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Paul Shapiro: It’s In the Twilight

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The press release accompanying this CD calls saxophonist/flutist Paul Shapiro “ambassador of hip to the world of Jewish music.” OK, I’ll stipulate that. Shapiro makes his Jewishness the central theme of his work. Creatively, however, the music owes less to klezmer than to ’60s and ’70s hard bop and early fusion. In any case, it’s a fun listen.

Shapiro combines a big, ruddy, prebop tenor sound with a postbop harmonic sensibility. He’s a creative and exciting player. Shapiro’s bluesy compositions are girded by a variety of rhythmic feels, from early jazz to more contemporary grooves. Joining him is fellow tenorist Peter Apfelbaum, trumpeter Steven Bernstein, pianist Brian Mitchell, bassist Booker King and drummer Tony Lewis. Apart from the leader, Mitchell is the most interesting soloist, fluent in the varied styles comprising the band’s repertoire. Bernstein is an attractive presence as well. The rhythm section is mighty fine, always just as tight or loose as it needs to be.

In practical terms, Shapiro’s religious slant matters not a whit, except perhaps in terms of marketing. There’s nothing intrinsically spiritual about this music. It’s simply very good. Were it made by an atheist, it would be no more or less affecting.