“There’s Cool-Jazz, Funk-Jazz and Free-Jazz, so why not Gematria-Jazz? Gematria substitutes numbers for letters in the Hebrew alphabet, using the resulting numerical harmony to analyze the Torah.
Multi-reedman Steven Lugerner, who studies Gematria, used it to create These Are The Words, one CD in this package. Transmogrifying portions of the Torah into a series of numbers, he arranged the numbers to create melodic figures, tone rows, harmonies, tempos and time signatures. “I wanted to create Jewish music that didn’t necessarily sound overtly Jewish,” he says. It doesn’t but it does stand up as high-caliber improvisation. This may have as much to do with his associates - trumpeter Darren Johnston, pianist Myra Melford and drummer Matt Wilson - as his divinely inspired compositions.
Further evidence for this are the performances on Narratives - the other CD - recorded with Lugerner’s working septet. Although well-played and enlarged harmonically with trumpeter Itamar Borochov, reedist Lucas Pino, pianist Glenn Zaleski, guitarist Angelo Spagnolo, bassist Ross Gallagher and drummer Michael Davis, the results vary little from many other combos’ sounds.
These Are The Words is a different tale. Magisterial, with links to romanticism, serialism and inspirational jazz, interludes are organized so that, like the Torah’s verse and sentences, the flow is logical. Wilson’s pats and ruffs are mere rhythmic allusions while it’s Melford’s patterning that sets the pace. Melodic at times, atonal at others, she keeps expositions grounded. Meantime Johnston’s buzzing trumpet slurs or moderated flugelhorn interpolations decorate or deconstruct the themes, often in tandem with Lugerner’s reeds. His languid clarinet lines or cohesive flute peeps harmonize sinuously while his bass clarinet guffaws join Johnston’s rubato textures to suggest the Eric Dolphy-Booker Little partnership. Standout is “These Are The Names”. Grounded by cascading keyboard lines the tune moves through multiphonic brass screeches and harsh reed vamps back to a thematic recapitulation.
So seek out this set for Lugerner’s Torah variations. Right now he apparently lacks the flair in what may be called gentile music that he brings to compositions closer to his soul.”
For more information, visit stevenlugerner.com. The These Are The Words group is at Cornelia Street Café Sep. 25th. See Calendar.“