Chillent and its musical Jewish soul stew warmed the city’s North Side last Saturday night. The ethnically infused band, with musicians from Pittsburgh’s Lubavitch Jewish community, debuted at James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy.
“It’s a great honor to be here,” said Sruli Broocker, the band’s harmonicist. “This place is kind of legendary in Pittsburgh, it’s kind of the jazz haunt.”
Located at 422 Foreland St., a few blocks south of Allegheny General Hospital, James Street is a family-owned bar and restaurant. Each week, the venue hosts six to 10 live shows, said Kevin Saftner, James Street’s general manager.
Prior to Saturday night, Saftner had never heard Chillent live. The band had contacted him earlier through social media. “If they use Facebook or Twitter, that goes a long way,” said Saftner. “I had a good look and said let’s do this.”
Several minutes into Chillent’s first set, Saftner did not regret his decision. “They’re good musicians as I’m learning. I’m digging it so far. We’ll definitely have them back.”
Equally pleased were James Street patrons.
“I’m excited for their second set,” said Naomi Fireman of Lawrenceville, who added that she frequents James Street from “time to time.”
Kelly Miller, of Emsworth, and Steven Laneville, of Highland Park, both newbies to Chillent and James Street, enjoyed the music and venue.
“I like their mixture of styles. I’m definitely glad we came out,” said Laneville.
Chillent introduced “a lot of new faces” to the bar and restaurant on Saturday night, said Sally Julian, hostess at James Street. “Most groups bring in a good group, but tonight is exceptional.”
“These guys obviously worked pretty hard and self-promoted. It definitely goes a long way,” added Saftner.
Perhaps representative of the band’s diligence, hours after its show, photos and video clips of the James Street performance were available on Chillent’s Facebook page.
“You guys asked for some video from the James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy show last night. Here’s one closing the second set with Shua’s original tune, Doina Li. Great crowd!!!” posted Chillent.
According to the band’s website, its members are Alan Meyers (keyboards), Shua Hoexter (sax), Jules Coulson (drums), Gedaliah Aronson (guitar) and Sruli Broocker (harmonica). At James Street, the band lacked Meyers but added Ryan Kantner (bass) and Aaron Waldeck (flute).
“We’re all really good friends. We just like having a good time making music together and connecting with the crowd,” said Hoexter.
The group, which began as a weekly jam band last winter, rehearses for several hours each week at Coulson’s house.
On its style, Aaronson said, “It’s Jewish music with improvisation and contemporary jazz and funk rhythms. It’s kind of like our name, Chillent, a mix of a lot of different flavors. That’s what we like to do.”
Throughout its James Street performance, both familiar and new tunes were played.
During an upbeat set featuring varying solos, Chillent riffed “Sweet Georgia Brown,” a jazz standard written in 1925 by Ben Bernie and Maceo Pinkard. Later on, while interspersing slower tempos, Chillent played “Misirlou,” a traditional Mediterranean song popularized by both Dick Dale’s “Surfer’s Choice” (1962) and Quentin Tarentino’s “Pulp Fiction” (1994).
Behind the performers all evening was a sign that read, “Chillent. Jewish Soul Stew.”
When asked about the sign, Broocker replied, “‘Memphis Soul Stew’ is a song; this is a play on that because we have so many styles [and we] throw them in a pot and let them cook,” said Broocker.
While Chillent temporarily lost some of its audience during slower moments, phones were tucked away and heads bobbed when the band picked up the pace.
“It’s amazing, the band is so good,” said Julian.
“This is great, everybody is having some drinks and hanging out,” echoed Saftner. “No one is leaving either, which is pretty nice.”
Chillent will be opening for The Clock Reads on Feb. 20 at the Thunderbird Cafe (4023 Butler St. in Lawrenceville). Broocker said more information will be posted to Chillent’s Facebook page and at chillentband.com.
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.