Friday, February 09, 2024

Bassist Yosef Gutman releases "The World and its People"

In an absorbing follow-up to Soul Song, his recent collaboration with guitar great Lionel Loueke (“a scintillating and sun-struck combination of ringing, gentle jazz and percussive African highlife that can only make you smile” —, bassist and composer Yosef Gutman Levitt of Jerusalem is back with a new and invigorating release: The World and Its People, available from Levitt’s recently formed Soul Song imprint.

Leading a drum-less, chamber-jazz-newgrass foursome influenced in part by The Goat Rodeo Sessions (with Chris Thile, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Stuart Duncan), Levitt draws from deep within his soul on a collection of beautiful melodies, in deeply felt renderings from all involved.

The tracks are Levitt originals cowritten and arranged by producer Gilad Ronen, with sterling contributions from Levitt’s close musical associates Tal Yahalom on nylon- and steel-string acoustic guitars, Omri Mor on piano and Yoed Nir on cello. Yahalom and Levitt have made two captivating duo albums, Tsuf Harim and Tal Yasis; Mor released his own Soul Song title earlier in 2023 called Melodies of Light and appeared with Levitt on the 2022 trio release Upside Down Mountain. “Everybody worked so hard in bringing creative ideas to this session,” Levit recalls of The World and Its People. “The music is very much inspired by our prior interactions—I feel excited about taking our conversation into different styles and opportunities to connect and communicate.”

The album was mixed by Richard King, whose Grammy-winning work on The Goat Rodeo Sessions has served as an inspiration to Levitt and his colleagues. “The musical color that those musicians bring to the world is something pure and delicate and honest and lovely and luscious and warm,” Levitt remarks of Goat Rodeo. “These are the qualities I wanted to surround myself with: creating a classical crossover, dipping into country, using tools of the language to bring a light, bouncy, folky aspect to the music that I typically play, which is improvised jazz.”

A religiously observant Jew, Levitt has endowed all his music with a sense of spiritual searching and depth, whether he is interpreting Hasidic nigunim on such releases as Ashreinu and Chabad Al Hazman or exploring original music with a jazz trio on Upside Down Mountain. On The World and Its People he focuses again on originals, animated by truths gleaned from Hasidic teachings. “All of my albums begin with a notion of spiritual development, a connection to God and those around me, and how to translate the various things that I’m working on, internally and externally, into melody and music.” He explains the album title as follows: “When we make a space for the world, and we make a space for its people, we infuse it with light and we make an impact—not just socially, but through being honest and open, doing what we’re meant to be doing.”

As on previous releases, Levitt imbues The World and Its People with the sound of upright bass as well as his unique five-string acoustic bass guitar (built by Harvey Citron, Steve Swallow’s luthier), on which he’s developed a signature voice: a warm, singing, bell-like high-register tone with a focus on simple, direct, expressive melodies. The solos and unison passages on the two advance singles, “Awakening” and the title track, cut through the ensemble with a singing legato that is emotionally rich, intense yet delicate. “It’s very precious music,” Levitt says. “It’s very alive when I listen to it—I feel a magical sense of life and humanity and relationships, and I hear the depth and excitement of the other players in the room.”

“Awakening” evokes not only Levitt’s writing process (waking up first thing and improvising melodies into a voice recorder), but also the inner meaning of the Aramaic phrases itaruta diletata and itaruta dile’eyla, “awakening from below” and “awakening from above.” “Awakening from below,” Levitt explains, “can mean making a space for hearing a friend, paying attention to the world around us, inviting the world around us in, which is the idea behind the album.”

Levitt launched the Soul Song label with a set of core principles and values in mind: “The goal is to create music, and to create a label that stimulates others to do the same—to make their soul song. To create music that’s intimate and honest, improvised, and Jewish if you will.

What makes Jewish music, to me, is a profound honesty, stripping away anything that’s not needed. That’s the work I want to do with the artists on this label—whether they’re Jewish or not is not important. What’s important is that the music is inspired by something higher. I want to work with artists who are interested in getting to that place.” Releases with eminent guitarists Gilad Hekselman and Ralph Towner are soon to follow.

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