World Renowned Jazz Pianist Joins Rabbi-Interfaith Scholar to Create a New Genre of Jewish Music
The prolific Hassidic rabbi/composer, Shmuel Eliyahu Taub of the Modzhitz Hassidic dynasty, was known as the Imrei Esh, literally: Words of Fire, authoring dozens of deeply lyrical compositions, year after year, for the Jewish high holidays, cast to a prayer seeking God’s compassion.
Now acclaimed jazz pianist Kenny Werner has teamed up with one of the world’s leading interfaith scholar/activists, Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein (nom du disc – Alon Michael) to create a unique fusion of Hassidic music, jazz harmonies and lieder type performance for voice and piano. Kenny and Alon break new ground in Jewish music and in world music. Fire and Praise (August 4, 2023) offers a unique musical concept in its exclusive reliance on one particular Hassidic composer, on one sub-genre of his music, and in the presentation of this music in lieder style with Jazz orientation, thereby creating a new genre of Jewish music. If typical Hassidic music was simply the basis for singing and dancing, this rendition is for listening, contemplation, and a more refined artistic appreciation.
Fire and Praise is based on a combination of the Psalms, and the melodies of Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu Taub. Rabbi Taub’s compositions have been adapted by Alon Michael to accompany the Hallel liturgy, a liturgy of praise, recited on major Jewish festivals, consisting of Psalms 113-118. Cast to the tunes of the Modzhitzer Rebbe, sung in its entirety and employing a variety of styles of accompaniment, drawing on Kenny Werner’s prolific creativity and improvisation, this liturgy rings with a power and beauty that is unparalleled.
Basking in Fire and Praise is a spiritual experience that will speak to seekers across faiths, even as it enhances the power of prayer of Jewish practitioners who are accustomed to the words, that have often lost their vitality.
Kenny Werner is one of the world’s most accomplished Jazz Pianists, whose 60 year career has included recordings and performances with many of the luminaries of Jazz music, from Toots Thielemans to Joe Lovano. Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein (nom du disc – Alon Michael) is one of the world’s leading interfaith scholar/activists, actively working with figures such as the three recent Popes, The Dalai Lama, The Archbishop of Canterbury and dozens of the world’s most noted faith leaders across religious diversity, through his Elijah Interfaith Institute. Alon’s gift of working across differences to create new harmonies and new realities has now found musical expression in the partnership between Kenny and Alon.
Says Kenny Werner: “This project constituted a special challenge for me. Sensing the beauty in this music, I sought to make it speak beyond the narrow confines of the Judaism within which it was born. To me, this is a symbol of a universal voice that must resound from within Judaism, speaking to new audiences with a message of universal spirituality”.
Says Alon Michael: “Fire and Praise was a process guided by inspiration from start to finish. I feel as if I have served as an instrument for something greater than my own personal vision. From the choice of tunes, to the adaptation to the words of the Hallel, to the work with Kenny on the accompaniment most suited to each Psalm, I felt guided from above. I pray this quality of inspiration is heard by listeners to our music”.
Fire and Praise is the first of a trilogy of albums produced by Alon Michael and Kenny Werner, all featuring music of the Modzhitz Hassidic dynasty, interpreted in fresh ways, with sensitive Jazz inflection. The trilogy will be released over the course of the coming 12 months. Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein will also create a series of YouTube videos of teachings around each of the songs.
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