By MORDECAI SPECKTOR
The opening track on The Potash Twins, the new album from identical twins Ezra Potash (bass trombone) and Adeev Potash (trumpet) is titled “Lyricless,” and it’s an enticing slow groove with a contemporary New Orleans jazz vibe, à la Trombone Shorty or Kermit Ruffins.
The 21-year-old musical twins, natives of Omaha, Neb., have spent the summer in the Twin Cities, recording and mixing their new album. They’ll celebrate the CD’s release Aug. 11 with a performance at Icehouse in south Minneapolis. Most of the musicians who contributed to the album will be onstage that night.
And they’ll have a lot of friends in the house. The Potash (POE-tash) Twins know a lot of Twin Cities Jews from summers at Herzl Camp and previous visits here. During a recent interview with the AJW at a Starbucks in Hopkins, they mentioned that their father, Alan Potash, is the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Omaha. He’s in the Jewish business, as they say.
This is the second album from the Potash Twins. Their first effort, 2012’s Twintuition, a six-song EP, was conceived as the musicians’ “calling card,” when they hit New York City.
“We wrote the music, rehearsed the music and recorded the music in a one-week span,” explains Ezra.
“The day after we graduated from high school,” adds Adeev, regarding the project that involved the Potash Twins’ friends from Omaha’s Westside High School jazz ensemble.
“It ended up being a decently good product that we’re still pretty happy with today,” Ezra comments. “It represented our playing at the time; it doesn’t anymore.”
The new album and the old one share one song, “Twin2ition” (as it’s spelled for the new album). The title of the funky tune refers to the intuitive communication enjoyed by twin siblings.
“Most twins use their relationship to deceive and confuse others,” says Adeev, in a 2013 TEDxOmaha talk, which can be found on YouTube. “Not they we haven’t done our fair share of either of those things, but we use our relationship to communicate in ways that most twins can’t, that’s through music. And the word we use to describe our special connection is ‘twintuition.’”
Ezra goes on to explain that, as jazz musicians, he and his brother have learned the art of improvisation, which involves sharing feelings on the fly. “It’s a lot like your family dinner table,” Ezra explains, “except on the bandstand we share our feelings through notes and rhythm and we influence the music together.”
The Potash Twins, the new album, draws on the talents of a crew of local musicians. Cory Wong is the album’s producer — and he rips it up on guitar. This past weekend, Wong reportedly backed up Gene Simmons, of Kiss fame, at the Starkey Foundation gala fundraiser in St. Paul.
The other musicians on the jams, recorded at Essential Sessions Studios in St. Paul, are bassist Ian Allison, drummer Petar Janjic, and veteran local keyboard player Tommy Barbarella, who has played with everyone from Prince to Art Garfunkel.
And Steven Greenberg, the man behind the global hit “Funkytown” — which topped the Billboard pop charts 35 years ago — came into the project as executive producer, at the behest of Amy Zaroff, who is managing the duo.
The young musicians hit it off with the hit maker from another era, and vice versa.
“It’s been funny working with Steven, because we listen to a lot of music just hanging out with him, and there’ll be so many times he’ll be like, ‘Do you hear that?’ — there’s an element of ‘Funkytown’ in there,” says Ezra. “And he’s always right.”
Ezra cites the example of the Ariana Grande song “Problem,” which includes a saxophone part that’s “like a dissected version of ‘Funkytown’ … It’s kind of cool to see his impact on music — a Jew from Minneapolis can have such an amazing impact on American culture and music.”
(Full disclosure: Greenberg is a partner in Minnesota Jewish Media, LLC, the parent company of the American Jewish World.)
Greenberg, in an interview with the AJW, mentioned that the Potash Twins are youngsters in a genre where “the really good jazz guys are older.” So, he made it his “mission” to assemble some younger players to accompany the horn stars.
For example, Greenberg describes guitarist Cory Wong as the “young, jazz golden boy in town.”
“They’re all originals,” says Greenberg, about the songs making up The Potash Twins. All the tunes on the album were written by Ez and Dee — “As they call them at Herzl: the Potashim,” Greenberg comments.
In their careers so far, the Potash Twins have displayed a talent for making friends among jazz music luminaries — from trumpeters Wynton Marsalis, Jon Faddis and Chris Botti to Jon Batiste, who was recently named bandleader for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
And if you look up Ezra and Adeev on Instagram (@potashtwins), you’ll see them described as “musicians, entertainers and foodies.” In a number of Insties, they’re hanging out with Andrew Zimmern, local celebrity chef and host of Bizarre Foods, a series on the Travel Channel.
“We met him a couple years ago and we hit it off with him and his wife, and they invited us for Thanksgiving at their house,” says Ezra, about their friendship with Zimmern. “We’re very similar people in terms of personalities… he loves music, as well.”
“He’s an amateur guitar player,” notes Adeev.
Zimmern suggested that the Potashim might be interested in a career in food, in addition to the music thing. So, the twins go to food festivals and play their music.
Ezra has a good rap about the connection between jazz and food.
“The way that a kitchen is run and the way a band is run are very similar,” says Ezra, who compares a bandleader with the chef de cuisine.
Likewise, “composing a song is like composing a dish,” continues Ezra. “You have to think about specific elements of each dish, and you have to think of specific elements of each song, like the foundation, a harmony, counterpoint, melody.” And chefs evaluate a dish — “does it have enough acidity, what’s the harmony like? There’s a lot of connections that are pretty cool.”
The Potash Twins will perform songs from their new album 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 11 at Icehouse, 2528 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis. For information, go to: icehousempls.com.
The Potash Twins will be available for download on iTunes on Aug. 11.
(American Jewish World 7.31.15)
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