instrument. Like Coltrane he has transcended technique to express pure emotion. And like Marley, he has universalized this voice to reach the heights and depths of what it means to be human.
"The feeling of reggae puts me in a mental space that is really appealing and I'm not exactly sure what elements are at play with that, but I think when you put that with something like Pharoah Sanders' approach, it's really 'Klangfarbenmelodie,' it's the color of the tones, it's the color of the sound that you're hearing. You put those things together it's just the most pleasing thing to me. You've got the trance-like state of rhythm underneath a very fluid flowing, improvising mode where it wasn't about lots of lines or licks. It wasn't about any of those things. It wasn't soloing in the traditional sense. It was cultivating that trance-like state and really, (in) New Zion Trio, we always talk about how its what you don't play, not what you do play. It's editing your needs as a musician in the moment and it's the same exact path as the greatest improvising; being able to edit what comes through your consciousness into your instrument and only use what you really intend. It's about intention. It's the same as the Jewish thing that we talked about at the very beginning, the idea that your actions and the intentions of your actions are important, and to me, musically, we have a responsibility to put music out in the world with the right intent and the right path to action." - Saft
(Some Saft spiritual jazz touchstone albums: Alice Coltrane's Ptah the El Dauod, Lonnie Liston Smith's Expansions, Pharaoh Sanders Thembi, Alice Coltrane's Transcendence, John Coltrane's Live at the Vanguard Again)
"New Zion is just really pleasant for people... (it) just seems that some of my other difficult records I made were obviously more challenging for people than things like New Zion and The New Standard, my band with Steve Swallow and Bobby Previte, another two amazing examples of true believers in the path of improvised music and the transformative quality of collective improvisation... I really think that's what we're talking about here is that improvising with people who you really connect with personally, moral, and spiritual and that is transforming. It’s the same kind of transformation that we look for in spiritual practice, in all the arts with things that we love: to transform. That's what I try and get into and so for me, New Zion Trio was a totally transformative band- our music, our world, it opened up a world of listeners for me that I had never had access to. You know, you can play those New Zion records for your grandmother."
Doom Jazz, Saft's collaboration with Bobby Previte which brought the doom metal aesthetic to jazz trio instrumentation (though with Saft on both bass and keys simultaneously) isn't that different instrumentally or even sound-wise from New Zion. New Zion even gets into some dark territory sometimes, but it is different. Saft explains re New Zion:
"I'll tell you what I believe it is- there's a few things going on. The first thing is the trance-like state that you access through the roots reggae and dub underpinning of that so that music is based on roots reggae Jamaican forms rhythms...one drop riddim, rockers, steppers, we draw from lots of different areas of reggae music. It's that consistency of the feel that trance-like state that you get into with a repetitive rhythm that doesn't change or the changes are super subtle. You know, jazz is constantly changing and it keeps referring back to the place it started but it changes and changes and changes and so does most improvised music, whereas New Zion Trio tries to access some of those more rhythmically trance-like sounds and then the improvising is more internal. The melodies are really more in the bass lines, like in reggae. You know very often, the bass line is often the melody of a reggae song. It will have vocals, it will have singing on it, but a lot of that comes from the bass and the rhythm and so New Zion has that really strong reggae feeling underneath it and then you have the more mystical states that I found in people like Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Lonnie Liston Smith, [and] late John Coltrane."
The evolution of Jewish sounds takes a step forward with Saft out of the old world and into the new, further redefining both Jewish music and reggae because neither has ever had music like New Zion before, whether redefining it through a spiritual jazz Rasta piano, combining two diaspora people displaced and looking backwards and forwards simultaneously, and both whose influence over the world so far exceeds its numbers that it's a miracle.
Q: Do you find the reggae people are open to New Zion up in the Hudson Valley?
