Greg Wall / Later Prophets
Greg Wall / Later Prophets
Tzadik Records, TZ7186, 2004.
Greg Wall has been playing amazing Jewish music for years. Whether it be impeccable, joyously-danceable traditional American klezmer, with the Klezmerfest, or Jewish-avant garde fusion with Frank London and friends in Hasidic New Wave, his saxophone is part of the best of Jewish music today. Now he steps out on his own in a jazzy, jazz-rock-tinged album called "Later Prophets."
What I find especially intriguing is how Wall manages to fusion melodic themes from the trup for chanting readings of the prophetic portion that is read to accompany the Torah portion in the synagogue on the Sabbath, with a wider-ranging, improvisational music. Although these tunes are part of a body of Jewish musical lore known as "mi-sinai" tunes (melodies from Sinai) recent musicology indicates that they are of significantly more recent origin. Nonetheless, they are among Judaism's oldest melodies, and they have become infused with Jewish soul over hundreds of years. This is nothing so facile as a reworking of relatively modern Hasidic nign. Rather, Wall is reaching back deeper: deeper textually, in considering the apocalyptic prophecies of Ezekiel, whose vision of a valley of dry bones knitting themselves back together and becoming whole has become a popular metaphor of hope and renewal. Indeed, the idea of bones being resurrected is also one strand of Jewish Messianic vision, dating back to the time of the first exile.
Musically, this is astounding stuff. Searching, tuneful, exploratory, solid; it is more grounded in that seventies jazz-rock fusion or prog-rock than I would have expected, and it is good to hear some of those instrumentations and fusions again—at least as played here. Along with inspiration from ancient Jewish melody, Wall also reworks the spiritual, "Zekiel saw the wheel" to hauntingly hopeful effect. The interplay between saxophone and keyboards is haunting. Alexander's drumming and percussion are incredible, as well.
Wall's saxophone explorations, as on "Among the exile, by the river kiver" are haunting evocations of something like "nusakh meets Hawkwind", if such an event is imaginable, followed by the chunky funk of "Death and Resurrection". Later, on "Malachi" or the "Stoliner Nigun" it is nusakh meets 21st century Jewish inward reflection, and then the album ends with a wash of synthesizer sound interrupted by waves of mournful saxophone, "Lamentations".
This is just very interesting music. It is, indeed, as Wall says, "A thoroughly modern soundtrack to the world's best seller." Damn thoughtful music and enjoyable listening, too.
Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 7/2/04
Personnel this recording:
Greg Wall: tenor sax, clarinet
Shai Bachar: keyboards (except tracks 3, 5)
Aaron Alexander: drums (except tracks 3, 9)
Gary Lucas: guitar (tracks 3, 8)
- The bones drew near (Wall) 9:21
- Zekiel saw the wheel (trad., arr. Wall) 6:45
- Among the Exile, by the river Kiver (Wall) 7:26
- Death and Resurrection (Wall) 6:29
- Malachi (Wall) 2:47
- Stoliner nigun (trad., arr. Wall) 4:17
- Ofan (A wheel within a wheel) (Wall) 5:58
- Can these bones come to life? (Wall) 5:00
- Lamentations (Wall) 5:34