Wall Simultaneously Straddles the Gates of the Ancient and Avant-garde
“The soulful performances of all the pieces succeed to parallel and complement the texts with organic affinity and unity and leave enough space for reflection. Their inventiveness and the richness of the musical vocabulary of the band members suggest that these texts could, perhaps, have been pat of a canon of modern Beat poets…Quite quickly, after the third piece, it’s actually possible to begin believing in Kook’s words that heaven can be found in this world.” — Eyal Hareuveni, All About Jazz
The quest to express the spiritual in music is likely as old as music itself. On HA'OROT, composer, bandleader and saxophonist Greg Wall – with the invaluable contributions of his tight knit ensemble and the spoken word artistry of Rabbi Itzchak Marmorstein — deploys the poetry of the renowned Rabbi Avraham Itzchak HaCohen Kook. aka: Rav Kook, to skillfully blend modern jazz and timeless texts. The result is a passionate and inspiring cultural fusion that reaches for spiritual richness in its inspired marriage of words and music.
Ordained in 2006, Greg Wall may well be the only recording and touring jazz musician who is also a rabbi. A leading figure in the neo-Klezmer movement of the past three decades, Wall has long incorporated Jewish themes into his adventurous and inclusive sonic universe; his rich saxophone and clarinet playing is heard with such important bands as Hasidic New Wave, the quintet that he co-leads with Frank London. The eponymous 2004 recording debut of Greg Wall’s Later Prophets was a concept album of sorts that retold the story of Ezekiel through daring music that invoked the influences of free jazz and rock. The acclaimed album also marked the band’s initial association with John Zorn’s Tzadik label. Where the band was originally a lean woodwinds, keyboards and drums trio (augmented on the album by guest guitarist Gary Lucas), it’s now a quartet: pianist Shai Bachar and drummer Aaron Alexander have, since 2006, been joined by bassist Dave Richards. And while Wall and the group aren’t averse to kicking up some dust when a composition calls for it, the sonic atmosphere of HA'OROT, leans towards the reflective; the electronic exotica of the earlier album is now tempered by greater acoustic lyricism. Yet Marmorstein’s passionate readings, and the unity and focus of the current quartet, make HA'OROT no less invigorating than its predecessor. What Jon Andrews of DownBeat wrote about Wall’s earlier work can be easily applied here as well: “A surprising multicultural collision worthy of Bill Laswell or Kip Hanrahan at their best.”
The origins of the project began at Toronto’s Ashkenaz Festival in 2007. Inspired by a vivid performance by Wall’s ensemble, Marmorstein -- an expert on the work of Rav Kook (1865-1935) -- suggested joining forces for an innovative celebration of the revered mystic teacher who became Israel’s first chief rabbi. Incorporating both the original Hebrew and Marmorstein’s English translations of Kook’s poetry, HA'OROT captures the ecstatic yearning of Kook’s vision. “Rav Kook was both the sage of his generation and a great poet,” says Wall. “His message was the universal theme of unity and community building; bringing humanity together through spiritual values. His work can be seen as the antidote to factionalism and political division.” The signal achievement of HA'OROT may be that Kook’s message of healing can be distinctly felt in the fervent playing of the band, and in Marmorstein’s gripping performance, no matter what language he speaks in.
Although his own playing has a stylistic identity all its own -- Wall takes to heart what Archie Shepp, a former teacher, once told him: “Your sound is your business card” -- he credits the iconic John Coltrane for igniting his interest in blending spiritual leanings with jazz. “When it comes to music as a spiritual outlet, Coltrane is the model. His written prayer in the sleeve of A LOVE SUPREME made it explicit. This was the synthesis I was looking for.” Wall’s impassioned tenor saxophone is featured on the majority of tracks — including two fully instrumental performances that draw on melodies composed by Kook himself (hear the funky take of “Nigun Harav 2”) -- but he also extends his textural range with evocative work on the clarinet and soprano saxophone, as well as fascinating excursions on the moseno flute, and the shofar, as heard on one of four duets between each band member and Marmostein.
Greg Wall’s Later Prophets represent only a segment of the leader’s expansive musical involvements which also include Greg Wall’s Unity Orchestra, a pan cultural ensemble featuring eight musicians from five continents. Wall has collaborated with the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company since 1999, resulting in the commissioned scores for Meyne Mentchen" (2000-2001), the electronic score, Echad" (2002), and Lovelines" (2003). He was also the musical voice of James Earl Jones in the feature film On the QT". Writing in Jazz Forum magazine Robert Buczek said, Wall plays incredibly; his improvisations are well constructed and convincing." The Cleveland Plain Dealer adds, He plays with a consistent power and imagination."
His critically acclaimed release, From the Belly of Abraham", with Hasidic New Wave and Senegalese master drummers Yakar Rhythms was named one of the ten best CD's of 2002 by Jazz Times magazine, and the band plans a new recording soon. Wall has also been heard with The Wall/London Band, Neshama Carlebach, and the Hi-Tops, and has made many session appearances for record dates and film scores, notably Aaron Alexander's Midrash Mishmosh" and Blues for Sparky", Neshama Carlebach’s Ani Shelach", Unauthorized’, with Dave’s True Story, and Party Music" with KlezmerFest. Wall is currently serving as the producer of Pioneers For a Cure (pioneerproducer.blogspot.com, www.pioneersforacure.org), is a member of The New American Jazz Quartet whose new recording will be released later this spring, and has been commissioned by the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company to write the score for Dorfman’s new work “Tikkun," to be premiered in May 2009.