Issue #69

Last Update October 31, 2010

Arts  Heritage Ensemble by David Katz October 29, 2009   One of the joys of New York is the opportunity it affords for both preserving a tradition and melding it with the traditions of others to form something new, yet evocative. The Heritage Ensemble, a quintet led by its founder Eugene Marlow, is the perfect example of this process at work. Starting with Jewish liturgical melodies and Yiddish and Hebrew folk tunes, the Ensemble transmutes this material into jazz, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and neoclassical pieces that expand the ethnic scope of the music without abandoning its Jewish origins. 

All of the members of the quintet are consummate musicians. Gene Marlow, pianist, arranger and group leader, has a real knack for smooth piano jazz while also being at home in the other styles that form the heart of “Making the Music Our Own”, the title of the October 27th concert at the New York Baha'i Center and of a CD covering the same material. Todd Bashore, on alto and soprano sax, handled his melodic line well, and provided an occasional middle-Eastern sound that only a reed can give. Frank Wagner, on acoustic bass, was effective both plucking and bowing his improvisational solos. Jake Goldbas on percussion (mostly Congas) was especially good in the Brazilian and Afro-Cuban numbers. The standout player of the evening, however, was Bobby Sanabria on drums. This multi-Grammy Award nominee provided solid backing for the group, and when he let loose, thrilled the audience with the most exciting solos of the evening. 

To see how “Making the Music Our Own” works, take the first number, “V'Taher Lebeinu/Yis M'Chu” as an example. In an extended beginning section, the piano lays out the traditional melodies, with a few variations. Once the feeling of the original has been established, the quintet explodes into a jazz exposition of the chordal sequences underlying the traditional melodies. A final section brings a piano recapitulation of tradition. Marlow's jazz improvizations are nuanced and totally appropriate for the subject. 

“L'Cha Dodi” follows the same pattern, but the jazz section is smooth piano jazz, rather than the rougher, almost bebop style of the previous number. This matches the plaintive feeling of the original melody, and displays the stylistic versatility of the quintet. “Avinu Malkeinu” magically becomes a rhythmic jazz saxophone and piano masterpiece, with a splendid drum solo. The folk melodies fare equally well. “Bilbilios”, “Hatikvah” and “Heiveinu Shalom Aleichem” morph into various Latin rhythms.  “Hinei Matov” swings from the very beginning. 

The Heritage Ensemble enriches all of the cultures it exemplifies.

Eugene Marlow’s The Heritage Ensemble 235 Adams Street, Brooklyn NY 11201

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