Saft: "Incredibly open. I think it's because one thing that's really important to me is to show respect to the tradition. I'm not trying to disrespect any musical path, and I would never just use reggae music as an affection or an affect. It's not something put on. It's one of the most important things in my life and in my music. So, all the opportunities that we've had with New Zion to collaborate with people from the reggae world and Rasta world has been so rewarding- you know, dreads see the respect and they see the true humility in our approach to that music. Reggae music is as deep a tradition and path as the greatest jazz music, as the greatest classical paths, as all the greatest musical paths and there's thousands of different sub sections of reggae music. So, you approach reggae music with the same depth, let’s say, that you would approach jazz music. In jazz, you talk about Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins. There's a thousand pillars of the jazz music world- Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, you know, just on and on. Reggae has all that the same depth: there's Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, The Itals, Culture Black, Uhuru, King Tubby, it goes and goes and goes... There's so many different sub-genres. In New Zion, we only tap a small part of that but it's with the greatest of love and reverence."
The Rasta Jewish Connection
"I see layers and layers of links. The first and most obvious link is in my musical practice, in my musical world. I came up in New York in the seventies and early eighties. We listened to Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley. That was music in NY to me. Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley to me represented these two threads that were most crucial. Bob Marley specifically was an important part of my music since I was a young kid... And so I came up with reggae as one of those pieces in my musical world. And (there was also) Judaism and the sort of spiritual practice but also the cultural practice of coming up a Jew in New York, those things were all intertwined. Jews, African Americans, their music, their culture, that was New York. Everybody was all together experiencing that all together so there was never any separation between those things for me. They were all one thing. And as I got older, I started to understand more (about) the Jewish mystical path, or the many Jewish mystical paths- Kabbalah, trance like states. Those are some of the same places that the great musics that I love come from- reggae, the spiritual jazz of the seventies, and all great jazz and improvised music, channels that same trance-like state where you transcend the day to day pleasantries and you get into a deeper state that can be achieved through the rhythmic drive that you find in reggae or the feeling of the rhythm which is an absolute trance like state that's the same trance-like states that Kabbalistic thought comes from.
It's the same as Mystical states in all traditions, or mystical paths in all traditions... The Sufi path has the same trance-like states dance music has the same trance like states Jewish music/davvening (rhythm and melody). The fact that music is so central to the Jewish prayer and practice and the state that you get into by accessing that every day: they're all one thing to me. That was the same thing: reggae music was the same as davvening, was the same as improvising, with amazing improvisers who give up their own personal needs for the greater good, and to me, that's what great improvising is. It's not a selfish endeavor. I try and separate my improvising from the sort of jazz. I don't want to say the (jazz) tradition but, jazz has become, in some ways, in the lower levels of it, just an exercise, a very selfish exercise- you just blow your licks. I'm not interested in that at all. I'm interested in getting together with a group of improvisers that I personally connect with and want to improvise with, that I open myself up to other states of consciousness, trying to improvise and to me, those things all connect together. And so, when you say what's the connection between the Jewish and the Rasta path, to me, they all connect through the music and through the state of mind that they all try and access. And so, that's where New Zion to me is not literally imagining the promised land of a New Zion; it's not a biblical thing I'm talking about. It’s a state of mind. New Zion tries to access a state of mind where we can put aside a lot of the tsuris (aggravation) in our lives, and a lot of that pain and access something that's more pleasing for everybody."
Interestingly, Saft was about the same age when he embarked on New Zion as Zorn was when he embarked on his Masada project and song book. They were in their late 30's when these projects began and their vital first releases of these projects that opened the doors to the new and became defining statements came at about forty. Alice Coltrane was 40 when her masterpiece Transcendence came out. John Coltrane released Live at The Village Vanguard Again when he was 40 (when he was 38, it was A Love Supreme). John Zorn was 41 when the first Masada Albums Alef & Beit appeared. Lee Scratch Perry was 40 when Super Ape appeared. Jamie Saft was 41 when New Zion Trio's first album Fight Against Babylon appeared.
Do moves precipitate these projects around this age? Zorn moved back to NYC from Tokyo. John Coltrane moved to Dix Hills, Long Island with his family (where he composed A Love Supreme). Lee Scratch Perry opened up his Black Ark Studios at about 37/38. And Jamie Saft moved to Kingston with his family. Alice Coltrane established the Vedantic Center in 1975 at age 38 as well.
