Atzilut / Arabic and Hebrew Worldmusic

an amulet from chamsa publishing

Atzilut / Arabic and Hebrew Worldmusic, 2004

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Philadelphia cantor Jack Kessler is involved in music that ranges from nusakh to Yiddish folk music to the Middle Eastern modes of Atzilut. On this latest group project, he has enlisted Maurice Chedid on Arabic vocals and oud, taking a fusion of Jewish and Arabic music that dates back over 1000 years and updating it in a modern American context.

Chedid's warm voice starts things off very well with the CD opener, "Fo Rusnic". Although the ensemble is perhaps more percussion-heavy and lacks the massed violins of classic Arabic music, the result is still interesting and well-done. Kessler's powerful sonorities provide an interesting, more trance-ish counter to Chedid's warmth. It is especially interesting is that this is not traditional North African Jewish nusakh, but rather (to my inexpert ears) very Indian subcontinent-influenced melody. So we have the fascinating, and very pleasant (if anachronistic?) listening of traditional Arabic music fused with Jewish Indian chant. Thus, "Shira" starts off with a gentle, Arabic sounding melody, and then as Kessler's voice gains strength, moves into a more repetitive, strongly sung meditation mode, punctuated by deliciously gentle oud solo. The joining together of both men's voices on the final "Hinei Mah Tov/Ma Achla'a" is so good that I only wish they did it more often on the CD.

Atzilut might best be thought of as a Jewish spiritual jam band. The fusion with more traditional Arabic singing is quite invigorating and (of course!) fits perfectly and sends a message very worth pondering at a time when we are once again more hopeful about the prospect for peace in the Middle East. As we listen to Kessler's deep baritone intone "G-d is in this place and I did not know" (Yesh Adonai ba-makom ha-zeh/v'anokhi lo ya-dati) that seems especially poignant. As the instrumentals take their breaks jamming with his voice, both peace and G-d's presence seems especially credible and beautiful a notion.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 9 Jan 2005

Personnel this recording:
Maurice Chedid: Arabic vocals, oud
Jack Kessler: Hebrew vocals
Samuel Heifetz: double reeds
Bruce Kaminsky: bass
Josef Kessler: violin
Roger Mgrdichian: oud
Stan Slotter: flute, trumpet

Jim Babb: dumbek
Joe Ruscitto: djembe
Lenny Seidman: tabla
Yusef Tayoun: dumbek

Guest Artist
Henrik Goldschmidt: oboe


  1. Fo Rusnic (Arabic)
  2. Nagila Halleluyah (Hebrew)
  3. Balleghu (Arabic)
  4. Shira (Hebrew)
  5. Sit El Habayib (Arabic)
  6. Yesh Adonai (Hebrew)
  7. Maurices Pieces #1 (instrumental)
  8. Etz Chayim (Hebrew)
  9. Hinei Mah Tov/Ma Achala'a (Arabic and Hebrew)

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