Frank London's "A Night in the Old Marketplace"
by Anna Torres
A Night in the Old Marketplace
Soundbrush Records, 2007 SR 1010
Frank London's experimental klezmer opera A Night in the Old Marketplace is a brilliant musical adaptation of Y. L. Peretz's macabre play of the same name, written a century ago, which drew on Yiddish folklore. London blends eclectic jazz, rock, klezmer, and Broadway musical influences to portray a world inhabited by seductive gargoyles, mad Kabalists, phantom singers, and haunted marketplaces.
The main storyline concerns the thwarted love of Nosn (sung in a cameo by the sweet-voiced Lorin Sklamberg) and his true love Sheyndele, who drowns herself in a well to avoid marrying Itzhak, "the lecher who bought her for kopeks." The badkhn (wedding jester) attempts to reunite the doomed lovers by resurrecting Sheyndele for a ghostly wedding; but once the border between the dead and the living is broken, all hell breaks loose, so to speak.
The album opens with "The Bottom of a Well," an inordinately catchy song about death by drowning. Glen Berger's lyrics dramatize philosophical themes in the debate between a religious man and an apikoros socialist in "Madness," which slips in a fuzz guitar between cantorial vocals, and treats the Zohar's creation story as operatic tragedy in "Ten Faces of G-d," identifying the broken glass at a wedding with the divine broken vessels. Other highlights are the smoky torch song addressed to a gargoyle in "Forever Yours," the Broadway-esque duet "It Doesn't Matter," and the mischievous "Tale of the Drowned Klezmorim," about a group of free-living klezmorim heading home after playing at a gentile wedding ("Though they strayed off of their path at the end of the night/They had already strayed at night's beginning"). My favorite song was the clever "G-d's Reply to Job," where Job gets put in his place by a deep-voiced God, backed by girl-group-style vocals:
"And G-d opened up the heavens
And answered from the storm
Job! How did you manage to
Become so ill-informed? …
Where were you man?
Were you nearby
When with my hand I raised the sky?"
The album closes with indie rock band They Might Be Giants performing "A Tavern in Pinsk," a song about a bar where the dead gather ("The Talmud doesn't have a clue/If they're allowed to have a few/but Nu! It takes the sting off dying"). Most of the songs can be enjoyed on their own, but be prepared to sit down with the liner notes if you want to really follow the story.
Peretz once wrote that the singing voice is on the borderline between spirit and matter, and London and Berger's music brings Peretz's world of earthy mysticism to life.
Reviewed by Anna Torres, 2 Dec 2007.
Personnel this recording:
Ron Caswell: tuba, bass
Brandon Seabrook: guitar, banjo, mandolin
Art Bailey: keyboards, accordion
Aaron Alexander: drums
- The Bottom of the Well (vocal: Susan McKeown) 2:38
- What is Man's Worth? (vocals: Martha Cluver, Karen Goldfeder, Silvie Jensen, Matt Hensrud, Steve Hrycelak) 0:55
- Nosn's Vision (vocal: Craig Wedren) 2:41
- Madness (vocals: Manu Narayan, Steve Hrycelak) 4:33
- The Tale of the Drowned Klezmorim (vocal: Joanne Borts) 2:32
- A Word (vocal: Manu Narayan) 1:33
- One Prayer, One Lullaby (vocals: Lorin Sklamberg, Manu Narayan) 2:43
- Forever Yours (vocal: Manu Narayan) 3:19
- Meet Me in the Old Marketplace (Vocal: LaTanya Hall) 2:48
- The Ten Faces of G-d (vocals: Martha Cluver, Karen Goldfeder, Silvie Jensen, Matt Hensrud, Steve Hrycelak) 2:55
- The Saga of the Singers of Brod (vocals: Martha Cluver, Karen Goldfeder, Silvie Jensen, Matt Hensrud, Steve Hrycelak) 2:28
- Call It Disappointing (vocal: Manu Narayan) 1:50
- I'll Make Such Wonders (vocals: Matt Hensrud with Karen Goldfeder, Martha Cluver, Silvie Jensen, Steve Hrycelak) 5:28
- Canon of the Dead (vocals: Martha Cluver, Karen Goldfeder, Silvie Jensen, Matt Hensrud, Steve Hrycelak) 5:28
- It Doesn't Matter (vocals: Jane Kelly Williams & Lorin Sklamberg) 3:23
- Is There Room on Earth (vocals: Matt Hensrud with Karen Goldfeder, Martha Cluver, Silvie Jensen, Steve Hrycelak) 2:35
- Desire It (vocal: Manu Narayan) 2:21
- God's Reply to Job (vocals: Steve Hrycelak with Karen Goldfeder, Martha Cluver, Silvie Jensen) 3:13
- Perhaps I Went Too Far (vocal: Manu Narayan) 2:35
- All is Vanity (vocals: all) 1:05
- A Tavern in Pinsk (vocals: They Might Be Giants) 0:54
Lyrics: Glen Berger / Music: Frank London