For the most part, the releases in the excellent Radical Jewish Culture series on John Zorn’s Tzadik label have featured secular music. While this music has strongly reflected the sounds of traditional Jewish folk melodies and the experience of the Jewish diaspora, it has largely been devoid of overt religiosity. Even when Tzadik artists performed renditions of sacred Jewish prayers, the result was anything but religious (see Rob Burger’s achingly beautiful polka version of the prayer “Aveenu Malkenu” on 2002’s Lost Photograph). It comes as a bit of a shock, then, to hear saxophonist Greg Wall’s latest release, Ha’Orot, his second for Tzadik, which features the spiritual writings of influential Jewish thinker Rabbi Avraham Itzchak Kook being performed spoken-word style by a Kook scholar and rabbi, Itzchak Marmorstein. Wall and his able quartet—pianist Shai Bachar, bassist Dave Richard, and drummer Aaron Alexander—provide a fairly minimalist, modal jazz soundtrack on which Marmorstein paints expressionist portraits using Kook’s dense palette of ecclesiastical imagery. The intriguing, occasionally disconcerting result, which could serve as the sonic equivalent of Marc Chagall’s Bible illustrations, falls somewhere between a synagogue sermon and a Gil Scott-Heron record. If anything, Ha’Orot adds yet another dimension to Tzadik’s diverse and superb catalog.
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