‘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.

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.