A founding member of the acclaimed punk/jazz/new music ensemble Gutbucket, composer/guitarist Ty Citerman delves deep into his Jewish roots for Tzadik Records’ Radical Jewish Culture series on his debut as a leader under his own name, Bop Kabbalah. Drawing inspiration from sources as varied as the Beat Generation, medieval Eastern European and Asian musical modes, the rich depths of Kabbalistic mysticism and more, Citerman has fashioned an intense and colorful program of modernist music that blends klezmer, nigunim (traditionally sung wordless melodies), jazz, rock, new classical and more.
Citerman’s primary musical vehicle for the past fifteen years has been Gutbucket, and over the course of 5 albums and hundreds of festival and club performances in the US and Europe, he has pioneered what Guitar Player Magazine called“kinetic punk-jazz opuses,” that reveal “an explosive concoction containing lethal doses of Ornette Coleman, King Crimson, John Zorn, Black Sabbath, Stravinsky, and Fugazi.” (The Guardian).
But like many versatile New York musicians, Citerman wears other hats, and among them, he is a prominent guitarist, sideman and song leader in New York City’s Jewish music scene. He’s worked with klezmer bandleaders and cantors, and has been inspired by centuries-old traditions in Jewish music, both from his ancestral Russian/Romanian background and that of the Middle East and Persia.
Some of his earliest fond musical memories are of meditative chanting and singing in his childhood synagogue. And having played (and sung) many of the Jewish wedding and other ritual “standards,” Citerman decided in 2012 that his Jewish music life would be the point of departure for a new project. So with an ear for the lyrical and melodic qualities of cantorial music, the kinetic sounds of klezmer and the compositional whimsy and force of Gutbucket, Bop Kabbalah is the result of more than two year’s worth of researching and writing.
The eight diverse compositions on Bop Kabbalah’s debut CD explore Citerman’s Jewish life, past and present – they are a soundtrack of memories and musings: the stories his grandmother told him growing up, an alternate version of his Bar Mitzvah, the day he played hooky from Hebrew school, his first trip to Israel, old-country recipes, jokes, family arguments and much more.
Each piece is a new story, a new short film: “Snout” is from a new breed of animal – probably not kosher at the dinner table – but nevertheless, it’s playful, Borscht Belt free jazz yields to a snapshot of klezmer – with a touch of Nino Rota via Fellini – that then ignites an atmospheric group improv. Bop Kabbalah’s musical terrain is happily broad: angular, pulsating in “After All That Has Happened;” danceable reductionism in “Talmudic Breakbeat;” odd-meter swing and guitar heroics in “The Voice That Led Us Here and Then Waltzed/Hobbled Away.” And the wild, howling fantasia in “Exchanging Pleasantries With a Wall” adds some of the heftiest moments to the collection, a sound that JazzTimes described in Citerman’s work with Gutbucket as a quartet “…painting in bold, dark strokes of color with moments of glistening light.”
Bop Kabbalah’s music comes with an open invitation – it will certainly turn heads and challenge ears – but its sounds are personal, coherent, and engaging. In this collection, Citerman gives a glimpse of 21st century new Jewish sounds to come.
ABOUT THE MEMBERS OF BOP KABBALAH
Bass clarinetist Ken Thomson (Bang on a Can All-Stars, Asphalt Orchestra, Ensemble Signal) has been Citerman’s band mate in Gutbucket and other projects for nearly 20 years. Citerman’s writing for bass clarinet reveals a love for Eric Dolphy and Naftuli Brandwein, but Thomson’s fluency in the language of Bang on a Can, Louis Andriessen, and Olivier Messiean broadens the playing field.
Citerman first met trumpeter Ben Holmes (Tarras Band, Slavic Soul Party!) in Zion80, Jon Madof’s Shlomo-Carlebach-meets-Fela-Kuti big band. He and Citerman hit it off, and in Bop Kabbalah, they blend beautifully and also conjure the interplay of Dave Douglas and Brad Shepik in the Tiny Bell Trio. Holmes has a solid klezmer-jazz pedigree.
Drummer Adam Gold (Cabinet of Wonders, the Universal Thump, Build) has played with Citerman in Gutbucket since 2007, and as a classically trained percussionist with feet in the worlds of jazz and rock, he never flinches. He’s solid, steady and explosive when necessary; and he has the versatility and familiarity with Citerman’s music to bring strength and sensitivity to the drum chair in Bop Kabbalah.