Ben Rosenblum: Worldly Jazz Adventuring

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“When I picked up the accordion, my musical world expanded instantly,” says Rosenblum.

(Photo: Francesco Moretti)

Composer, pianist, accordionist and bandleader Ben Rosenblum’s musical purview is, by nature, a worldly one. Although American jazz is a birthright and central force in his work, the element of travel and cross-cultural influences inform his creative venturing. That much is amply evident on the new album by Rosenblum’s Nebula Project, A Thousand Pebbles, a tapestry into which sounds and modes from Eastern Europe, northern Brazil and points Afro-Caribbean and Celtic, not to mention his native New York, are integrally woven.

Rosenblum notes that “in some ways, the Nebula Project is my take on the classic hard-bop jazz format pioneered by people like Art Blakey, Oliver Nelson and Clifford Brown/Max Roach. Growing up, these were the records I loved and listened to the most. As I’ve grown and discovered so many other styles that I connect with, I wanted to create an ensemble that could capture the power and vitality of those hard-bop recordings with the flexibility to bring in sound palettes from a myriad of different world musics and other genres.”

While the album’s material spans music written a decade ago up through very recently, Rosenblum offers that “the larger narrative is very strongly tied to the experience of the pandemic. Many of the songs deal with nostalgia, and looking back at a time or place that no longer exists, at least not in the same way.”

The title piece, “A Thousand Pebbles,” is a three-part suite that Rosenblum, who grew up in a half-Christian/half-Jewish household, sees as “a reflection of various childhood experiences, in particular the juxtaposition of going to synagogue and singing hymns in middle school.” In other stops along the album’s travels, he says, “I imagine ‘Catamaran’ as a journey away from home, following the internal thoughts of multiple people leaving to start life in a new place.”

“The Bell From Europe” is based on a poem by Weldon Kees that poignantly captures his experience of a changed Europe post-World War II. “During the pandemic, there was so much talk about how the world would never be the same, and I think I couldn’t help but tap into that space as I composed and arranged the music for this recording,” he says.

Incorporated into the album’s concept and end result is a summation of Rosenblum’s broadly based musical education and explorations. “Growing up in New York,” he says, “I’ve always been surrounded by global music traditions at the highest level. Early experiences going to hear Indian classical music and dance concerts, Japanese koto ensembles and Brazilian music primed my ear to be always searching for inspiration from different parts of the world.

“One of my favorite albums growing up was Les Mysteres des Voix Bulgares, a collection of Bulgarian folk and polyphonic choir music. I’ve since gone on to record renditions of music from those albums, and the song ‘Bulgares’ on the newest album is a composition dedicated to that group.” He adds, not incidentally, “When I picked up the accordion, my musical world expanded instantly.”

Life and the world are opening up for Rosenblum, who, on the life front, recently got married, and looks forward to touring distant lands.

“It is always a priority for me to bring jazz music to communities that do not have many opportunities to interact with the genre otherwise, and also for me to go to places where I’m exposed to cultures and musics that shape me. It’s a dream to collaborate across genres with people from all over the world. It would be amazing for the Nebula Project to work with an Irish uilleann pipe player, a ska singer, a Malian kora player or a Bulgarian gadulka expert.

“The possibilities are endless, and I feel that I am just at the beginning of a long musical journey.” DB



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April 2024
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