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Neil Blumofe :: Jazz CD Release 2006
by Piety and Desire

CD Review / Jazz
Neil Blumofe / Piety and Desire
Horeb Records / 2006

Cantor and composer Neil Blumofe has created a seminal piece of work with his 2006 release Piety and Desire, a rare and exotic blend of free form jazz and Jewish music genres.

The thematic project is an exploration into Jewish music and themes through the jazz medium, and is created for a wedding service. Recorded in New Orleans just before the floods that devastated the city, Piety and Desire is infused with the spirit and sound of that city, including performances by New Orleans natives Jason Marsalis and Roland Guerin, and the title of the CD, named after two streets.

Piety and Desire is a deep and complex merging of musical, spiritual, and improvisational ideas integrating into one, creating a contemporary sound upon a traditional base. Blumofe, the cantor at Austin's Conservative Congregation Agudas Achim since 1988, first expressed his musical vision with his 2003 release Moses Muses. His new CD Piety and Desire runs in a similar vein, a fusion of Jewish liturgy and chant with some of jazz music's finest voices playing an eclectic choice of instrumentation. The musicians develop the story through the motifs, melodies, and modes of cantorial prayer in an improvised, free form jazz idiom.

Blumfole utilizes the parallels of improvisation and interpretation that run between Jewish Cantorial tradition and jazz to tell the tale of a Jewish wedding ceremony. His arrangements, which include unusual instrumentation such as bass flute, tuba, bass clarinet, and oud alongside more traditional jazz instruments, capture a range of emotion from anticipation to reflection, sobriety to abandon as the days leading up to and after the ceremony unfold. These arrangements describe the aural scene for the cantor to paint the details of the service with his performance of prayer, creating an exciting fusion of traditional eastern styles with western jazz idiom.

As the story opens, anticipation builds before the wedding ceremony as the bride and groom are offered advice from the community, and bustling preparations are made for the celebration. The music moves from the quiet opening bars of "Fast Connection" where Wagners "Bridal March," is intoned by the trumpet, and intensifies in a free form cacophony of voices, falling into the rhythm of a second line march. The bride and groom fast in preparation, their prayers and recitations a confession and a shedding of sins before they are called to appear before God. The slow procession up the isle turns to a traditional klezmer rhythm upon the bride reaching the groom. The feel moves from klezmer to a passionate Latin as the violin plays a soulful melody for the couple as they take their first steps as partners. They begin the second step to "The Tent of the Meeting", where an ascent beings to a place of honesty and truth. The music is constructed upon a traditional Sephardic wedding song from Turkey as the Betrothal is chanted. "High Fidelity" introduces a joyous brass band feel to accompany the mystical union of the couple, the swing feel written with a Jewish chant motif. "Seven Blessings in the Garden District" caps the ceremony, signifying the couple is eternally connected as it moves through the seven blessings, the music thoughtful and expansive. Euphosyne, Aglaia and Thalia is a Priestly blessing made as an offering to the perfect union. The two parts of the melody act in counterpoint to one another, the winds and the piano suspended by the timekeeping bass. At last the final step is made and the mood celebratory as a medley of "I Never Will Marry" and "Jubilee" blend with a Turkish fasil influence, voiced through the use of the oud. The mood is happy and celebratory as the family and friends gather to congratulation the couple.

With Piety and Desire, Neil Blumofe has taken the most universal of themes, that of the union of man and woman, and expounded upon it in a reverent, multi-dimensional and evocative work. He steps into the musical realm that embraces Mingus and John Coltrane, and delivers the message of love, lover and beloved in this important work that sees no limitations of time nor boundaries. Highly recommended.

Cindy McLeod

published 09.04.2006 2005 jazz news :: home page

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