Flautist Mark Weinstein’s album, In Jerusalem, due for a June release, is once again a clear demonstration that there is really no musical tradition closed to jazz interpretation. Music is music, and in the hands of the right musician, any and all music is ripe for creative renewal. To that end, Weinstein leads a quintet made up of local Jerusalem musicians in an exploration of Hasidic music.
As he points out in Scott Yanow’s liner notes, “I had always wanted to perform Hasidic music. Their songs were written for people to sing, so they often have strong and unforgettable melodies. On these melodies, I don’t play my flute in a post-klezmer style but instead create my own voice, which is jazz.” And it is very fine jazz at that.
Joined by Steve Peskoff on guitar, his son Haim on drums, Gilad Abro on bass, and Gilad Dobrecky on percussion, Weinstein works his magic on a varied eight-song set combining original compositions and traditional melodies. They begin with an extended look at the well-known melody of the “Berditchever Nigun,” and they end with an emotionally charged rendition of another familiar melody, “Breslov Nigun.” Nigun is the Hebrew word for melody, and each and every nigun on the album takes the term very seriously. Other traditional pieces are the infectious “Repozarás” and the memorable Russian waltz, the lovely “Ozidanie.”
“Mizmor L’David” (Psalm of David) is a fairly contemporary composition by one of the giants of Hasidic music, Ben Zion Shenker. Here, according to the liner notes, it is treated with modern harmonies by Steve Peskoff. Peskoff, also credited for “Adayin Chashoock,” which at nearly nine minutes is the most extensive piece on the album, still makes use of some familiar themes. Weinstein adds two more personal pieces: a waltz, “Yaakov U’Malka,” named after his parents, and “Meir’s Nigun.”
Back in the day, if one remembers something like the very famous Ziggy Elman solo in “And the Angels Sing” and now listen to what Weinstein and his ensemble are doing on In Jerusalem, one has to wonder why this musical tradition hasn’t garnered a lot more attention from jazz artists. It is a tradition ripe for the picking.
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