MosesMuses Reviews

Cadence Magazine Page 28 - - March 2005

Despite its LA origins NEIL BLUMOFE's (vcl) MOSES' MUSES (Horeb 266131) asserts a pervasive New York ambiance, specifically the now venerable Lower East Side Scene. Part of it stems from the program (Steeplechase/ Mt. Sinai/ 15 Stairs/ The Quail/ Blessings and Curses/ The Third Stream/ Mt Nebo. 71:33. Recorded: 7/03 & 8/03, LA.) which flies a banner rich in Jewish and Hassidic hues and textures. Blumofe's band is custom built to handle the long-form jams (Jason Marsalis, d; Roland Guerin, b; Mark Miller, b; Fred Sanders, p; Mark Devine, p; Derek Douget, ts, as; Samir Zarif, bari s, ss; Alex Coke, ts, flt; Ben Saffer, cl, b cl; Maurice Brown, tpt; Milam Moorman, tpt.). His own vocal style incorporates an abiding Cantorial influence coupled with a shrewd sense of timing and placement. He waits in the wings on the opening "Steeplechase" until the tune's final minutes and in so doing achieves a dramatic entrance atop the swirling horn-fueled ensemble. The harmonies between his wordless phrases and the horn section on "Blessings and Curses," which morph into Second Line-fueled New Orleans street band theatre, are the work of an astute arranger's mind. There are niggling aspects to his arrangements too, a stentorian whistle on the aforementioned opener that grates instead of galvanizes and Maurice Brown's incessant trumpet figure on "Mt. Sinai" are too such examples. By and large though, the solos complement the ensembles and vice versa to create a lengthy program that rarely lags. It's also gratifying to see fledgling heavy hitters like Marsalis and Brown lending their services and surnames to Blumofe's cause. He returns the favor by shaping plenty of space for them all to shine and frequently relegating his vocals to a tertiary place behind the instruments. Overall it's an enjoyable set and welcome proof of a "Radical Jewish" cultural contingent on the Left Coast.

Where Hazanut Meets Jazz
Moses' Muses
(Horeb Records)
There's a tremendous buzz about the new mixing of freeform jazz with various Jewish musical genres, and here we have a prime example of new light being brought down thanks to such progressive salad making.

Neil Blumofe is a Chicago area-raised, Manhattan Conservative seminary-trained, Austin-based cantor. Here he teams up with New Orleans jazz scene luminaries (including Jason Marsalis, Roland Guerin and Fred Sanders) to explore the story of Moses, joining hazanut and jazz in an entirely original way.

"Steeplechase" draws from a Sephardi melody to Exodus's "Song of the Sea" while Blumofe gives his best hazanut improvisations using the relevant text.

On "15 Stairs," we hear his attempt to use his voice as a saxophone, with mixed results. But the real treat here is the live (with audience) recording of "The Quail," in which Blumofe chants over and over, "Refa na" ("please heal me") in a playful interaction with the rest of the ensemble.

The jam structures here lead us between motifs by sometimes fading in and out of specific meters and sometimes (as in the case of "Mt. Sinai" and "Blessings and Curses") abruptly switching themes. This not only conveys the feeling of the truly freeform jazz of the masters, but also establishes an overall mood of wandering through the wilderness - a theme central to Blumofe's reading of Moses as an archetypal persona.

A Black-Jewish Chord
Neil Blumofe: "Moses' Muses" (Horeb)

Well, it's not often I get to say this but "Moses' Muses" is unlike any other Jewish music recording I've heard in a very long time, if not ever. Blumofe is a hazan whose own musical tastes run to John Coltrane and (I'm betting) Pharoah Sanders, and this CD is a musical biography of Moses in post-bop jazz. Drawing down the spiritual ancestry of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" and other free-jazz masters, Blumofe mixes in synagogue music and chant and the result is genuinely unusual. The band behind him is excellent, particularly the reed section of Derek Douget (tenor and alto), Samir Zarif (baritone and soprano), Alex Coke (tenor and flute) and Ben Saffer (clarinet and bass clarinet). Does the concept work? I'm not sure, but I'm willing to keep listening, and that is no small compliment. Available from