Paul Shapiro / Midnight Minyan

tzadik cover style 2: band members looking hip Paul Shapiro
Midnight Minyan
, Tzadik TZ7174, 2003

From the opening moments when it becomes clear that bandleader Shapiro has actually gone to the familiar Hallel tune, "Ma lecha ha-yam" (What is happening, ye ocean) and made it work perfectly as a rhumba, this album demands attention and rewards that attention with absolute pleasure. In fact, the later transmogrification of "L'Chaim" (To Life), from Fiddler on the Roof to a perfect tango somehow perfectly fuses the existential and the celebration of the original into something perfectly suited to receive it. This band not only knows from jazz and klezmer, as evidenced on the "Freigish Behavior", but stops at nothing to fuse the wide-range of childhood-remembered Judaica with adult music. Like the work of fellow Tzadik recording artists such as Anthony Coleman and especially Gary Lucas, Shapiro here demonstrates that his own take on the Jewish memories with which he grew up are vivid and fully integrated into his musical imagination. Unlike Lucas, however, Shapiro is davenning (praying) here. The results are less humorous, less memories of the bar mitzvah pupil trapped in a dusty classroom and still rebelling, than something that, instead, invokes--then and now--a sense of joy, spirituality, and continuity.

The delicate handling of a jazzified "Sim Shalom," coupled with the Middle Eastern quarter-tones, brings these memories into current times, as a prayer for peace, reminding us of conflicts not so ancient, but very real and divisive today. Later, "Lester Young's misheberakh" ("misheberakh"--prayer for the sick) riffs the misheberakh Jewish musical mode with a perfect evocation of Young's spirit. Like Mingus' "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting" the point, perhaps, is how much an ensemble reaching inside itself and blowing together is very much in a state of prayer, a state of spiritual union with the divine around us.

In concrete terms, the album locates itself often on the Sabbath morning service (that service most familiar to those of us whose primary Jewish religious experience surrounded preparation for a Bar Mitzvah ceremony on a Saturday morning), from the lovely and lyrical reworking of the traditional cantor's repetition of the "Amidah," to the lovely chanting horns on "Haftorah Prelude" which utterly transform the synagogue prayer to something newly and differently reaching to the heavens. And again, yet differently, Shapiro focuses on the Sabbath synagogue Torah service with a reworking of the the magnificent "Aitz Chaim He" (it is the tree of life).

This music is very much inspiration for, and perfect accompaniment to a midnight minyan. As the liner notes say, "We're only six, so that leaves room for you and [at least] three friends." This is, indeed, music that demands to be shared. It is wonderful music, and a wonderful fusion of the Hebrew School graduate and the adult-in-the-world.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow 2/22/03

Personnel this recording:
Paul Shapiro: tenor, soprano saxophones
Steven Bernstein: trumpet, slide trumpet
Peter Apfelbaum: tenor, soprano saxophones
Brian Mitchell: piano
Booker King: accoustic bass
Tony Lewis: drums


  1. Ma lecha hayam--what is happening, ye ocean (trad., arr. Paul Shapiro) 4:05
  2. Freigish behavior (Shapiro) 5:55
  3. Sim Shalom (trad., arr. Shapiro) 5:23
  4. Haftorah prelude (trad., arr. Shapiro) 5:05
  5. Aitz chaim he--it is the tree of life (trad., arr. Shapiro) 4:14
  6. To life (Harnick/Block) 3:22
  7. Amidah (trad., arr. Shapiro) 5:51
  8. Lester Young's misheberakh (Shapiro) 8:31
  9. Haftorah postlude (trad., arr. Shapiro) 5:22

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