Ezra Weiss describes himself as "religiously agnostic but culturally Jewish." If only we could all be courageous enough to admit that, religiously, we just don't know then perhaps we could speak across those walls that keep trying to be built between us.
Still, Ezra is musical director at a Christian church. He's not hedging his bet, mind you, he is simply and honestly finding common ground (not compromise) upon which we can rejoice. And he will admit that he has learned that there is no artificial barrier of "I and Thou" (sorry, Martin Buber) but we are all one. It is that principle that gives the beauty and the power to his first big band album, We Limit Not the Truth of God.
Ezra is a composer who defies description and comparison. Someday, his works will be Jazz standards but, today, we get to hear them soon after the conception. Damn right, we limit not the truth of God!
Ezra has at his call Portland's finest musicians—and that is saying a lot. The Portland Jazz scene takes its place in the top tier of the worldwide Jazz community and these players show it. Gabriel himself would be pleased to name to his horn section Farnell Newton, Derek Sims, Greg Garrett, and Thomas Barber on trumpets and flugelhorns; John Nastos, Renato Caranto, John Savage, Rob Davis and Mieke Bruggeman on saxes and clarinets; Stan Bock, Jeff Uusitalo, Denzel Mendoz, and Douglas Peebles on the trombones. Then there is the fantastic rhythm section of Eric Gruber on bass, Alan Jones on drums, Carlos Jackson on percussion, and one of two favorite pianists in the world, Jasnam Daya Singh (formerly Weber Iago).
Seriously, I read the line-up of musicians and couldn't wait to tear open this CD. Ezra wrote and all arranged all but the final track of the album and it is he who conducts the big band. It was recorded live at the Alberta Abbey in Portland.
The album opens with Fanfare for a Newborn and features the magnificent trumpet of Farnell Newton. Farnell and John Nastos have recorded with Ezra before and they know how to deliver what he wants of them. Farnell gives a horn call like a baby's wail and he pulls you right in. Eric Gruber (bass) and Alan Jones (drums) add their own cool touches and Jasnam keeps the piano light and accessible.
The piece comes across as Ezra's heralding announcement of the love for his children. And he makes that clear in his narration that follows. "Dear O. and J., This music is for you. Well, not really. It was inspired by you." And there it is. It is a parent's admonition based on his loving devotion to his family. Hear the full narration and you'll understand completely. Ezra wants to describe a world that should be but is not yet.
Dear O and J asks why we search for "meaning in the invisible when there is so much already here in our visible world." During Ezra's meaningful narration, Jasnam accompanies on piano and then stops to focus the attention completely on Ezra's powerful words.
Blues and the Alternative Fact is a biting indictment of the relativity and fluidity of truth in the modern world or, at least, in modern America. Mieke Bruggeman (baritone sax) and Stan Bock (trombone) play the lines fluidly while the relentless pounding of Gruber and Jones hammer menacingly. The assault is insistent and unforgiving and is as powerful a condemnation of modern political propaganda as one could imagine. It can only be called prophetic.
You Just Started Kindergarten is to J who only recently started kindergarten. The narration focuses on the trust of his child and how he heard of a young immigrant boy who was separated from his father. His only reminder now was a hand drawn image of his now-absent father.
Jose's Drawing features the amazing Renato Caranto on tenor sax. It is almost unbearably lonely. Not just a blues, it is a lament of Jeremiad proportions with a hint of innocence. It reminded me of the drawings on the walls of the children's barracks at Dachau. In the midst of the horror, the children still drew pictures of sunshine and flowers and family. Jose's Drawing is a hope that beauty and innocence can remain intact despite the imposition of grief and inhumanity.
I Don't Mean to Be a Downer is Ezra's discourse on hope. He tells that the sadness of the time is not because justice is so far away but because it is still so very close. Tantalizingly close.
Obergefell is a triumphant and hopeful piece based on the momentous June 26, 2015 Obergefell vs Hodges decision of the US Supreme Court which granted marriage equality status to all couples. John Nastos (alto sax) and Thomas Barber (trumpet) get the deliriously joyful job of heralding the news of an historical decision that proved—as many proclaimed on that day—that LOVE WINS. Gruber and Jones are equally exuberant in their thunderous applause from bass and drums. Jasnam's piano is sublimely subdued with a bubbling rejoicing that bounces in what can only be called worship. This is a magnificent piece.
What Now continues Ezra's narrative about the times in which we live. He describes the extended separation of children from their parents simply because of being immigrants. He describes the #MeToo movement. Sand Hook. Lock-down drills. Violence against transgender kids. Tamir Rice. The narration is almost unbearable and the grief is too much to put to music. Jasnam's cacophonous piano and the thrashing drums add to the dismay. Eric Garner. Michael Brown.
The suite was conceived in 2015 when the world was full of hope. Now there is only grief. And rage.
John Savage's flute shrieks the anguish with plosives of exasperation.
We Limit Not the Truth of God is the only place left to turn. The 1853 hymn by George Rawson is sung a cappella by the Camas High School Choir, Ethan Chessin directing. It is exquisitely performed and Ezra concludes the track with the fundamental truth of God—there is no "other."
Please Know That I Love You is Ezra's word to his children that, whatever may befall, love endures. Jasnam's wonderful piano opens the piece with Jeff Uustitalo's trombone and Rob Davis' soprano sax taking the lead throughout the beautiful track. The piano keeps up a constancy that reminds of the unswerving nature of love. Our love. God's love. It is the same thing.
This wonderful album closes with Wayne Shorter's Footprints. John Nastos and Derek Sims carry the melody and the rhythm section is on fire. The Jazz standard is a great piece with which to let this amazing collection of talent finish. But is Ezra saying something more? Is this the final word to his children, to follow in is footprints along the path of love and understanding? It works for me.
Please Know That I Love You is part musical suite, part human manifesto, all inspired. The truth of God is truly that there is no "other" and that love is our common DNA that links to each other and to God.