Reedman and Rabbi Greg Wall was the co-leader, with trumpeter Frank London, of one of my favorite fusion bands of all time - Hasidic New Wave. His new band, The Later Prophets, features former Hasidic New Wave drummer Aaron Alexander, but has a completely different sound that is rooted in the classic, acoustic modal jazz sounds of the 1960s and 70s. On their second Tzadik recording, "Ha'Orot
," the quartet is joined by the scholar and poet, Rabbi Itzchak Marmorstein, who recites the writings and teachings of Rabbi Avraham Itzchak HaCohen Kook (1865-1935). This is one very special and very inspiring spoken word CD, perhaps the finest of the sort that I've heard all year. Prior to hearing this recording, I was totally unfamiliar with Kook's prominence in the Judaic theological world. I came away more than a little impressed with Kook's profound humanism and compassion and I was totally blown away by the sheer beauty of his writings. This was possible for me because Rabbi Marmorstein, whose spoken word delivery resembles that of a particularly lucid Beat poet, recites in both English and Hebrew. Sounding like a seasoned pro when it comes to 'word jazz,' Rabbi Marmorstein imparts the texts in a mellifluous voice with just the right amount of drama. He leaves the band plenty of room to improvise and set up the structure of each piece. Quite literally, the music and the words on "Ha'Orot
" are on the same wavelength - the result has a wonderfully effortless feel as the musicians and speaker simply breathe together.
The music on "Ha'Orot" is much more groove-oriented and somewhat less structured than that of Hasidic New Wave, and emphasizes the jazz aspects of Wall's musicality. In other words, this is not really a klezmer or a fusion project - though the band occasionally strays into the Middle Eastern jazz territory favored by label honcho John Zorn's various Masada ensembles. Though dominantly an acoustic jazz recording, Richards pulls out an electric bass on a few tracks, and Bachir ekes some interesting electronic effects out of his keyboard in places. There are also a few bracingly avant-garde moments here, particularly on 'Hootzeeuni Leervaya.' A number of tracks sport substantial melodic and harmonic development which reinforces the sense that "Ha'Orot" isn't merely another run-of-the-mill spoken word project. Besides Wall's Shorter-ish tenor and soprano saxophone (and occasional clarinet, shofar and flute), the quartet's other primary solo voice is the wonderful Israeli pianist Shai Bachar, whose previous musical collaborators include the pioneering multi-reedman and composer Steven Horenstein, vocalist Sheila Jordan, and percussionist / composer Bob Moses. Dave Richards' acoustic bass is warm, nimble and supportive, as is Aaron Alexander's always excellent drumming.