Sunday, April 1, 2007

New Afro-Semitic Experience Live Videos and David Chevan Yiskor Project Recordings

The Afro-Semitic Experience is a jazz combo out of New Haven, CT. George Robinson of the Jewish Week describes them as
"an ensemble dedicated to preserving, promoting and expanding the rich cultural and musical heritage of the Jewish and African diaspora. Imagine a band that understands and can present interpretations of music from traditions as rich as Gospel, Klezmer, Nigunim, Spirituals, and Swing and you have the Afro-Semitic Experience."
While I've got two of their albums and enjoy them a great deal, I often feel that the main players Warren Bryd and David Chevan's strong jazz sensibilities tend to pave over the subtleties of the both the Jewish and non-jazz African idioms. You may be able to hear what I mean in the first video. It's a suite of 4 melodies, "1. Let Us Break bread Together (a traditional spiritual) 2. Sente (an African drum piece that segues into) 3. On Time God (a Gospel tune) 4. Eliyahu HaNavi (souped up version)." I love all sorts of hybrids and experiments, but this jazz arrangement of Eliyahu HaNavi just doesn't work for me.

The second video, "A Song for When the Temple is Rebuilt" or "Sheh Yiboneh Beis HaMikdash", fares better. The rhythm and tone are clearly jazz influenced but still hold a connection to the source material.

David Chevan's Yiskor Project, on the other hand, is wonderful. Chevan' is working on new settings for the Yizkor service.
"Yizkor: Music of Memory and Mourning now has a MySpace address with three complete rehearsal performances of the music. I've put my settings of Psalm 23, Shiviti and the Yizkor for Martyrs on the site. All of the pieces were performed and recorded direct to Stacy Phillips' fancy mp3 recording device in my living room and include myself along with Stacy and Will Bartlett accompanying Cantor Martin Levson. These are rehearsal recordings with lots of mistakes, but you can get a good sense of how these pieces are shaping up and how I am incorporating traditional hazzanut into new pieces of music Here's the URL for my Yizkor Project:
These recordings, to me, point to what can happen when the Jewish musical content is taken as seriously as the jazz. They're only rehearsal tracks, but I've already listened to them a number of times. I can't wait for an album release.

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