Hasidic New Wave / Jews and the Abstract Truth

Album cover: Kaparos, in red and black.

Hasidic New Wave
Jews and the Abstract Truth

Knitting Factory Works, KFW 192, 1997

I don't know jazz well, so from the first I must advise jazz afficionados to beware. I do know that I enjoy the explorations of Jewish-influenced ensembles such as John Zorn's Masada, Anthony Coleman, or even the more cerebral New Klezmer Trio. And like other Knitting Factory compatriots such as some of the above or David Krakauer, part of what sax player Greg Wall and trumpeter Frank London (better known to the public at large for his work in the Klezmatics) are doing here is defined by both pushing the limits of jazz and pushing the limits of jazz as defined by something vaguer that I might call, in this specific context, "hasidic." By "Hasidic" I mean not just that collection of melodies that comprise part of the milieu of this particular fundamentalist part of the Jewish community, but I am also calling to mind in particular the way of ecstasy induced by that combination of drink (or other path to a different state of being) and wordless melody and dance. I speak of that Jewish trance music that has been evolving since the seventeenth century, and of the approach to life that informs it.

When fundamentalist ecstasy overlaps a freer and differently ecstatic jazz, watch out!

What we have here is not a clean, safe, Ben Sidron version of Jewish jazz (which, I might add, is quite pleasant in its place, even if its place tends not to be my house). Listening to Frank London and Greg Wall intertwine as they conclude their exploration of the limits of the traditional "Tzur Mishelo," for instance, or to simply hear the driving opening chords of the "Satmer Hakafos #6," one realizes that this is not random exploration, but exploration rooted in a specific cultural experience. There is the occasional shallower effort--I found "V'smachta" to sound less like exploration than what the song would sound like if played by people who didn't play together often enough, as figured out on drugs. This pales, however, next to the songs worth hearing and then worth hearing again--not just the aforementioned delights, but the thoughtful and more exploratory "Welcome to the McDonald's in Dachau," for instance, or the explosive "Debka" where traditional form is transformed six ways to Shabbos.

Even better, this is one of the special explorations of specific time and experience that works. The last two numbers define the parameters of the experience, to some degree: the quiet meditation of the "Bobover Wedding March" is followed by the experimental, yet not experimental the way John Zorn would have explored the same themes, "Finale." Even if I didn't love the name of the album (which I do), I'd have to finger this as Jewish jazz fusion worth listening.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 6/21/97

Personnel this recording:
Greg Wall: sax
Frank London: trumpet, organ (#5)
David Fiuczynski: guitar
Kenny Davis: bass
Aaron Alexander: drums

Special guests:
Bentsi Gafni: bass (#4, 5, 10)
Shlomo Deshet: drums, percussion (#4, 5, 10)
Ben Goldberg: bass clarinet (#7)
Anthony Coleman: organ (#10)
Gary Lucas: guitar (#10)

  1. Satmer Hakafos #6 (trad./hNW) 8:35
  2. Sim Shalom (Frank London) 10:02
  3. Tzur Mishelo (trad./hNW) 7:52
  4. Last Temptation of Lady L (Greg Wall) 6:07
  5. Eliyahu Hanovi (trad./London) 3:28
  6. V'smachta (trad./hNW) 2:58
  7. Welcome to the McDonald's in Dachau (Goldberg/London/Wall) 4:43
  8. Debka (trad./hNW) 5:27
  9. Bobover Wedding March (trad./hNW) 5:39
  10. Finale: 'Juba' + SH #6 reprise (trad./hNW) 9:48

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