According to his liner notes, composer and multi-instrumentalist Ned Rothenberg had been asked repeatedly by Tzadik auteur John Zorn for a "Jewish record." Being a thinker as well as a musician, Rothenberg went inside to consider what such a thing meant. The end result is Inner Diaspora, a recording comprised of original compositions for his own trio Sync with percussionist Samir Chatterjee and master of all stringed things Jerome Harris. Augmenting the proceedings here are violinist Mark Feldman and cellist Erik Friedlander. Certainly there are melodies and rhythms from klezmer as well as Sephardic music. But as Rothenberg explains, these pieces are secular musics on "Jewishness," wherein the ensemble and the equanimity of its total is greater than the sum of its parts. Rothenberg's adoption of Buddhism and its world-view of the universe being one made up of sentient beings also deeply informed his writing here, and he funneled his compositions through his own inner diaspora as a human being who is part of but not the central component of the universe at large. The harmony-laden lead lines shared between Rothenberg's bass clarinet and Feldman's violin on "Fuga Ladino" are haunting in their loneliness. They wander over long vistas and engage in contrapuntal association and separation. The rhythmic invention shared by Chatterjee and Harris on bass and acoustic guitar is constant and ever-shifting toward the whole of the piece. Conversely, "Minutia" begins as an improvised work for shakuhachi, guitars (including lap steel), and violin. Sparse percussion enters at will, accenting held lines by the other three players. As the ensemble begins to engage as a whole, it never loses its sense of strangeness, space, loneliness, and wandering, as if all roads converge in a place where all who travel them are lost. The set's closing work, "Gilgulim," walks through 20th century classical fields even as it touches upon Arabic and Indian and Iberian folk melodies. The counterpoint is rich here, and Harris' bass in particular moves beyond rhythm section stalwart to become the steady yet expanding ground on which the other players toil. There is a considerable amount of space even as rhythmic intention and harmonic convergence stretch, wind, and even collide over nearly 13 and a half minutes. The end result is a new musical language for Rothenberg, one that contributes as well as borrows from the various passages of Jewishness in history -- culturally, spiritually, and aesthetically. Rothenberg's Inner Diaspora moves beyond the confines of jazz, classical, and folk genres to create something genuinely new. Inner Diaspora is a deeply moving recording, one that touches the heart with its emotional intelligence, even as it dialogues with history.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek