Friday, April 25, 2008

Hear, O Israel: A Prayer Ceremony in Jazz featuring Herbie Hancock

Hear, O Israel: A Sabbath Concert in JazzOnce upon a time, 1965 to be specific, Rabbi David Davis asked Jonathan Klein (then 17) to compose to "write music that would be fitting for the theme of our conclavette "Sects and Symbols within Judaism. The result was a jazz concert." This concert, recorded in 1968 and printed in a very limited release by the Union for Reform Judaism, features some jazz legends including Herbie Hancock, Thad Jones, Ron Carter, Jerome Richardson, and Grady Tate and has been unavailable to all but the most dedicated collectors.

Concert PosterBut it's been brought back into print by Jonny Trunk, a British audiophile and archivist. Trunk Records specializes is finding and reprinting strange and wonderful out-of print-recordings including the soundtrack to the film "The Wicker Man" and "Music For Biscuits: Lost advertising and rare film sounds by Mike Sammes and The Mike Sammes Singers." Jonny is my kind of guy.

And now "Hear O Israel." According to Jonny, "I`d been lent this album about five years ago by John Cooper, the legendary underground music dealer. Last year I was discussing the album with him again, and we were both under the impression that this privately pressed album, called Hear O Israel, was no longer owned by anyone. So I put my detective hat and mac on and set about trying to find the owners. And eventually I did, and they are a large organisation called the URJ based in NYC. I went to see them in fact, and suggested that it would be a smashing idea to get this lost and very unique recording back into circulation. They asked me “why?” and I told them that it was one of the most beautiful recordings I have ever heard and needed to be heard again, because bugger all people heard it the first time round. And they said yes. Enthusiastically yes."

And there you have it. If you're at all interested, as fan, musician, or scholar, in the intersection of Jazz and Jewish experience, this album is a fascinating listen. And it is quite beautiful. I can't offer any links to downloadable clips or videos, so you'll just have to trust me on this one.

It's not officially available for another couple of weeks, but I got mine in the mail on Tuesday (grin. I've got connections.) and have been listening non- stop. If you email Jonny and tell him I sent you, maybe you can coax it out of him early.

By the way, the liner notes have a interesting discussion by Rabbi Davis of whether or not there are "advantages to using jazz in a religious context" or "is it just a gimmick." His conclusion..."someone may find something in the service that he never felt before." Personally, I'm a fan of traditional nusach for the Shabbat service, but that said, listening to these recordings opens up such a feeling of joy and wonder that it's hard for me to argue the point.

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