release date: 24.03.02023 on Soul Song Records
Bassist Yosef-Gutman Levitt is proud to announce the release of Tsuf Harim, his second duo release with the Israeli-born, New York-based guitarist Tal Yahalom. In 2021 Levitt and Yahalom came together for Tal Yasis, an intimate duo album for upright bass and nylon and steel-string guitars that conveyed the universality of Hasidic Jewish melodies in the hands of a player with Levitt’s globe-spanning experience: from his native South Africa, to his years in the trenches of the New York jazz scene, and at last to his current physical and spiritual home in Jerusalem. On Tsuf Harim Levitt turns his attention to nigunim — traditional wordless Jewish melodies — originally compiled by Eli Rivkin.
A gifted musician, Rivkin transcribed and recorded roughly 60 of these Hasidic melodies he had learned in Lubavitch, Russia before the Hasidim’s departure from there many years ago. While many of these nigunim are familiar to versed Hasidim, many are still largely obscure and unknown. With Tsuf Harim, Levitt and Yahalom bring them to a worldwide audience for the first time, shedding light on their universal beauty, imbuing them with a warmth, sensitivity and expansive sonic palette that they’ve developed naturally together as a duo.
Levitt is heard on upright bass as well as his signature five-string acoustic bass guitar made by Steve Swallow’s luthier Harvey Citron. He plays these ineffable melodies in the instrument’s singing, bell-like high register, as Yahalom weaves a rich blend of nylon-string and steel-string acoustic guitar textures, often displaying a mastery of classical guitar technique. There are hints of Brazilian rhythm (“Adon Haselichot”), folk-country eclecticism (“Nigun Purim”) and elements of jazz harmony that heighten the emotion while staying true to the simple and heartfelt nature of the material. Brief but compelling flights of improvisation, from Yahalom as well as Levitt on both basses, remain grounded in the mood and melodic purity that each nigun contains.
Many of these particular nigunim are of Sephardic origin, from the diasporic Jewish culture of the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Central Asia. There are stories behind them: “Lechatchila Ariber,” which translates to “leap over it in the first place,” stems from a Hasidic saying somewhat similar to Nike’s tagline “Just Do It” — while the prevailing wisdom might be “if you cannot crawl under an obstacle, try to leap over it,” the Grand Rabbi Maharash once famously suggested “Lechatchila Ariber” in riposte. “Atem Shalom,” a Bukharan melody, was once sung by Jewish refugees from Soviet Uzbekistan. “Adon Haselichot” is from Georgia, another Soviet satellite from which many Jews fled. “Me’ein Olam Haba,” composed by Rav Yitzchak Ginsburgh, reveals in part Levitt’s deep admiration for ECM artists Ralph Towner and Gary Peacock (who recorded guitar/bass duets as well).
Levitt also presents a beautiful original composition, “Teshuva,” as well as the affecting “Nigun Lubavitch” and “Nigun Simcha” from the Rivkin transcriptions. His richly contrasting treatments say much about his fertile imagination and also the innate mutability of these historic melodies.
photo: Ronen Goldman
Yosef-Gutman Levitt & Tal Yahalom – Tsuf Harim
LP / CD / DL – 24th March 2023
label: Soul Song Records
01 Asader Leseudata 4:10
02 Nigun Shabbat 4:15
03 Sar Hamemunim 3:38
04 Atem Shalom 3:38
05 Adon Haselichot 4:01
06 Daar Oved 4:38
07 Ka Echsof 5:42
08 Lechatchila Ariber 3:47
09 Nigun Lubavitch 3:23
10 Teshuva 3:25
11 Nigun Purim 3:44
12 Nigun Gaaguim 5:10
13 Me-eyn Olam Haba – A Taste Of The World To Come 5:27
14 Nigun Simcha 3:47
15 The Warriors 4:08
Tal Yahalom – Guitars
Yosef Gutman Levitt – Upright Bass and Acoustic Bass Guitar