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Hero complex: 4th Ward Afro Klezmer Orchestra

With Abdul the Rabbi, Roger Ruzow and the 4th Ward Afro Klezmer Orchestra find their place in Atlanta



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Abdul the Rabbi is a direct journey that reaches for the same high standards that Ruzow set for himself more than a decade ago. But a group the size of the nine-member Afro Klezmer Orchestra lends itself to a more compositional approach. Throughout the album, the fluttering melodies of "Yemenite Tanz," the Spaghetti Western build of "Die Silver Wedding Die," and the mania of "Der Stasi" highlight the group's visceral nature. But when mashed up against a song like the title track, "Abdul the Rabbi," the musical cues add psychological weight by prompting listeners to connect the dots. "It works kind of like the employment of words and pictures that you get with a comic book," Zano says, and it's an apt comparison since Ruzow enlisted the talents of artist Tom Ferguson to create a slapstick comic book depiction of the character Abdul for the album's cover art based on the song's lyrics.

The song's meaning builds upon musical abstractions, impressionism, and personal reconciliation, but it wasn't always intended to be as transparent. "Roger had originally wanted 'Abdul' to be rapped in Arabic," Zano recalls. "So his question for me was, 'Do you know anyone that raps in Arabic?' Later, he asked me to do it. He explained the story, so I wrote to the music. He specifically wanted me to match the narrative he had developed, and communicate Abdul's stance in the rap."

It's indicative of Ruzow's naturally experimental tendencies. "Sometimes Roger can be the master of ideas that just don't seem to make sense at first," Crompton says. "You'll keep playing a part and trying to get your head around it, and then there comes a point when all of a sudden it makes perfect sense."

In a post-modern sense, this method of pulling order from chaos exemplifies Ruzow's daily attempts to reconcile those nagging inner conflicts.

Back in that sweltering attic, as practice winds down, Jack the dog is still barking. On the chair next to him, someone has left a plain white label vinyl copy of Abdul the Rabbi, in an unmarked sleeve, with a United Record Pressing sticker taped to the front. It's the test pressing of the album, but it's rife with flaws. The break, which is supposed to put "Abdul the Rabbi" at the beginning of side two, has been shuffled around and lost somewhere on the flip side, and the whole thing is tainted with imperfections that nobody can really explain.

So what would Abdul do? Perhaps Carl Jung said it best: "Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune." Jung clearly was not grumbling about a record but, ironically, a botched test press seems to be the perfect physical manifestation of inner conflict — for Abdul, for the Afro Klezmer Orchestra, and especially for Roger Ruzow.

Fourth Ward Afro Klezmer Orchestra. Free. (Time unannounced.) Sat., Sept. 15. East Atlanta Strut in East Atlanta Village.

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