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January/February 2005

Greg Wall
Later Prophets
Tzadik

All but two of the tracks on Greg Wall's Later Prophets are original, but Jewish listeners may recognize, threaded through the project, a melodic fragment from the blessing before the reading of the Haftarah, or Prophets. Inspired by Jewish liturgy and the book of Ezekiel in particular, Wall's song cycle has a foreboding quality, thanks largely to keyboardist Shai Bachar and his seemingly infinite library of sounds. The leader, on tenor sax and clarinet, has well-chosen partners in Bachar and drummer Aaron Alexander, a fellow member of the downtown band Hasidic New Wave. Guitarist Gary Lucas, whose scratchy atmospherics recall Adrian Belew, guests on "Among the Exile, by the River Kiver" and "Can These Bones Come to Life?" Marty Ehrlich co-produced Later Prophets with Wall.

There is no bass player on the album, and Bachar makes no conventional attempt to compensate. Yet the music sounds neither empty nor sparse. Against Wall's impassioned, late-Coltrane tenor and Alexander's acoustic drums, Bachar's edgy electronic palette-ranging from taut Rhodes clusters to amorphous swells of color (bringing Craig Taborn to mind)-proves indispensable in giving the album its dramatic arc.

When Wall states the melody of the klezmer piece "Death and Resurrection," Bachar doubles it, but with a gurgling, unidentifiable sound that renders the line wonderfully elusive. That sound resurfaces on "Ofan (A Wheel Within a Wheel)," during which Alexander enjoys his Keith Moon moment. On the reworked spiritual "'Zekiel Saw the Wheel," Bachar's electric piano transforms the diatonic saxophone melody into an outpouring of dissonance. "Stoliner Nigun," another traditional melody, is plaintively stated by Wall while Bachar adds wobbly synth pads and Alexander stirs restlessly. Two austere drone pieces, "Malachi" and "Lamentations," open up yet another sonic space; Bachar sits out the former and plays static, futuristic harmonies under Wall's mournful clarinet on the latter.

Originally published in January/February 2005
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