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'Eight Nights' adds music magic to Festival of Lights

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 27, 2011 - One of the great things about music is the serendipitous events that can blossom from an unexpected combination of different musical styles brought together for a live performance.

For a prime example of how a single concert featuring diverse musicians can create something far beyond what anyone could have anticipated, look no farther than a performance that took place Friday, Dec. 2 at Off Broadway featuring the Brothers Lazaroff, Rabbi James Stone Goodman, Will Soll's Klezmer Conspiracy band and Ben Kaplan's band, the Vaad.

The event was billed as "The First Annual Brothers Lazaroff Hanukkah Hullaballoo," and it served as the post-party for Austin, Texas singer/songwriter/author Kinky Friedman's solo concert at Off Broadway earlier that evening.

The Brothers Lazaroff''s genre-bending mix of rock, jazz, folk and soul (combined with Klezmer music); Rabbi Goodman's mystic, spiritual poetry and Dylanesque vocals; and the electronica rock of Vaad -- hit a groove that convinced all those involved that the next step had to be going into the studio together to try and recreate the magic of that evening.

A week later, Jeff and David Lazaroff and the other members of their band - Grover Stewart on drums, bassist Teddy Brookins and keyboard and synth player Mo Eggeston - joined Rabbi Goodman, banjo/mandolin player Will Soll and the other members of Klezmer Conspiracy - clarinetist Dana Hotle and percussionist Shlomo Ovadya, and Kaplan of the Vaad to record 10 tracks.

According to Jeff Lazaroff, no one really knew what to expect before the Off Broadway performance, other than seeing what would happen by combining some of Rabbi Goodman's existing poetry about Hanukkah with musical improvisations on traditional tunes from Europe in the Klezmer tradition.

"We had only met Rabbi Goodman a couple of times before," David Lazaroff says. "We played a wedding he officiated, and I met when I was part of a tribute he put together last month for Shlomo Carlebach. It was a very spiritual gig and his stories and approach were very powerful. I just played supportive guitar for a couple hours - and it was like jamming with someone I had played with for a long time." (NOTE: Carlebach was a legendary and influential rabbi and songwriter who died in 1994.)

For the recording, which took place at Red Pill Entertainment in south St. Louis, where owner Jacob Detering donated studio time and mixing for the project, the concept was to focus on Rabbi Goodman's Hanukkah-based lyrics, pair them with the music of the various musicians -- in the hope of creating a CD that could serve a fundraiser for the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry, a program of Jewish Family & Children's Service dedicated to alleviating hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds in the St. Louis area.

"The concept was to do nine musical improvisations based on three old world Eastern European folk tunes for the nine poems in the series that the rabbi had written," explains Lazaroff. "So, we had nine musicians all playing live with no overdubbing. The rabbi edited down his existing writing for the recording, and was very gracious in his openness to let us create a context for his words."

The resulting recordings have been released as the CD. "Eight Nights." Eight of the 10 tracks follow the course of the Hanukkah celebration over its eight nights -- with one song and lyric for each night. The final two tracks -- "Ninth Night" and "Fire and Light" -- extend the traditional interpretation of the celebration in a more mystical direction and also provide a fitting coda that links the songs into a cycle.

An initial listen to the CD underscores the organic manner in which the musicians from the three bands create an impactful and powerful drive and energy for the songs; building seamless settings for Rabbi Goodman's lyrics in the process. And the power of the recordings was readily apparent to the musicians as well.

"This was one of those magical instances where the energy and love felt on the stage -- and in the club -- the night of the show translated seamlessly onto a beautiful piece of art and an incredible collaboration," Ben Kaplan says. "I can only hope the record connects to and moves an audience in the same way it has for all of us involved in making it."

"We believe in the tribe of musicians, and that music should bring communities and cultures together," adds David Lazaroff. "In this world of micro-genres, we keep trying to learn and absorb through our music. And when we find others with the same approach it's a very joyful thing - even ecstatic at times. That is what happened that night and in the studio."

The "Eight Nights" CD is available for download at http://eightnights.bandcamp.com/, and hard copies are available as well. There are various levels of donation available for the CD -- starting at $18 and going all the way up to $500, which includes a private house concert by one of the bands/musicians.

To date, donations have reached more than $4,000 -- and that's only through the fifth day of Hanukkah according to Jeff Lazaroff.

"We didn't realize we'd get such an amazing response," he says. "The recording has been one of the top five selling CDs on the Band Camp website over the past week, and we want to make this a regular fundraising tool for the food pantry. And we're already planning the 2nd Annual Hanukkah Hullaballoo next year -- and will definitely be doing more performances with Rabbi Goodman and the other musicians!"

Terry Perkins frequently writes on music for the Beacon. 

Terry Perkins is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. He has written for the St. Louis Beacon since 2009. Terry's other writing credits in St. Louis include: the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis American, the Riverfront Times, and St. Louis magazine. Nationally, Terry writes for DownBeat magazine, OxfordAmerican.org and RollingStone.com, among others.

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