Interview: Amos Hoffman & Noam Lemish, “Pardes”

Pardes - Amos Hoffman & Noam Lemish

The breadth and depth of the Canadian music scene is an ongoing delight to me, and “Pardes,” the recent project from Amos Hoffman and Noam Lemish, is yet another example of the surprises to be discovered.  The album, a collection of tunes from Jewish communities in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, pairs guitarist/oudist Amos Hoffman with pianist and composer Noam Lemish, and the result is a delectable listening experience.  Hoffman and Lemish have done a wonderful job of excavating these tunes and bringing them to fresh, toe-tapping life.

Working with musicians such as Justin Gray (whose project “Synthesis” we featured here a few months ago), Derek Gray, Pedram Khavarzamini, and Jacob Gorzhaltsan, Hoffman and Lemish recorded this collection of ten tunes in just one day – the result is a lively performance of pieces that encompass a variety of genres while still remaining true to their roots.  Listen, too, for Amos Hoffman’s oud, which should stand out to you with its capacity for a wider tonal range than a guitar offers.  For those of you who perhaps are just dipping your toes into jazz or world music, this album is a perfect next addition to your collection – gorgeous, accessible listening that will expand your horizons but not intimidate in the process (as some jazz albums can).

We’re grateful to Amos Hoffman and Noam Lemish, both of whom took the time to answer some questions about “Pardes.”

As I understand it, you’ve been collecting melodies for this project for several years – what was the impetus to finally go into the studio and record?

Amos: We decided to record because both of us felt the urge to document and give new interpretations to those melodies that we love so much. I can’t say what was the reason to do it now but I can only guess that Noam and I pushed each other to do it.

This project was recorded in just one day – was that by design?

Amos: Yes, it was by design. When we planned to record this album we arranged the music very thoroughly and rehearsed it very well so we would be ready to record it in one day.

For those folks who might not know what an oud is, can you give a brief description?

Amos: An oud is a string instrument that originated in Persia. It diffused from Persia to all throughout the middle east and it’s a fretless instrument so therefore, you can play quarter tones and that brings out it’s unique sound. From the middle east, the oud moved to Europe and it is the father of the lute and the guitar.

It’s difficult to pick a favorite piece from the album but near the top of the list would be “Äji Tü Yormä Äji,” which features some terrific playing by Jacob Gorzhaltsan on the clarinet. According to the liner notes, this is a wedding tune from the Caucasus Mountains.  How did you come across this one?  Indeed, how much research is required for unearthing melodies like these?

Noam: I came across this song almost fifteen years ago in a book and companion CD published by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Jewish Music Research Centre. The book, which presented the research of musician and scholar Piris Eliyahu titled “The Music of the Mountain Jews” presented transcriptions and analysis of songs from the Jews of the Caucasus Mountains region.  Years later I decided to harmonize and arrange it. Each one of the melodies presented in this album has been accompanying Amos or myself for many years prior to our decision to include them in this recording – in some sense we didn’t really unearth these melodies through research but rather have picked them up along the way and over time they became a part of us.

I suspect most folks reading this interview won’t be familiar with either the jazz scene in Israel, or even the Jewish music scene in Canada… do you consider that your work is representative of either or both?

Amos: I don’t know much about the Jewish music scene in Canada. The Israeli Jazz scene is at a very high level of musicianship and this project definitely represents a lot of the stuff that happens in Israel today.

I was reading an interview with Noam from 2016 and this sentence especially caught my attention: “My own music making has pretty much always resided ‘in between’ genres or ‘beyond genre.’” This project, I think, continues that trend; do you think genre is a useful way to describe music?  Or have we reached a point where the ability to access music from across the world means that more music is ‘beyond genre’ than ever before?

Noam: That’s a great question!  I think genre distinctions continue to play a critical role in the cultural, political and economic spheres of the music industry. Musicians, listeners, presenters and critics alike use genre demarcations to communicate with one another and to wield economic and cultural power and privilege.  Still, I think it’s definitely the case that a great deal of transgeneric music is happening all over the world which makes labeling lots of music made today a difficult task and that’s a good thing in my eyes.

You have a couple of months before what seems like a fairly intense tour of the western United States in October, then some dates already scheduled for 2019. What can audiences who haven’t yet heard you live expect from an evening of your music?

Noam: We’ll be presenting the repertoire from our Pardes project: compelling melodies, uplifting grooves, diverse textures! With each performance our renditions of these beautiful songs continues to evolve and I believe we are developing increasing freedom as an ensemble to present these pieces anew with every performance.

Part of Noam’s work involves co-directing the Israeli-Iranian Musical Initiative. It seems to me like that work is becoming increasingly crucial as the world gets more and more fragmented… can you talk a bit about music can bring about dialogue and contribute to peace?

Noam: Part of what we strive to do with the Israeli-Iranian Musical Initiative is to present an alternative to the narrative of hostility and discord that dominates the discourse about Israel and Iran. Instead, we present the reality of our work together as friends and musical collaborators.  We hope that in presenting such a reality we offer a vision of a different future. I really believe that music has a great power to bring people together, create opportunities for dialogue, provide spaces for communities that don’t usually interact to do so and enable individuals to imagine different (even utopian) realities through sound. Still, music cannot bring about peace by itself – rather sustained, collective, non-violent efforts by individuals and communities in conflict are needed. Dialogue, listening, compromise, compassion and a commitment to acknowledging and repairing injustice and healing wounds and trauma are needed.

Preview and buy “Pardes” on CDBaby.

Exposed to the wonders of CBC and Montréal Canadiens hockey as a teenager thanks to a satellite dish in rural Kansas, I have been an unabashed lover of all things Canadian ever since. I am a lifelong collector of esoteric and varied music, a teacher of piano, an avid reader, and a stamp/coin collector. In real life, I work in the field of technology.

Come find me on Goodreads.

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