Saturday, February 18, 2012

Abdul the Rabbi

This post is not intended to be self-promoting in any way. It was written in a spirit of gratified amazement.

I play in a band called the 4th Ward Afro-Klezmer Orchestra. It's led by the trumpet player Roger Ruzow, best known as a founding member of the Gold Sparkle Band. As the name implies, the band plays a fusion of jazz, klezmer, and Afropop. It's an unusual and interesting band; I very much enjoy being a part of it.

A little over a year ago, Roger brought a new piece to rehearsal. Nothing about it made sense, including the title, "Abdul the Rabbi." Musically, it consisted of a bunch of random-sounding horn riffs over a funk/hip-hop base. It seemed both repetitive and directionless. Roger explained that it was intended to have a rapper laying down a vocal over it, but I couldn't see any way that this piece could work.

But Roger decided that this would be the title tune of our new album. We recorded the tune in pieces, to be assembled later. Roger seemed to have some mysterious vision of where the piece was headed, but I was still clueless. After I recorded as part of the saxophone section, he called me back into the studio to record an odd marimba part. Okay....

Before a gig a few months ago, Roger took most of the band outside to his car and turned on the CD player. "Abdul the Rabbi" had been put together, with some striking guitar melodies I had never heard before. It caught my attention - this was almost something really good.

A few days ago I finally heard the rough mix of the finished product, with a vocal by Atlanta rapper Zano. I was floored. Zano came up with first-person rap in the character of the Arab/Jewish rabbi Abdul.

A religious anomaly, devoid of harmony,
Forged in the kiln of the hot sands....
What I am is unique in its chutzpah,
But most likely it will lead to a fatwa.

Peace between Arabs and Jews is Abdul's desperate, doomed mission.

Got to find the light within the dogma
To impact the knack to crack the surface
With some news other than where the last bomb dropped.

To every last checkpoint, wherever I can plant seeds
Every last synagogue and every last masjid
This I will accomplish even if it be my last deed.

I'm the oldest member of the band at 53, and I'm not that into hip-hop, although I like some things I've heard. But "Abdul the Rabbi" brings a lump to my throat, and the piece gets deeper every time I hear it. I really didn't have much to do with the song, but I'm glad that I was a small part of it; I'm as proud of this as any music I've ever recorded. I can't wait for the album to come out.

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