‘Hallelujah!’ Combines Jazz and Judaic Melodies

Hallelujah! Jazzy and Classical Piano Variations
Eugene Marlow Oasis Disc Manufacturing, 2015

Eugene Marlow has done it again. The composer/arranger/ performer of classical and jazz compositions recently released an anthology of Heritage Ensemble piano tracks that puts a new spin on traditional and familiar Jewish melodies. This CD, the group’s fifth, is guaranteed to make you rethink and appreciate new melodies that have become old hat.

Try listening to the songs before reading their titles. Marlow is a superb pianist, his style a blend of innovation and tradition. It is several bars into “Hatikva,” for example, before the familiar strains of the melody beckon recognition and then fade into the background of a composition that could hold its own among that of any contemporary jazz pianist. What a thrill for a jazz fan to hear “Mah Nishtanah Halaylah Haze (Passover’s Four Questions)” as a bright, lively rendition of the traditional Passover melody. Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages), recorded specifically for this album, feels playful and new.

Pianist Marlow founded “The Heritage Ensemble,” a quintet dedicated to performing and recording his original compositions and arrangements of Hebraic melodies in various jazz, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and classical styles. Other members are of Puerto Rican, Lebanese and Eastern European descent. Marlow’s family background is Russian, Polish, German and British.

Marlow didn’t get serious about music until he was in his 20’s and didn’t start studying composing formally until he was in his 50’s. He is a professor at New York City’s Baruch College in the department of journalism and writing.

Moshav: You Can Go Home Again

“Moshav,” the internationally acclaimed American/Israeli group, began when Yehuda Solomon (vocals, percussion) and Duvid Swirsky (vocals, guitar) met as youngsters growing up four doors apart on the Moshav Mevo Modiin. The religious communal settlement in central Israel was founded by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and attracted a group of eclectic individuals, including Solomon’s and Swirsky’s parents.

“My parents were living in a hippie commune in northern California and they moved to the Moshav and never left,” said Solomon, who is in his late 30’s and lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three young children.

Swirsky arrived at the Moshav on Shabbat when he was ten years old. “I remember Shlomo as a Santa Claus-like character,” he said. “Everybody danced and sang, banging and screaming and jumping up and down. It was a very accepting and comfortable environment.”

“A lot of us kids from the Moshav are singers, spread out all over the world. We run into a lot of them when we travel,” Swirsky added. He also lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two-year-old son Lev (“heart” in Hebrew).

The duo was singing at the Moshav when they were discovered by some American students traveling in Israel who heard their band play and raised money to bring them to the United States to play for a college tour in the 1990’s. “Moshav” was born and relocated to Los Angeles, where they recorded their first album in 1998.

“Shabbat Vol. 1, released in November 2014, pays homage to the many Sabbaths they spent with their beloved Reb Shlomo in the small synagogue packed with family and friends dancing late into Friday nights. “This record brings us back to our childhood,” said Solomon.

Moshav

Moshav 2014 Moshav Music

The 15 tracks include original, traditional, and Carlebach compositions that the two recorded at their home studio in Los Angeles. “We tried to give it a raw vibe, like we’re all just hanging out again and jamming on the Moshav,” said Solomon.

“This record feels like home,” said Swirsky. “Shabbat is music. Shabbat is roots. Shabbat is open. Shabbat is no judgment.”

Among the songs are “Lecha Dodi,” “Adon Olam” and “Havdallah.” With its mixture of reggae, middle-eastern and traditional styles, and instruments that include bouzouki, banjo, cello, trumpet and oud, the album is an exciting and refreshing way to celebrate Shabbat. “It shows all our colors,” said Solomon.

Standout tracks are a meditative “V’shamru” with its overlay of cellos, the lively reggae-middle eastern styled “Boi Beshalom,” and the catchy, folksy “Shiru.”

“We try to make music that we really love and connect to. We draw from our Jewish roots and heritage, but hopefully the result is universal, something that also sounds really interesting and cool to someone who isn’t Jewish,” Solomon said.

Pictured at top: Duvid Swirsky (left) and Yehuda Solomon met as kids growing up at Shlomo Carlebach’s Moshav commune in Israel.

New CD Commemorates Kristallnacht and Reimagines Hebrew Melodies

When composer Eugene Marlow had the inspired idea to include a track on his upcoming CD, “Mosaica,” to commemorate Kristallnacht’s 76th anniversary, the first person he thought of was his Aunt Ruth Rack in Australia.

Now in her mid-80’s, she was a 9-year-old in Leipzig, Germany when she witnessed the 1938 event, also known as “The Night of Broken Glass.” “I decided I had to have her narrate this,” said Marlow. The result is “Zikkaron (Remembrance)/ Kristallnacht,” an original composition that opens with the sound of Goebbels’ harsh voice and then fades to Ruth’s memories of that awful night.

The quasi-classical/Hebraic melody, according to the CD liner notes, represents Ruth’s mother’s resolute calm against the surreal, destructive aggression by the Nazis. Repetitive, single piano notes bring to mind the shattering of glass. The marching rhythm of the brass and percussion evokes a dark terror and brutality.

Marlow sent Ruth a rough mix of the track. “She liked it very much,” he said, adding that he also included an instrumental- only version on the ninetrack CD.

Pianist Marlow founded “The Heritage Ensemble,” a quintet dedicated to performing and recording his original compositions and arrangements of Hebraic melodies in various jazz, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and classical styles. Other members are of Puerto Rican, Lebanese and Eastern European descent. Marlow’s family background is Russian, Polish, German and British.

“I am a third or fourth generation musician/composer,” Marlow said. “This is my passion,” he added, jokingly, “If you open up one of my veins, little quarter notes will jump out.”

“Mosaica” is the ensemble’s fourth album and the first to include a vocalist, Cantor Shira Lissek. “I heard her sing and loved her voice. She and I chose specific melodies,” Marlow said, adding that Lissek was concerned that as a classically trained cantor, she lacked a strong background in jazz. ”I told her, ‘You sing it straight. We’ll do the jazz around you.’” The result is a stunning collection of songs that simultaneously feel familiar and brand new. “Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet)” is an exciting combination of moving vocals and silky jazz accompaniment, while “Mah Nishtanah Halaylah Haze (Passover’s Four Questions)” is a bright, lively rendition of the traditional Passover melody.

Marlow, who holds a Ph.D. in Media Studies, an MBA, an M.S. and B.S. in music composition and a B.A. in English, is a professor at New York City’s Baruch College in the department of journalism and writing. He didn’t get serious about music until he was in his 20’s and didn’t start studying composing formally until he was in his 50’s.

He plans a spring 2015 release of a DVD visualizing the “Kristallnacht” track with vintage photographs from Austria and Germany to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day, and a fall 2015 release of original Brazilian-inspired compositions.

“I have accelerated my music output in the last five years,” Marlow said. “With ‘Mosaica,’ in particular, I made it a mission to do something different than our previous albums.”

To purchase the CD, go to cdbaby.com/cd/eugenemarlow6.