Jesse Rifkin, who records and performs under the moniker Wailing Wall, studied comparative religions and ethnomusicology at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, N.Y. Not surprisingly, some of both of those disciplines is on display in his music, and especially on Rifkin’s second album, “The Low Hanging Fruit,” which comes out in June.
“I did a lot of research and wrote a lot of papers about different sorts of religious music,” notes Rifkin, 24, who was born in Los Angeles and now resides in Brooklyn. “I grew up Jewish and was educated in a very traditional Jewish environment. But my parents actually spent years before I was born in a Hindu ashram.
“So my whole life, there is an awareness of meditation and, more importantly, chanting. I’d be a kid and my mom would be listening to chanting tapes in the car, and in the ’70s my mom and her friend ran a meditation center in San Francisco. I hate the term ‘world music’ because I’m wary of white person exploitation music, but for lack of a better term, that’s kind of what I do.”
One of the highlights of making “The Low Hanging Fruit,” Rifkin says, was having access to a church pipe organ that a friend was spending the summer playing in Connecticut. He arranged for Rifkin and the Wailing Wall crew to use it on the album, coming in during the wee hours “with bats flying around — I kid you not.”
“I didn’t really know exactly how it was going to fit into the music,” Rifkin acknowledges with a laugh. “I just has this strong urge that I may never be able to record a pipe organ again. This was my chance, so let’s do it.
“Everyone else working on the record was skeptical; ‘You can get organ sounds with a little keyboard and a computer in your apartment. It’s not necessarily worth the trip. But to me it was; when I listen to the record, you hear the room and the space and the breath in the organ that wouldn’t be there if we just used a computer program. So, yes, it was worth it.”
Wailing Wall performs with Tim Fite Saturday, May 22, at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit, 5141 Rosa Parks Blvd., Detroit. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $8. Call 313-899-2243 or visit www.thecaid.org.
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