Picture a couple of Jewish grandpas sitting around cracking jokes. Now imagine a Hollywood starlet from the '50s sauntering into a dimly lit club and you've got Diaspora Hollywood , the third installment of trumpet player Steven Bernstein's Diaspora series on John Zorn's Tzadik label. An ode to pioneering geniuses like Franz Waxman and Max Steiner, the disc salutes the great Jewish film composers who left their chilly Eastern European homelands for the sunny, palm-fringed streets of Los Angeles.
With six traditional tunes, three originals and two cantoral pieces, Diaspora Hollywood is a sophisticated album filled with quirky characters, Semitic melodies and dangerously seductive sounds that recall the era of film noir and beyond.
If film is meant to transport, then music that sounds like a movie and transports on its own is truly successful. Bernstein's original composition "Hollywood Diaspora" epitomizes the term cinematic. You could lie on the couch and just listen to the slow-stepping rhythm and relaxed yet exotically tinged horn amble as visions of marvelously varied landscape pass by.
Menacing numbers like "Yis May Hoo" and "Havenu Shalom Alechum" enchant on multiple levels. Dynamic dialogue between Bernstein's trumpet and any number of Pablo Calogero's horns (baritone sax, bass clarinet and flutes) instigate drama, while the atmospheric tremor of David Piltch's bass, Danny Frankel's drums and D.J. Bonebrake's vibraphones set a suspicious scene.
Piltch's shadowy, propulsive bass line opens "Jehudis Bas Zion." Four-and-a-half minutes of taunting foreshadowing climaxes in a subdued but irresistible horn melodya combination of absolute rapture and a tinge of nostalgia, all translated into what sounds like the theme song from some '80s TV drama.
D.J. Bonebrake's vibes offer refinement throughout the album. During Bernstein's nod to Mogul of the Mob, "Meyer Lansky," delicately eerie vibraphone spots shimmer among Frankel's cool, quiet drums and effusive bongos. With Piltch's hip-swaying bass, the vibes set a dubious tone to "Sim Shalom," while Bernstein and Calogero on bass clarinet join up for a smart, sassy meander through the melody of this traditional tunelike two intimate friends sharing solemn secrets and cracking each other up.
Track Listing: 1 Yis May Hoo;
2 King Kong;
3 Jehudis Bas Zion;
4 Hollywood Diaspora;
5 Meyer Lansky;
6 B'rich Sh'me;
7 Eliyahoo Hanavee;
8 Sim Shalom;
11 Havenu Shalom Alechum.
Personnel: Dick Akright: Trumpet;
Steven Bernstein: Trumpet, Flugelhorn;
D.J. Bonebrake: Vibraphone;
Pablo Calogero: Flute, Bass Clarinet, Bass Flute, Baritone Sax;
Danny Frankel: Percussion, Bongos, Drums;
David Piltch: Bass.