Monday, November 30, 2009

Afro Semitic Experience at the Michigan Festival of Sacred Music

Afro Semitic ExperienceTwo weeks ago I saw the Afro-Semitic Experience play in Kalamazoo as part of the bi-annual Michigan Festival of Sacred Music. I've been a fan of ASE for years but this was my first time getting to see them live and I wasn't disappointed. They put on a wonderful show of American jazz music influenced by both African and Jewish ideas and musical forms. This concert was a special treat because it was the debut of their newly completed work (and new album) "The Road That Heals the Splintered Soul"

Now, I'm not a jazz critic and I completely lack the vocabulary to properly review a jazz concert. But I can say that sitting in Kalmazoo's gorgeous old First Baptist Church, listening to ASE was both a thoughtful and joyful experience. ASE's plays a straight-ahead jazz that's not overtly avante-garde but feels adventurous all the same. Pianist Warren Byrd plays like Felix the Cat, with an unpredictable humor and delicacy. Bassist David Chevan is more the beat poet, understated and economical. Together with their bandmates, their music shifted from Nigerian percussion into delicate piano jazz to be picked up by African chants that then shift gears into Hebrew prayer. But none of it was forced or overblown. It swayed and bumped, soared and knelt.

Afro Semitic Experience"Road" is fine album and was a memorable concert but, to be honest, from a Jewish music perspective "Road" is a less engaging piece than bassist David Chevan's albums "Yizkor: Music of Memory" and "Days of Awe: Meditations for Selichot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur." These albums aren't really solo albums, the same ASE musicians are playing and the influence of Chevan's ASE songwriting partner Warren Byrd is still very much present. But these albums let Chevan explore his interest in Jewish music and themes in a way that is more focused than on any of the ASE albums. While Chevan has significant contributions to "Road," Byrd's African influences and a wide range of American jazz styles take the forefront. Musically, little separated Jewish themed/titled pieces such as "Adon Olam" and "A Torah Afloat in a Leaky Boat Lands in Congo Square" from the rest of "Road." Which, of course, is fine, but, for me a little disappointing and will send me back to my copies of Yizkor and Days of Awe more often then "Road."

As far as I'm aware there aren't any online samples of "Road" for you to check out, but you can order the album through Amazon. In case you've never heard the Afro Semitic Experience, here's a video of them from a few years ago...

The Afro-Semitic Experience (from 2007, not music from "Road")

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