If one classifies Bop Kabbalah, the self-titled debut recording of the quartet fronted by Gutbucket founding member Ty Citerman, as “sacred music,” then it is as singular an example of the form as anything Duke Ellington ever composed. The latest installment in Tzadik’s Radical Jewish Culture series, the album’s eight tracks, all written by Citerman, fuse jazz and rock with Hebrew instrumental and choral traditions for a multifaceted survey of the Jewish diaspora in song.
On the kickoff track, “The Cossack Who Smelt of Vodka,” Citerman’s galloping guitar evokes the terror of the titular figure riding into a Jewish village, while “The Synagogue Detective” is film noir shul-style, trumpeter Ben Holmes and bass clarinetist Ken Thomson nailing a slinky theme, ably abetted by fellow Gutbucketer Adam D Gold’s loping drums. The harsh yet witty “Snout” alternates klezmer-leaning harmonic invention with free-jazz freak-outs, and an elegiac intro gives “After All That Has Happened” a mournful undergirding that intensifies Citerman’s fiercely rock-oriented playing.
For all the fuzz-drenched roar, Citerman is notably understated here; he cedes pride of place to his compositional gifts while granting Thomson and Holmes the flashier showcase solos. Bop Kabbalah’s longest track, the 10-and-a-half-minute “Engaging Pleasantries With a Wall,” is the album’s highlight and one of the year’s most arresting recordings. Backed by Gold’s sparse snare and cymbals, Citerman’s electronics-enhanced washes of guitar conjure Middle Eastern mysticism over which an echo-enhanced Thomson and Holmes harmonize rapturously. The piece builds to a speaking-in-tongues frenzy before breaking into a cresting fanfare, Holmes and Citerman wailing with enough majesty to bring down the walls of Jericho. It’s frightening yet exhilarating, the very sound of spiritual ecstasy.