The Shlomo Katz Band is set to celebrate the release of Katz's first solo album this Thursday with a live performance at Club Tzora near Beit Shemesh - an event that's been many years in the coming. Now in his mid-20s, Katz grew up partly in the US and partly in Israel. He spent much of his youth working with his brother Eitan as an hassidic folk duo before moving to Israel in the summer of 2002. The Shlomo Katz Band was founded a few months later. "It started with basement house parties and then moved on to events and just expanded," says Katz, who now maintains a busy schedule of gigs around the world. Thursday's performance will come on the heels of a quick trip to Belgium, and he has gigs planned in Australia, Los Angeles and New York several times over the next few months. "The fist time I sang 'Niggun Neshama' at the Shlomo [Carlebach] memorial concert of November 2003 was a turning point," says Katz. "We added that performance as a bonus track on the album. That night I saw what an unknown song can do for people's hearts, and that changed me forever. Most of the songs on the album were written since then." Rock and roll based on Jewish themes has broken down stylistic barriers in recent years, and the Shlomo Katz Band has been at the center of these developments. Gone are the days when Jewish rock had to conform to haredi pop standards in order to garner a limited fan base. Today, it's not uncommon for the more creative improvisational jam bands and purveyors of ethnic fusion to focus on biblical and rabbinical teachings as well. Some of these acts - Katz's, for example - can even earn a living at it. "People usually bash Jewish music," says Katz, "but there's a lot of new stuff, great stuff. People are finding new ways to express themselves with holiness. I'm looking forward to Shmuel Nelson's [imminent Eden Miqedem] album. I'm a big fan of my brother's new album. With Pey Daled's stuff, I can see how real this music is for them. And Aaron Razel keeps coming up with new surprises that blow me away." For the Shlomo Katz Band, the combination of original folk-rock songwriting, heaps of influence from the niggun-chants of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, and hippie-style psychedelic jamming has proven infectious in a way that's wholly its own. Katz's earlier collaborations with his brother were successful in their own right and featured a distinctive elegance, but the new disc captures the most up-to-date Shlomo Katz flavors. Vehakohanim is Katz's first project produced in Israel, as well as his first solo album, and he tried to record it with a fitting approach: "We went [into the studio] with a lot of thoughts and ideas, but as the recording went along we adjusted the sounds to go with what the song was demanding. We tried to go with our own preferences and what was matched by the meaning of the words," he says. As a result, Vehakohanim documents what Katz calls "my own language of music. This album is not at all a typical Jewish music album." Shlomo Katz and the Shlomo Katz Band celebrate the release of Vehakohanim on Thursday at Club Tzora at Kibbutz Tzora. Doors open at 8:30 p.m., with tickets priced at NIS 35 in advance or NIS 45 at the door. For early bookings, call (052)566-5600.