A year or so ago drummer Michael Stephans (then my neighbor down the street, since moved East) offered to play for me his latest recording, OM/ShalOM, which had not yet released. Now Michael is a first-class drummer, and, as his bio tells you, not only do his compatriots include Bob Brookmeyer, Pharoah Sanders, the late Charlie Byrd, Don Menza, Buddy Colette, Alan Broadbent, Bob Florence, Mike Melvoin, Lynn Arriale, Bud Shank, … but he has also played with personalities as wildly diverse as The Rolling Stones, Cher, David Bowie, Shirley MacLaine, and Natalie Cole. Still I was hesitant because I knew this was an unusual recording, a fusion of well-known Hebrew liturgical songs and Yiddish-based melodies with modern improvisational music. Michael is a deep guy (he’s got a PhD, two Masters degrees and he’s a poet too), and I was afaid that this music would be over my head, too ‘out there.’ Forgive me here, but I thought, “Oy vey. What will I say?”
Almost immediately I was sucked into this vortex of sound, much of it feeling very primal. Five musicians (Michael, David Liebman, Bennie Maupin, Scott Colley, and Munyungo Jackson), each a major player in his own right, charted deep waters but always came safely back to shore. Part of what drew me in was the familiarity of the melodies – Let My People Go, Shalom Alechim, and Hava Nagilah to name a few – but I think it was the timber of the horns, the undulating steadiness of the beat, and the intensity of emotion that kept me afloat and attentive throughout. The CD, with a beautiful cover by Paul Harryn, includes a few of Michael’s originals including the title track, Kaddish for Elvin, and Moon Over Miami that is a poem set to music.
Now I am pleased to share with you the news that OM/ShalOM will celebrate its New York premiere and CD release on Monday evening, February 26th, 2007 at the Blue Note in New York City. And for those of you in the vicinity of the Poconos, you can hear a preview on Sunday, February 25th at the Deerhead Inn.