Rock is the opposite, championing youth. But jazz and reggae seem to age more gracefully- like painting or poetry, you don't even start to get it until later in the game. Not that great albums don't come prior. But the pieces for many all start to come together around this time. Synthesize the sum of what you've learned. In other words, in the fourth decade for some great artists, they're just getting started. A fertile time this entry to the fourth decade, filled with many a landmark recording, creating some of your best work.
New Zion Top Ten Songs
1. “BrazilJah" (from the album Sunshine Seas) - This one is kicking off a whole new genre. Brazillion dancehall. So feel good it hurts. Yellowman is beyond jealous.
2. “Rasta Lion Dub" (from the album Chaliwa) - An epic journey and possibly my favorite New Zion tune of all time. "Rasta Lion Dub" epitomizes the perfect mix of spiritual jazz and reggae/dub, a masterpiece mix of the two forms. You have to be a virtuoso to play this stuff, not only to keep it interesting (few voice are interesting enough to sustain this), but to really tap into that place which explores over the edge, which searches and is totally in the moment and leaps and flies. A master of improv, transcending virtuosity to achieve pure expression. Never has a Fender Rhodes sounded so beautiful and hardcore and searching as here.
3. “Niceness" (from the album Fight Against Babylon) - Personally, this was and still is THE acoustic piano song for New Zion for me. Perfect soul candy for morning beauty, ultimate soundtrack for dinners with friends and family, sure to brighten the mood of any table.
4. “Twelve Tribes" (from the album Chaliwa) - This is the trek through the desert. This is forty years in exile. So heavy your head can't help but drop. This is what badass dub looks like.
5. “Cherub Dub" (from the album Chaliwa) - I don't know if there's a more beautiful reggae song than this. This is Saft's "Redemption Song." Bill Evans heavy romantic reggae.
6. “Chalice Pipe" (from the album Sunshine Seas) - This is Cyro's samba and he's beyond funky here, both vocally and percussion wise. The effects on Santiago's rim shots repeat into infinity. And Saft is on acoustic piano sparingly, with acoustic guitar locked in, and Cyro's home-made percussion is soloing white hot like there's no tomorrow. Pure joy.
7. “The Red Dies" (from the album Fight Against Babylon) - On the three (or two and four if you're counting slow), this is Santiago kickin' up a reggae storm, Larry Grenadier (the acoustic bassist on the first album) laying it down hard, and Saft's acoustic piano washing over you in pure darkness. This is no joke.
8. “Temples" (from the album Chaliwa) - This is some pretty serious spiritual jazz, complete with opening bells. Some master insane playing from Saft. A tour de force that Liberace would faint from. Using all 88 keys to make a picture of the holy, painted in dub. Temples indeed.
9. “Hear I Jah" (from the album Fight Against Babylon) - A stepper ala Marley's "Exodus," but the most beautiful Fender Rhodes flying, I saw this recently when New Zion played Joe's Pub. Ben Perkowsky was on drums that night and it's one thing to listen to the trance at home, quite another to fall into it at a live gig with a supremely powerful ban. With Saft singing through the keys, I wasn't prepared for just how psychedelic the jams got- a crazy powerful rhythm section and the sounds that fall out of this man’s fingers so easily, like waterfalls trickling beauty.
10. “Mystics" (from the album Sunshine Seas) - This comes hard with the reggae. This is the master bubble keys. This is the heavy riddim. This is the dub where dub becomes the effects-laden dub in New Zion land. And this is also where the guitars reared their beautiful arpeggio hands. Beautiful overdub city. Psychedelic keys reign supreme, here in the land of dreams.
In the Spring of 2016, RareNoise will release New Zion w. Cyro's new album Sunshine Seas on 180 gram gatefold vinyl. The album signals a new evolution in New Zion's sound, to a more electric affair. Brazillian dancehall dub, if you will.
