Half Notes: Eugene Marlow's Heritage Ensemble – Celebrations (2010)

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by S. Victor Aaron

So often in recent years we’ve heard jazz played in a traditional Jewish style, aka “Klezmer” jazz. Arranger/composer and keyboardist Eugene Marlow puts this idea in reverse: taking traditional Jewish songs and playing them in mainstream, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and even contemporary jazz styles. The second Heritage Ensemble CD (the first one came out in 2006) is another of Dr. Marlow’s & Co.’s imaginative experimentation with old Hebraic hymns and folksongs. Marlow was careful to keep the original melodies largely intact, but reharmonizes them to create something new out of something old. He also tinkered with the tempo; a traditional mid-tempo song might be recast as a ballad, and a slow-paced tune could be set to a lively Latin rhythm. His ensemble of five players including himself aren’t all of Jewish heritage: the drummer and the percussionist are of Puerto Rican descent and the saxophonist is from Lebanon, for instance. Marlow intentionally assembled these players because he wanted fresh perspectives on these old Jewish tunes and getting them from those with non-Jewish backgrounds helped him to get that. This is why Celebrations doesn’t even require one to like Hebraic music to enjoy this record, and it can even help those unfamiliar with that kind of music to embrace its ancient but often festive melodies.

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