David Chevan with Alberto Mizrahi and the Afro-Semitic Experience / Yizkor: Music of Memory
Review by Keith Wolzinger
David Chevan / Yizkor
Reckless DC Music RMCD-1053, 2008
CD available at cdbaby.com
As Yom Kippur approaches, and with it the associated prayer service of Yizkor, David Chevan's Yizkor: Music Of Memory could not have been released at a better time. Chevan, along with the gifted Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi and The Afro-Smitic Experience, has completely re-imagined the Yizkor liturgy and given us the gift of a musical journey unlike any other we are likely to encounter.
Chevan quotes Abraham Joshua Heschel in the liner notes: "There are three ways to mourn. The first is to cry. The second is to grow silent. The third is to transform sorrow into song." Certainly, words designed to comfort the mourner, but to a musician, it becomes an imperative. What better way for a musician to express sorrow and mourning? And the Yizkor service lends itself to this musical transformation very well. Chevan goes on to liken Yizkor to the Requiem Mass, with a set of texts that have been recited, unaltered, for centuries. Spurred by death and near-death among his family and friends, he channeled his mourning by composing these jazz settings of the sacred texts.
How do you combine jazz with the Hazzanut of the traditional service, you ask? Well, as a jazz fan as well as a Klezmer/Jewish Music fan, I can say that the combination works very well. Granted, the jazz is toned down a bit to provide the support for the vocal artistry and gymnastics of Mizrahi. But there are two bonus instrumental tracks where the band gets its moment to shine.
I have been awaiting this release for the better part of a year. I learned of it in November, 2007 from Chevan's Fall Newsletter. He mentioned listening to the rough mixes and how excited he got every time he heard them. He kept posting updates on the project throughout the year. Then in July 2008, I was fortunate to meet Hazzan Mizrahi and hear his magnificent voice. He mentioned the Yizkor album project he worked on. And so here we are.
Mizrahi brings a fresh perspective to this concert setting of Yizkor. Keep in mind that the Hazzanut he sings are based in the traditional style; the jazz resides with the orchestrations of the band. Mizrahi, though, does get a chance for some improvisation on Psalm 23, a beautiful piece with a groovy rhythmic background and open solos from the Piano and Guitar.
"El Meleh Rakhamim" is the touchstone of the album. This work features Mizrahi in his most impassioned performance.
"Yizkor For Martyrs" is the showcase for the powerful vocal range Mizrahi possesses. He is capable of dynamics that few can approach. The last Amen is nearly a whisper. I highly recommend watching the beautiful video of this song on YouTube, a documentary film about the making of the album.
"Psalm 121 Esa Enai" is a quick three tempo, and shows the lighthearted side of Mizrahi. Very enjoyable, but it is the shortest track on the album. David, how about another chorus? The band obviously likes this song, too. It is one of the songs that is included as an instrumental on a bonus track.
My favorite song, though, is the opener "Adonai, Mah Adam (My God, What Is Man)". From the opening line in the Bass, followed by the Piano, Clarinet, and Flute, this is a song you can really get in your head. Plus, this is the other bonus track instrumental version.
The engineering on this recording is very good, overall. Mizrahi's vocals come across as both powerful and delicate in the right places, with just the right EQ and reverb applied. The band mix sounds good, but to me the ancillary percussion is a bit too present and there seems to be a bit too much room ambiance on the clarinet and sax.
The eight page CD insert is very well done. The design evokes the feeling of Yizkor, and the cemetery photographs enhance the album's theme of memory. There are Hebrew transliterations and English translations of each song, plus an introduction and "thank you"s from Chevan. He promises to post additional material on his website soon.
This is not background music for your next party. But if you invest the time for some serious listening, you will be deeply rewarded. I have not had such a rich listening experience in a very long time. Yizkor is worth the effort and this music deserves your attention. As the prayer says: A good doctrine has been given to you; do not forsake it.
Reviewed by Keith Wolzinger, Klezmer Podcast, 17 Sep 2008.
Personnel this recording:
Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi: voice
Will Bartlett: tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute
Warren Byrd: piano
David Chevan: bass
Jesse Chevan: drum set (1, 7)
Alvin Carter, Jr.: drum set (2-6, 8), percussion (1, 7)
Baba David Coleman: percussion
Stacy Phillips: violin, resonator guitar
- Adonai, Mah Adam—My God, What is Man? (music: David Chevan & Warren Byrd; intro by Will Bartlett) 4:43
- Psalm 16 Shiviti Adonai L'Negdi Tamid—I Keep God Before Me At All Times (music: David Chevan) 7:05
- Psalm 121 Esa Enai—I Raise My Eyes (music: David Chevan) 2:54
- Yizkor for Martyrs (music: David Chevan) 5:26
- Psalm 23 (music: David Chevan & Warren Byrd) 9:42
- El Maleh Rakhamim—God, Full of Compassion (music: David Chevan) 10:56
- Adonai, Mah Adam—Instrumental version (music: David Chevan & Warren Byrd; intro by Will Bartlett) 4:45
- Esa Enai—Instrumental version (music: David Chevan) 3:32
All words Traditional