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Music Review: Matt Herskowitz – Jerusalem Trilogy

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Fusion is the hallmark of composer, pianist Matt Herskowitz's new CD, Jerusalem Trilogy, fusion of the structured discipline of classical music and the improvisational freedom jazz, fusion of Middle Eastern and European melodies and instrumentation, fusion of sweet harmonies and clashing discordances. Jerusalem Trilogy is an album that takes these disparate elements and melds them into a coherent blend that is both unique and compelling. It is a blend that illustrates that there are no elements so disparate and conflicting that they cannot be effectively melded together.

The album opens and closes with contemporary riffs on classical composers. The first track, "Polonaise Libanaise" is what the Herskowitz calls a "clin-d'oeil" to Chopin's Polonaise in F# minor, opus 44. It features the record's producer, Daniel Schnyder on soprano saxophone and flute along with Herskowitz's trio and combines an Arabic vibe with the Polonaise rhythms. "Prokofiev's Revenge" closes the disc. Based on the Russian composer's Etude opus 2, no. 3, the piece is a vehicle for the trio with what Herskowitz calls an "incredible kinetic groove" and a Middle Eastern feel that makes it an ideal fit for the album.

The composition that gives the album its title consists of three movements and runs for about twenty minutes. It was written as a commission for the Lyric Chamber Music Society of New York for a concert of music by Jewish composers. The trio is joined on the piece by violinist, Lara St. John and cellist, Mike Block. The first and longest movement is marked "Allegro con brio." It begins in a modernist discordant mode but soon transforms into more melodic strains played on the violin against pulsating piano rhythms. Order seems to emerge from chaos. The second movement, "Andante moderato," features some nice interplay between the cello and the violin as well as melodic work on the piano. At times the music has the feel of a plaintive cantorial chant. The third movement is the shortest and is designated Moderato mysterioso – Presto. Its peripatetic rhythms evoke something of the inscrutability of the Middle East. Although perhaps wishful thinking, it is tempting to look at the composition's blending of Arabic and Jewish elements programmatically as a comment on what is needed politically in that tormented part of the world. Nonetheless, it is a remarkably eloquent piece of music.

Three other pieces round out the album. "Duologue on Under Your White Starry Heaven" is a wonderfully simple melody with Yiddish folk echoes arranged beautifully for the violin and cello. "Crossbones" is straight on jazz for the trio with some interesting interplay between Herskowitz on the piano and drummer, David Rozenblatt. Matt Fieldes plays bass. "Gottingen" is a new arrangement of the song by French singer Monique Serf, known as Barbara, and utilizes Bassam Saba on the nay (an end blown flute like instrument) and the oud (a string instrument shaped something like a pear) and the Sweet Plantain String Quartet. In the notes to the album, Herskowitz says that his arrangement in a "soft Klezmer style" combined with the Arabic instruments "brings together two cousin musical worlds" and in this sense "represents the stylistic fusion which defines the sound, and soul, of Jerusalem Trilogy.

This is an album that will appeal to lovers of classical music. It is an album that will appeal to lovers of jazz. Indeed it is an album that will appeal to lovers of music.

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