Anthony Russell and Veretski Pass / Convergence
Anthony Russell and Veretski Pass / Convergence, 2018
CD, downloads available from Bandcamp, Amazon, iTunes via Anthony Russell's website. Also available for streaming on Soundcloud.
Those of us who have been privileged to hear Anthony Russell's operatic Bass are blessed. It's been a long time coming, but now there is an actual recording of his voice. True to his roots, this project merges traditional Jewish folk and liturgical music with African-American spiritual music and gospel. It is unexpectedly well-done—something I credit both to him, and to his musical partners, the amazing Veretski Pass. It is a match made in heaven, consumated with perfection, here on earth.
I apologize for burbling so light-headedly before even explaining the album concept. What he has done is to knit together songs from Ashkenazic Jewish religious and folk sources with African-American spirituals. As the liner notes claim, this is music from two Diasporas. This fusion succeeds, in part, because of the way on songs such as "Rosie", Veretski Pass is perfectly happy to move from strident discordance to voice clips to klezmer violin to whatever creates the right context for Russell's voice. Instead of the treacle that often results from the attempt to "bring together disparate musical traditions", we experience something that highlights and unites the two traditions. Nor does that experimentation stop with American musical norms. This unity and interplay between the deep melodic ability and versatility of Veretski Pass, and Anthony Russell's voice is so very special.
The range of the words covers the gamut of human experience, from prison work song, to lullaby, to Purim celebration to Torah reading. In the final song on the album, "Zion", the focus is on continental African sounds and the voice of John Santos. The result is something new, and one of the most exciting, mind-blowing great musical experiences of this past year.
This recording is a twofer. You get one of the world's most amazing voices, plus the always-surprising and wonderful Veretski Pass. If there is covid-19 listening for everyone's pleasure, this is it.
Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 26 December 2018 w/completion and edits 25 May 2020.
Personnel this recording:
Anthony Russell: vocals
Joshua Horowitz: accordion, keyboards, tsimbl
Stuart Brotman: bass, tsimbl
Cookie Segelstein: violin
- Water (adapted from 'Hafle va-fele', by Yedidyah Admon and 'Wade in the Water', trad. African-American) 3:15
- Train (adapted from 'When the train come along,' American folk song per Sidney Carter and Rose Hemphil, and 'An ayznban,' b elyokum Zunser) 5:42/li>
- Horses ((adapted from 'Hayda Liu Liu,' trad. Yiddish lullaby as sun by Mordkhe Schaechter, and 'All the pretty ittle horses,' American folk lullaby) 7:08
- Lift (adapted from 'Lift ev'ry voice' by James Weldon Johnson & John Rosamund Johnson; and 'Hof un gloyb', by Yitzhak Peretz and Eliyahu Hirshin) 4:29
- Stranger (adapted from 'May-ko machma lon', by Avrom Reyzen / trad gemara melody, and 'Poor wayfaring stranger', trad American folk) 4:05
- Rosie (adapted from 'Rosie' prison work song from the Mississippi State Penitentiary Parchman work camp, and 'Es iz shoyn shpet,' Yiddish folk song) 2:44
- Open (adapted from 'Done made my vow to the Lord,' African American spiritual, and 'Shoshanas Yakov,' trad Ashkenazi Purim song) 2:35
- Zion (Adoration of the Ancestral Shrine), featuring John Santos (adapted from "Rockin' Jerusalem" African American spiritual; and 'Av HaRachamim,' by A. Dunajewski, from the Ashkenazi Torah service) 2:40