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Jazz Fiddler On The Roof by Eddie Gomez & Mark Kramer

Searching for overlooked material to transform by means of the infinite creative possibilities of jazz, bassist Eddie Gómez and pianist Mark Kramer decided upon Jerry Bock’s score for the classic Broadway musical, Fiddler on the Roof. Even though the songs from the play are not often adapted in jazz contexts, the duo were drawn by its passion, memorable score, universality of theme and opportunities for reshaping the songs through improvisation and re-harmonization. Bock himself certainly was pleased. He states in the liner notes that "the recording was an ongoing revelation of invention, emotional insight and musicianship beyond measure." When the composer of the music is pleased with the results, then Gómez and Kramer must be onto something. And they are.

They have taken the raw material of Fiddler on the Roof, re-imagined it in a jazz context, paid due respect to the wellsprings of feelings that are contained within the play, combined it all into their own interpretation of the play’s music, and produced it as a suite. However, one of the primary takeaways from the recording is the virtuosity of Gómez, who introduces the recording with a 47-second "Prologue," which incorporates the mournfulness, the Weltschmerz, of the play counterbalancing its irrepressible joy represented by the song, "To Life." Bowing his own brief statement of Bock’s musical themes recognizable even in so short a track with brief quotes and the ironic replacement of the rooftop fiddler with an equally fervent bassist Gómez glides without pause into "If I Were a Rich Man." The ending of the "Prologue" connects directly to "If I Were a Rich Man," like verse and chorus. Kramer comes in with at first hesitant accompaniment, brightly illuminating Gómez’s passages with broad, unobtrusive chords and chord substitutions until the contrasting joy is fulfilled in an eventual jazz romp, and a brief jazz waltz, propelled by drummer John Mosemann’s tapping of the cymbals. At that change of the song’s mood, what the trio is up to becomes clear. Just as numerous musicians now and in the past have developed their own interpretations of, say, Porgy & Bess, Gómez and Kramer have re-examined the messages and the emotions of Fiddler on the Roof and internalized them for personalized reconstruction.

Some of Fiddler on the Roof’s heaviest themes, such as "Anatevka" or "Far from the Home I Love," have been transformed, but not without reference to their dramatic weight in the play. Rather, "Anatevka," the sad and regretful tribute to the land from which the Russian Jews were exiled by the pogroms of 1905, is lightened by Gómez’s characterizing bass lines, a samba instead of a somber good-bye. Kramer’s conversion of the song of remembrance and homesickness into a delicate, unpretentious ballad eventually stands independent of the play’s scenes. Similarly, "Far from the Home I Love" in the end is revealed as gorgeous song in its own right as it veers between minor and major modality and builds up to its own musically narrative conclusion.

Even the play’s most popular songs, like Yente’s "Matchmaker," normally sung as a swirling comical waltz, slows into an unhurried interpretation that allows the trio to explore its harmonic possibilities. In addition, Gómez and Kramer’s version allows for some heartfelt improvisation as Kramer understates even as he builds the song’s dynamics to an effective conclusion. On the other hand, Gómez makes the song his own, as he does any other song he plays on any other recording, zooming his solo and attacking the notes with his inimitably distinctive articulation as he plays the bass as a melodic instrument, even when he accompanies. The coquetry between Tevye and his wife, "Do You Love Me?" involving Golde’s well-known hesitation in answering his persistent solicitation, is swept away as the trio converts the song into another breezy jazz waltz. Kramer throws in quotes of "Sunrise Sunset" for good measure, noting the similarities between the two songs. And that show-stopper, "To Life," becomes a driving piano trio number without the play’s shouts and forceful accents, as compelling in its own way as, say, "Fascinatin’ Rhythm."

Gómez and Kramer have produced a noteworthy album that brings into the jazz repertoire familiar songs that already should have been there. Their delight in the discovery of the music’s possibilities shines through in the recording. After listening to Jazz Fiddler on the Roof (as the CD cover shows Gómez on the symbolic rooftop), jazz listeners won’t think of the play’s songs the same way again.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Eddie Gomez & Mark Kramer
  • CD Title: Jazz Fiddler On The Roof
  • Genre: Various Jazz Styles
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: Twinz Records
  • Tracks: Prologue, If I Were a Rich Man, Tradition, Do You Love Me?, Anatevka, Sunrise Sunset, To Life, Sabbath Prayer, Matchmaker, Miracle of Miracles, Far from the Home I Love, Epilogue
  • Musicians: Eddie Gómez (bass), Mark Kramer (piano), John Mosemann (drums)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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