‘Jerusalem Trilogy’ makes for beautiful, but complex, listening

‘Jerusalem Trilogy’ makes for beautiful, but complex, listening

Try to follow this: A well-known jazz pianist writes a trilogy for a chamber music society about — Jerusalem.
Sounds like a paragraph full of contradictions, until you listen to the music of Matt Herskowitz, who just released his new CD titled “Jerusalem Trilogy.”
Know what? It is jazz, but it also fits a chamber ensemble, and it does make you think of the City of David.
Actually, Herskowitz was commissioned to write the trilogy, which comprises three of the eight tracks on the album, for a concert of works by Jewish composers that the Lyric Chamber Music Society of New York presented. Seems they wanted to include a selection by a living composer.
Herskowitz, and his music, are very much alive.
The Trilogy is a complex piece of music. Sometimes melodious, sometimes technical, always sophisticated, Herskowitz makes full use of his 88 keys. The tempo switching from part I — Allegro con brio — to part II — Adante moderato — changes the entire feel of the composition. One goes from listening intently to the artist’s skill with a keyboard to being swept up in the emotion the music produces; it’s uplifting and sad at the same time.
As fine a musician as Herskowitz is, though, it’s the accompanying cello, played by Mike Block, which makes the transition complete.
Finally, part III of the composition, Moderato mysterioso — Presto, is well described. We again hear the complexity of part I, but it’s a full ensemble engaging in the play now. Percussionist David Rozenblatt is more a force here, but the musicians hardly build to a crescendo; they simply layer on their orchestral brushstrokes until the music just stops.
An added treat of this album is the fifth track, “Gottingen.” It feels like a Jewish version of the “Love Story” theme — romantic, sad, and hypnotic in a way.
Even if you’re not a jazz lover, something inside of you would make you stop to listen to this piece.
Then the mood is suddenly broken by the next track, “Cross Bones,” the closest thing to hot music on this album and perfect for a smoky jazz club in the Strip. The abrupt transition in themes is typical for this album; you never know what’s coming next.
A pianist, composer, songwriter and arranger, Herskowitz has performed at jazz festivals around the world earning plaudits from the likes of David Brubeck, but he has proven his versatility in many other genres, including classical.
There isn’t a bad track on “Jerusalem Trilogy.” But, like a 12-year-old single malt scotch, it’s for the sophisticated music palette; you may not like this CD if your taste runs to warm familiar music. If you’re into stretching your listening muscles, though, then by all means, pop this disc into your player.

(Lee Chottiner can be reached at leec@thejewishchroinicle.net.)

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