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Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Andy Statman – an Ahava Supreme

I must confess being somewhat remiss on this blog as to music reviews, which have been far too scarce. Perhaps we can begin to rectify this deficiency with the piece below.
Andy Statman probably needs no introduction from me. But perhaps I can divulge some lesser known facts about him. He is a baal teshuva, who, I believe, came to Judaism through Breslov Chassidus. His musical inclination played no small part in his teshuva. And although he has recorded the music of Breslov, Chabad, Carlebach and others, he davens in the Modzitzer Shtibel in Flatbush, NY, and has recorded some beautiful Modzitz music which is not to be found on other recordings.


Some brief excerpts from his bio on his website:
Statman's musical soul journey began early, when he was a child in Queens, not far from his current home in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Born into a family with a long line of cantors and some well-known professional musicians in the family tree, young Andy grew up singing Chassidic melodies in the afternoon Jewish school his otherwise secular parents sent him to, and listening to show tunes, klezmer, classics -- and every other variety of music playing within earshot…After feeling a tug away from bluegrass during his late teens, Statman, stirred at the time by John Coltrane's experimental jazz, found himself compelled to master the saxophone….
[Eventually, the] lightning struck: "I realized that I was born a Jew," says Statman, "and that it wasn't by accident. I needed to find my own spirituality in my music and in my life my own roots, not someone else's." Statman’s hunt for his heritage progressed slowly, met by small, incremental changes in his everyday practice -- laying of tefillin and a prayer service here, a traditional Sabbath there. And there were those prayers again, those niggunim from his childhood.
It all made Statman wonder: Why was no one playing (professionally, at least) the instrumental music to accompany this living Chassidic tradition? Whatever happened to that great Old World Jewish music he had heard as a kid at home? He took it as a personal challenge: Unearthing this musical tradition - what we now call klezmer - would help him to unearth his own roots…
To Statman, the alt-neu klezmer music was about much more than reclaiming cultural roots. It was about ecstatic devotion, recreating the transcendent prayer of the founder of Chassidism, the Baal Shem Tov -- prayer he was engaging in more and more regularly as he grew closer to Orthodox life.
[His friend and colleague David] Grisman, who is himself Jewish, notes that "it was the music that led Andy into observance. And then he got deeper into the music by going deeper into its source." In fact, Statman says that he began to see klezmer as a living form of music mostly in the context of a religious life…

An Ahava Supreme
These are excerpts from an article by Samuel Freedman that recently appeared in The Jerusalem Post. Please follow this link for the entire article.

"Let us sing all songs to G-d," John Coltrane wrote in late 1964, shortly after he had finished recording the jazz album that would be entitled A Love Supreme…the record both exuded reverence and iconoclasm. It was a faith offering that soared and ranged way beyond the musical bounds of gospel and hymn.
Performance by performance, CD by CD, over the course of the past decade Andy Statman has been producing the Jewish equivalent, a body of praise music that is Orthodox in belief and heterodox in style, something one can fairly call "An Ahava Supreme." …
Late in 2006, Statman released two more exquisite albums, East Flatbush Blues and Awakening From Above. Taken together, they reflect his awesome scope as a musician… the latter [recording is] a collection of Chassidic niggunim with him on clarinet.
…just as John Coltrane came to a pivotal moment in his artistry when he kicked a longtime heroin addiction, a recovery he attributed to G-d, so was Statman's course changed by revelation. As Statman recalled [in Jon Kalish's radio documentary], once he embraced Orthodox Judaism, he found he no longer needed klezmer to be his touchstone to Jewish tradition. He became increasingly drawn to the religious music of the Chassidic world.
That choice was propitious in all sorts of ways. The Chassidim take more seriously than most other Jews the biblical admonition to praise the Almighty with the psaltery and timbrel… Statman is…a Coltrane-like figure with his combination of impeccable technique and boundless imagination.
As anyone who has ever spent the night of Simchas Torah among the dancing crowds in Crown Heights can attest, Chassidic music is music not only of ecstasy but of improvisation - rolling, shape-shifting, melismatic. For Statman, then, it provides the kind of basic chordal latticework that modal jazz supplied to Coltrane, a foundation from which to invent. And he has done exactly that in a series of CDs stretching back to 1997 - Between Heaven and Earth, The Hidden Light, Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge, and Awakening From Above...
Part of his equanimity certainly derives from the understanding that his music is a form of worship rather than mere entertainment; part of it probably comes from the satisfaction of being known as a "musician's musician."
But when you take account of the entire oeuvre, you can't help but recognize that, even if Andy Statman does not have one specific recording that is a summation in the way "A Love Supreme" was for Coltrane, he has achieved something just as significant.

Wonderful post; I'd love to hear his music.

ps I tried signing in on Shiloh Musings, which is old blogger, and old blogger doesn't seem to be working.
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