Reva L’Sheva’s seven-year itch

One of Israel’s first and most accomplished ‘Jewish rock’ bands, is reuniting and for founder Yehudah Katz, it’s still about connecting people through music.

Reva L'Sheva. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Reva L'Sheva.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Although they became surprise audience favorites on the recently completed season of the Kochav Haba music reality competition show, the sight of the haredi Gat brothers performing soulful renditions of Simon & Garfunkel and Eagles classics really wasn’t so jarring or unexpected.
In recent years, the synthesis of religious/pop/rock crossover artists has become an increasingly mainstream occurrence, with practitioners ranging from the more secular-looking Ehud Banai and Evyatar Banai to the all-black Yonatan Razel and Hassidic blues guitarist Lazer Lloyd.
But now, one of the first Israeli bands to rock out on Jewish themes is on the comeback trail. Reva L’Sheva, the seminal Jewish jam band founded by Yehudah Katz and featuring Lloyd, built upon the blueprints laid out by spiritual forefather Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and adding an electric Grateful Dead-tinged sense of rock & roll exploration and intensity.
Jerusalem Post reviewer Ben Jacobson wrote in 2004 that Reva L’Sheva were “the leading candidate for title of godfather to the post-Carlebach rock bands.” Indeed, their smashing of religious/secular barriers in the 1990s helped set the stage for latter-day spiritual jam rockers like Soul Farm, Blue Fringe and The Moshav Band.
For Katz, the satisfaction of being a musical pioneer takes second place to his larger goal of bringing people together through music.
“I guess a lot of young bands started modeling themselves after what we were doing,” said Katz last week. “But we weren’t intentionally setting out to create Jewish rock.
We were just musicians playing what we liked – this fusion of rock & roll and Shlomo.”
“I’ve always been a believer that if I turn myself on onstage, then the audience is going to get turned on. It all boils down for me at this point to using music to unite people. That’s what I see as the only thing that’s going to open the gates to a true peace.”
During their approximate decade together from 1994 to 2004, Reva L’Sheva did a lot of bringing audiences together.
Formed by Katz, a veteran immigrant from California, and bassist Adam Wexler, a Minnesota native who had performed with 1980s proto-Jewish rockers the Diaspora Yeshiva Band, the new outfit struck a chord with its combination of rock, soul, country and Torah.
“There hadn’t been much Jewish rock music until then – you had the Diaspora Yeshiva Band and a smattering of other things, but nothing really caught on,” said Katz, recalling when he realized that Reva L’Sheva had the ability to be the missing link between the religious and secular worlds.
“We performed at a Yom Yerushalayim show on Mount Scopus in 1997 that featured lots of Hassidic pop, for lack of a better term,” said Katz. “We went on at about 2 a.m. in front of 10,000 people. Nobody knew who we were, and we got up there and started doing our thing.”
“Channel 1 was there broadcasting, and I remember the reporter saying that ‘this band Reva L’Sheva started playing and turned the evening into a pure and holy Woodstock.’ That was a real kickoff for us.”
Through a series of well-received albums and energetic, mind-expanding performances, the band’s name and reputation spread, and they picked up some influential champions like the late Ehud Manor, who used to feature them on his daily radio show, and occasional slots on Army Radio.
A number of top-rate musicians passed through the band’s gates, including guitarist David “Harpo” Abramson, Lloyd who used to be known as Eliezer Blumen, violinist Nitzan Chen Razel, singer/keyboardist Chanan Elias and percussionist Yitzhak Attias.
Aside from Abramson, who died in 2010, that’s the lineup that will be appearing for Reva L’Sheva’s first fullfledged show in seven years, taking place on January 7 at Zappa Jerusalem (there must be something about seven).
“Jonty [Zwebner, a Beit Shemesh-based promoter] called me a few weeks before Succot this year and asked me if I could come and do a gig in Harpo’s memory, and as an aside said ‘bring some of the guys,’” said Katz.
Katz received enthusiastic responses from the other former members and he responded to Zwebner that if he was willing to promote a full-fledged reunion show, Reva L’Sheva would do a half-hour in Beit Shemesh on Succot to see how it felt.
“When we walked off the stage, Eliezer turned to me and said, ‘wow, I forgot about the magic – that was awesome!’” said Katz. “And what was surprising to me was that the audience of around 3,000 consisted mostly of 16-25 year-olds and they all knew the lyrics to our songs – that was a great feeling.”
Musically, the band members quickly found their old vibe and the years of diverse experience they picked up in the ensuing years introduced new elements into the repertoire.
For Katz, the chance to play with his old friends again brought with it new opportunities.
“I just love playing with Eliezer, he is such an accomplished guitarist,” he said. “When you’re a rhythm guitarist like I am, you can think one of two ways: I’m the second fiddle, not really important and just the strummer, or it can be ‘I’ve got an important job here, I have to lay down a steady groove for one of the greatest guitarists in the country.
“And I love singing with Chanan. I really feel that ever since I started singing with him, my voice has taken on all these new colors, and I’ve been less afraid to take vocal risks. And just the fact that Nitzan and Yitzhak immediately said yes to the project brought such a positive feeling with it.”
In addition to offering faithful renditions of their trademark back-catalogue, the band is intent on adding a new level to the reunion, so it doesn’t become just a warm, fuzzy exercise in nostalgia.
“I understand that we have to play our hits, and play them in the arrangement that people recognize. But at the same time, I have the chance to do some new creating with some extremely creative people,” said Katz. “We have some cool ideas to introduce some new songs, arrangements and twists that will make the show interesting for the audience and us as well.”
Rather than calling the Zappa show a one-off reunion, Katz and the other band members are considering the reunion as being open-ended.
“Everybody has said ‘bring it on!’ I know that Jonty has received a few calls already and we’ve given him the green light to go ahead,” said Katz. “Of course everybody has their own careers, lives and schedules. But if there’s serious interest, I think we’ll find a way to make it work. For me, it doesn’t matter in what form I get to connect with people. As long as I get to connect through music, then I’m happy.
“I don’t want to be trite and say that music is the universal language, but that is the way to cross borders and at this point in my life, that’s the only thing I care about professionally. We’re going to come out onstage and rock.
There’s no other agenda other than to bring people – religious and secular – together.”
For Reva L’Sheva, the seven-year itch is about to get a big scratch.