A Musical ‘Bridge’ To Israel

Soulfarm’s new thematic album is a departure for the popular jam band group.

11/19/2013
Special To The Jewish Week
C Lanzbom and Noah Solomon Chase: The new record is “kind of a throwback.” Soulfarm.net
C Lanzbom and Noah Solomon Chase: The new record is “kind of a throwback.” Soulfarm.net

C Lanzbom and Noah Solomon Chase, the guitarist-songwriters who are the core of the band Soulfarm, have been making music together a long time.

“About 20 years,” Chase, who records as Noah Solomon, says with a slightly sheepish laugh.

“That’s right,” Lanzbom echoes.

What began as two young musicians just hanging out in the Chase family home in Israel became a group that is a fixture on both the jam band and Jewish rock scenes, a free-flowing musical colossus that straddles those two worlds comfortably. Soulfarm will be bringing its unique blend of Carlebach and hard rock to New York City on Nov. 27, a gig timed to coincide with the release of the band’s latest album, “The Bridge,” and featuring Israeli-Greek musician Avram Pengas as a special guest.

The new album is a bit of a departure for Soulfarm. It is, to use an old-fashioned phrase, a “concept album.”

“It’s an artistic, thematic album,” Chase says. “It’s kind of a throwback. We’re hoping people will listen to the whole album. It grew organically, but the idea that it would have a unified concept manifested itself early on in the creative process.”

Much like a concept album from the 1970s, the core of the set is a breakout single.

“We wrote the song ‘Walk With Me’ for the Celebrate Israel Day Parade,” Chase continues. “The song is about Americans and our connection to Israel, how Israel takes such a strong place in our hearts.”

And the rest of the record continues from there.

Lanzbom outlines the evolution of the album succinctly.

“Yes, ‘Walk With Me’ sets the tone for the whole album,” he confirmed in a subsequent e-mail. “Israel is ... our home as well as a place where you can feel whole and at home. Not to make less of America; we feel the connection to both places. That is why we wrote ‘Walk With Me’ from an American perspective, living here in America but being very proud of all the progress going on in Israel.”

He continues: “‘Walk With Me’ leads into ‘Unwind,’ [which is] about spiritual awakening by letting go, and then into ‘Who Knows,’ about following your heart into acceptance of all people; we are all in the same boat. [That leads] ‘The Bridge,’ [which is about] the actual journey, then into ‘Out of Reach,’ about the struggles and questions [encountered on the way].”

The album continues from there, extolling the pleasures of the actual journey of life and urging listeners to a mixture of self-examination and maturing until its final cut, “When I Get to Heaven,” in which Lanzbom and Chase ask if they have “done what we were put here to do.”

Lanzbom concluded, “This is our personal journey, we all love Israel and know what an amazing place it is and how important it is for us to be connected to the land.”

That seems appropriate, since it was their strong connection to Israel that brought the pair together.

That and Shlomo Carlebach, the pioneering rabbi whose music merged Jewish melodies with the 1960s counterculture.

Chase’s parents were among the founders and first residents of Carlebach’s fabled community at Moshav Modi’im.

“Shlomo was instrumental in bringing my parents to Israel,” Chase explains. “Dad had become interested in exploring his Jewish identity and he and my mother went along with Shlomo for what was supposed to be about a year there. It turned into 40 years, and they’re still there.”

He notes, “They were living in Jerusalem, one of a bunch of 10 or 15 young families. There was a plot of land that had been a failed army base, and somehow [Carlebach] managed to obtain it from the government. So there was this amazing community — artists and musicians, really interesting people — living in the middle of nowhere. I was born and grew up there, so I sort of had no choice.”

“I had a choice, and going there was my choice,” Lanzbom says. “I met Shlomo in New York when I was 18. I was already a working musician, had been playing music almost all my life. I was very taken with [Carlebach’s] genius for teaching and for learning. When he asked me if I wanted to go to Israel and the moshav, I said yes, and he paid for my ticket.”

Inevitably, the two young Jewish-American expatriate musicians began playing together and, with a makeshift home studio, recording their songs. At first they saw themselves as rockers but “we had a lot of requests for the Jewish stuff [both Carlebach’s music and their own] and so we recorded that, too. We thought we’d keep it separate, but we saw we didn’t need to, and now it’s become synonymous with Soulfarm, so we keep it as one.”

On the other hand, they frequently engage in side projects, as Lanzbom says, “fun projects like our album of Chabad tunes or ‘Butterfly,’ a set of Irish-style songs we recorded with musicians from Riverdance. We welcome the opportunity to do something that sounds a bit different.”

Mind you, the jam band community has been very good to Soulfarm and its founders, and the pair embraces that label wholeheartedly.

“We like that audience,” Lanzbom says. “They’re very open, they’re not judgmental.’

Chase agrees, adding, “They’re willing to listen to whatever you’re doing.”

The Nov. 27 gig at City Winery puts them in a neighborhood they know well. Under the group’s original name Inasense and continuing as Soulfarm, it was a frequent headliner at the late, lamented club Wetlands.

“It’s a furniture store now, I think,” Lanzbom says a little ruefully. “I start twitching a little whenever I go past it. I have a lot of memories and nostalgia for the way the West Village used to be. There’s a real history there for us.”

But Lanzbom and Chase aren’t given to looking back. As Chase says, “We’re always living ahead. When you finish an album you’ve been living with it and it’s been in your blood for a year or more and you’re ready to move on.”

And the next album is just around the corner. As Lanzbom says, laughing, “We have a bunch of songs that didn’t make it onto ‘The Bridge.’”

Soulfarm will be celebrating Chanukah at City Winery (155 Varick St.) with special guest Avram Pengas, the well-known Israeli-Greek musician, on Tuesday, Nov. 27, at 8 p.m. (Doors open at 6 p.m.) For information, call (212) 608-0555 or go to www.citywinery.com/newyork. “The Bridge” and other Soulfarm and solo and duo albums are available at www.soulfarm.net.
 

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