Drawing on the genre of wordless ḥasidic chant from which it also derives its name, the Nigun Quartet released its debut album last year. Matthew Kassel writes:
The idea of crossing jazz with Jewish [religious] music isn’t a new concept, but the Nigun Quartet—saxophone, piano, bass, and drums—stood out even in Israel’s crowded jazz scene thanks to its engaging shows approximating the loose, convivial vibe of a fabrengen—a kind of festive ḥasidic gathering.
The album requires that the listener do some work on his own—such as reading the liner notes that give the backstory behind each tune—in order to . . . simulate the experience of a live performance. But the sturdy arrangements and easy interplay suggest the group was more than ready to set these tracks down. The album invokes mid-period Coltrane, post-bop, funk, classical, and other elements that in many ways represent the lingua franca of modern jazz—all filtered through a ḥasidic folk prism.
For the four band members, that unique influence is what sets the Nigun Quartet apart. “The key to understanding our approach is to understand the function of the nigun,” Opher Schneider, the band’s forty-nine-year-old bassist and resident mystic, told Jewish Insider in a Zoom interview.
Schneider played jazz professionally—both in New York and Israel — before he abandoned music altogether at thirty-six and devoted himself fully to Judaism. After a while, the urge to play returned as he began to learn more about traditional klezmer from Eastern Europe as well as other forms of Jewish music—and he slowly made his back to the [jazz] scene.