Saft & Cyro have played together with Zorn for the past twenty years (and Cyro has played with Zorn for the past thirty years). Cyro Baptista is a legend: a master percussionist beyond compare who's played with everyone from Zorn to Sting, Paul Simon to Wynton Marselis, Herbie Hancock to Trey Anestasio, Laurie Anderson to Yo Yo Ma, Banquet of Spirits and a million more (almost literally). Saft says this of their work together:
"I'm always looking for a reason to collaborate with Cyro and you know Cyro is such a beautiful spirit and his music is so vast and deep that he just seemed an obvious addition to New Zion and to the palate that we were working. I also, for years, have been interested in the connections between Brazilian and reggae music. It just seems a new path that really worked with New Zion and Cyro together. (And) Cyro has an amazing pallet to put inside of that trance-like world of the New Zion rhythm. Cyro also has that deep improviser spirit that, to me, is all about the joy of making music."
With the addition of Cyro, New Zion has become something else: there's less of the virtuosic solo flights everywhere; the tunes are more tunes. There's more instrumental journeys in dub and dancehall and brazillian music, less of a piano trio and more studio compositions island adventures; more guitar; virtuosity in trance and drone; a foundation from which to fly; more grooves to sail upon. Also, Cyro solos a lot on his created instruments (Chalice Pipe for example). After five years of New Zion touring, the album moves from acoustic bass to primarily electric (played by Saft himself) both due to the trance-like long form states being a lot more feasible to physically maintain on electric bass (vs. acoustic), and also the challenges of playing acoustic bass in larger venues (and transportation wise). The groove (like on Liston Smith’s Expansions) is undeniable, due in no small part to Cyro's huge presence. Cyro is Brazillion and his Brazillion influence brings the upbeat hard. Besides playing his own homemade instruments, he also sings over most of the album, although his vocals are more percussive, by and large, and more like an instrument than a singer-songwriter. Cyro makes New Zion Soar.
There's a tightness at play here- the cracks filled in but also Cyro enhances the rhythm so much so that you can't help but dance. Where New Zion on previous albums had this element, it was more in line with piano trios- think Bill Evans dub. On Sunshine Seas that all changes, and you can't help but feel Cyro's world-class percussion to zany vocals creates a portal, a whole new world into which New Zion has stepped, setting sail no doubt on the Sunshine Seas. I've been feeling the breeze of the Sunshine Seas, the Caribbean flavor washing over me, a pinnacle and evolution of New Zion that has led here, yet transcended that as well. Sunshine Seas is apt a name as I've ever seen, seeming to usher in Tropicalia essence completely. Who would of thought of this happening in the Catskills?
Saft has some thoughts as a Jewish musician touring in Europe now and the enormous rise of anti-Semitism in Europe in just the last year or two:
"I have had some difficult and trying and strange moments, in France specifically, as someone who, I guess, apparently looks Jewish. People think my beard is a signifier, specifically in France. And one of the things I'm most proud of is the work that people like John Zorn and me and our colleagues in the sort of Radical Jewish Culture world have done, really representing for modern more radical, you could call it, Jewish cultural ideas. And so, touring with Zorn and with my own projects where we don't overtly play Jewish music but we're very proud of our Jewish faith, people see a name like New Zion and they immediately think that signifies some Zionist idea.
I've had experiences like when I was playing with Zorn at Cité de la Musique in Paris a couple of years ago. The hotel was right across the street from this very famous venue Cité de la Musique. Miles Davis played there back in the day- it's an epically enormous incredible venue. We were standing outside the hotel, I was just talking with some people and a group of Arabs, mostly women, came over to me and said "you're Jewish, you'll have no problem in this neighborhood" and then walked away. And I don't wear a yarmulke, I am not overtly signifying that I'm Jewish but I'm in no way embarrassed- I'm very proud of who I am. It was a strange moment to see how at the forefront of their thinking, day to day, that issue was. I'm incredibly sad to see that same kind of anti-Semitic ideology popping up again in Europe. It's a drag but also at the same time, I work every day to represent in a positive way what it means to be an artist, but also a Jewish artist."
And it's not about scales and time signatures?
"Jewish scales are one mode that has informed my music, just as much as jazz scales have, just as much the blues has. Just because I'm Jewish doesn’t make that necessary in my music. And I can make Jewish music that doesn't mine that (tradition). That was the whole idea behind "Breadcrumb Sins"- Jewish music is the experience of Jews in modern culture. Jewish music can be about ideas."
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