Live and turning it up a notch

In his new CD ‘Live in Melbourne’ Shlomo Katz takes his music to a new stage.

Shlomo Katz 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Shlomo Katz 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For Shlomo Katz, the release of his latest album, a two-CD set called Live in Melbourne, is a milestone. Not only is it a greatest hits of sorts representing 10 years of musical artistry in the world of Jewish music, but according to Katz it’s the first time he’s been able to truly express himself on disc outside the constraints of the studio.
“I know that when it’s live it’s much more of myself, and that’s exactly what I wanted to give over this time,” says Katz. “I wanted it to come from a much more naturally expressive place, and I’m so glad that was what we were able to do,” The concept for Live in Melbourne was years in the making, though it wasn’t until after his successful 2009 release, Malei Olam, that the venue and set list were chosen.
Katz, who lives in Neveh Daniel, had already been traveling to Australia for shows since 2005, and when he was hired in 2010 to lead Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services there, the decision was made to record back-to-back shows of his contemporary Jewish music at the Phoenix Theater in Melbourne.
It would be an intimate setting where he could play and interact easily with the audience. And with the show scheduled for just after Rosh Hashana, it was a great opportunity to capture the newness of the moment which, for Katz, was such a crucial element to the recording.
“The evening was extremely original because many of the things that came out of it I kept open for the sake of being spontaneous and in the moment,” Katz explained. “As much as it was planned out, we only did one rehearsal, and I told the musicians that whatever we are rehearsing we’ll probably do in some sort of way; but the truth is this could go anywhere, so be open to it because we can’t dictate what our souls will be feeling that night,” he said.
Bringing only his guitar, he was joined by musicians with whom he had played on previous visits.
Whether Jewish or not, each wanted Katz to explain the meaning of the songs he was singing in order for them to connect to what he was experiencing.
There were also a few musical surprises like when Harry Angus, a trumpet player for the successful Australian ska and jazz group The Cat Empire, took the stage and accompanied Katz and his band. The two happened to be picking up their instruments at the same time at the airport, and after being introduced, Katz invited Angus to come by the shows.
“When people saw him on stage, they went nuts.
And after the show, there was a long line asking for his autograph. He’s a huge star and took the whole evening to the next level,” Katz said.
Meanwhile, when asked what influenced Live in Melbourne’s feel the most, Katz first recalled how as a teenager he fell in love with the raw live sound after listening to a live track of Neil Young, which spoke to him more than any of Young’s studio albums.
“I know a lot of people who feel the same way about the Grateful Dead,” he said.
However, it was the recordings of his teacher, the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, that were uppermost on his mind in Melbourne.
“The old Reb Shlomo concerts – some of his early live stuff like Live at the Village Gate and Nachamu Nachamu Ami are some of the most outstanding and heartfelt recordings,” said Katz. “Those were in my heart and mind the whole time, because when I listen to a recording like that, I always try to put myself in the audience and try to feel what people were experiencing while they were there, and not just focus on what a great recording it is.”
Family, specifically his wife and their two little girls, was also a major influence in giving him strength to make the project happen, he says.
Until the end of 2008 Katz, 31, would travel around the world performing, only to come home to a bachelor pad. Having been married now for almost three years, he’s found a deeper purpose in life and for the often-rugged musical lifestyle, and has discovered a new appreciation for his compositions.
“Before being married, I could sing for thousands of people and afterwards still feel I didn’t have a foundation, and it was the emptiest feeling in the world.
As beautiful as life was, I didn’t know where to place all the light I was receiving from the concerts and interactions with people,” he explained. “Now when I have a chance to do what I do on stage, everything just feels like it has a home. I am totally aware of the fact that all the songs that I am singing and all that I have composed, they are for my daughters, they are for my children. As much as they are for everyone, it’s about giving my children new ways of singing to the Creator,” he said.
And so for Katz, Live in Melbourne is not just a performance of music but, in the spirit of Carlebach’s legacy, it includes some teachings, stories, a lot of back and forth with the crowd and, most of all, it has a foundation in family, which for both artists is, and was, the highest.