Black Gospel energy and Jewish Klezmer Soul collide head-on and then boogie down the isles on Brother Moses smote the Water. It's the latest gem in the sparkling crown of New York City's own Klezmatics, with power belter Joshua Nelson and organist/singer Kathryn Farmer anchoring down the Black Jewish contingent during a live performance at a Berlin festival. Singing in Hebrew and English, Joshua Nelson came to the Klezmatics' attention through the Keep on Walking documentary that appeared on the Jewish film festival circuit. Wanting to center their next project on the theme of Passover and the mythical exodus of the Jewish slaves from Pharaonic rulership -- with its modern-day parallels in the American Civil Rights movement -- the Klezmatic core connection was made. It was then sprung on the public during an initial concert dubbed Freedom Songs, presented to a full house at the Museum of Jewish Heritage on March 31, 2004.
From "Elija Rock" to "Go Down Moses", "Walk in Jerusalem" and Mahalia Jackson's version of "Didn't it Rain" to the Klezmatics' signature anthem "Ale Brider", "Shnirele, Perele", Moishe Oysher's "Ki Loy Nue" and "Eyliyohu Hanovi", Brother Moses is all about raising energy, getting down and up and celebrating the raising of khazn, the high cantorial spirit. Oompah beats, wailing saxes and clarinets, roaring trumpets, Kathryn's Hammond B3, warbling Klezmorim and Nelson's massive pipes stoke the fires of this music, raise hackles and roofs to make space for ebullient joy and jubilation. The title track is an a cappella rendition of the song which band leader Lorin Sklamberg learned from the Golden Gate Quartet's 1940s version immortalized on a 78 in his mother's record collection..
On "Shnirele, Perele", Joshua juxtaposes the traditional song held down by Lorin with excerpts from "Ani Maamin" before things streamline back into the powerful refrain. Kathryn Farmer leads the congregation on a bluesy "Go down Moses" intro with some jagged Jazz riffs on her organ before the rhythm section kicks into the grind and Matt Darriau rips into his alto sax like a buck in heat. "Oh Mary don't you weep" is a mid-tempo rocker with a goodly swing while "Didn't it Rain" picks up the beat to grow into a true Gospel steam roller under the high-pressure "hot damn" lead of boppin' Nelson. That man can warble with the best of synagogue cantors and pushes the rave-out to its inevitable conclusion.
The Brother Moses tour 2005 will kick off on April 3 at the UC Berkeley and play NYC on April 27. Slightly too large of charge and gravitas for all but the biggest systems and rooms to truly do things justice, experiencing this Jewish/Gospel spectacle on stage, live, should be the real initiation. Bring peanut babkes for desert!