Greg Wall’s Later Prophets come across sort of like the Beat poets on Ha’Orot: The Lights of Rav Kook. There’s a splendid fusion of poetry and avant-garde jazz flowing throughout the record, accented by the poetry of Rabbi Avraham Itzchak HaCohen Kook (Rav Kook) as read by Rabbi Itzchak Marmorstein.
Wall, a leading figure in the neo-Klezmer movement of the past 30 years, is an ordained rabbi and has been incorporating intensely spiritual Jewish themes into his musical journey for a long time now. A composer, bandleader and saxophonist, he is the ideal leader for his Later Prophets.
Wall’s Later Prophets made their recording debut in 2004 with a concept album released on John Zorn’s Tzadik label. The band began as a woodwind, keyboard and drums trio but has since blossomed into a richer quartet with the release of Ha’Orot.
Along with Wall’s saxophone, the quartet features pianist Shai Bachar, drummer Aaron Alexander and bassist Dave Richards.
Ha’Orot: The Lights of Rav Kook is an interesting experience. Rabbi Marmorstein’s reading of Rav Kook’s poetry is astounding in its emotional weight and passion. There are times when the readings become so intimate and brave that listening to them creates the sense we are imposing on the Rabbi’s privacy, yet Marmorstein hides nothing in his fervent release of Rav Kook’s work.
Wall’s tenor sax stands alongside Marmorstein’s vocal performances as a true equal partner. His playing is spiritual and passionate, weaving through melodies and passages with a brilliantly and boldly textured cadence. Wall also plays the clarinet, soprano sax, moseno flute, and shofar on the record.
The solos are impeccable, too, fitting it snugly between tracks peppered with Marmorstein’s breathless verse as though some divine power knew we needed a bit of a break from the action.
One such break comes in the form of the Rav Kook-penned “Nigun Ha'rav #1.” The tune is a funky, sweet instrumental that rolls and glides effortlessly thanks to the light piano of Bachar. Other spots offer similar breathing space, like the more upbeat “Nigun Ha’rav #2” with its delicious swing.
That’s not to say that Marmorstein is overwhelming or unwanted, of course, as his presence on the track ensures its intensity. Listen as he pours out his soul on the exquisite “Techiya” and marvel at the rising tension of the glorious “”Dror.” Marmorstein does more than offer simple spoken word passages set over jazz music; he enlightens and provokes with each rising phrase.
Ha’Orot is a soulful and rich recording that may not be for everyone. It makes for an interesting dinner party soundtrack, of course, but works wonderfully as a backdrop for spiritual renewal and self-discovery.