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Latin music scholar and Cuban tres master Benjamin Lapidus expands the definition of the new breed of Latin-Jewish music on his new solo disc, Herencia Judia. Lapidus has worked in the past with renowned free jazz masters such as Steve Lacy and Joe McPhee, and took part in other Jewish music projects such as the recent La Mar Enfortuna's Convivencia (Tzadik, 2007) or the collaboration of percussionist Roberto Juan Rodriguez with Algerian pianist Maurice El Medioni, Descarga Oriental (Piranha, 2006). Mainly though, he has focused on leading his Latin-jazz quartet Sonido Isleno and performing and recording with other notable musicians of that genre, such as Ibrahim Ferrer and Paquito D'Rivera.
This recording offers Lapidus' imaginary creation that envisions a syncretic Sephardic/Spanish Caribbean Jewish liturgical music from different Cuban, Puerto-Rican and Colombian musical traditions and from the synagogues of La Habana, Santiago or San Juan. Lapidus studied these traditions from his family and in repeated visits to Cuba. The cast of musicians that accompanies him is familiar with the myriad traditions of the Latin music and supports faithfully Lapidus who plays on the tres, the quintessential Cuban small guitar with its three pairs of strings that offer a sound that can be harmonic, percussive and melodic at once.
This 70-minutes release feature 14 songs that Lapidus picked from the Jewish colander that is full with holiday songs as well as a few that are part of the weekly liturgy. Each song is arranged within a different Afro-Caribbean stylebembe, chekeres, rumba styles of yambu and guaguanco, changuior bata rhythms ilubanche and yakota. Lapidus succeeds to recast all these traditional songs, familiar to every Jewish family, into a coherent, and sometimes even spiritual, new tradition of the Sephardic-Caribbean style that he formulates here. But here lies also the failure of this recording.
The songs skip leisurely and briefly from playful, festive and sentimental moods to deeper religious observations, and the minimalist and cohesive arrangements apply a common musical meaning and color to all of them just by being part of the Jewish liturgical colander. As such this collection of songs may be considered as a kind of Caribbean-Jewish novelty, or even worse, an anthropological view of distant musical traditions. Only the longest track, "Lumpiest Judie," with the emotional cantorial reciting of the Yom Kippur prayer "Aveenu Malkenu," enjoys this minimalist approach that borrows cleverly from the rhythm for Oddua, the orisha who coincides with the New Year in Lucumi(Cuban Yoruba-derived) culture. This Cuban rhythm blends beautifully with the warm vocals of Samuel Levine, and leaves enough room for Lapidus to demonstrate his virtuoso tres playing. The same goes for "Kaddish para Daniel," a heartfelt arrangement for the Cuban rumba of guaguanco and the Jewish prayer for mourning that is dedicated to the memory of slain Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl, and is sung by Lapidus.
Track Listing: Ein Kelokeinu; Herencia Jud?-a; Etz Chaim; Aleinu L'Shabeach; Las Cuatro Preguntas; Los Cuatro Hijos; Dayenu; Limpieza Jud?-a; Son de Hanukah; Ma Nishtana; Na'anu'im; . Kaddish para Daniel; Tzadik Katamar; Comparsa de Simchat Torah.
Personnel: Jorge Bringas: bass, vocal (1, 2, 4, 6, 9, 12); Jeremy Brown: violin (13); Antonio de Vivo: percussion, voice (1, 2, 4, 6, 9, 12); Roman Diaz: percussion, voice(5, 11); Benjamin Lapidus: tres, accordion, minor percussion, voice (2, 4, 9, 12); Samuel Levine: maracas (10); voice (1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 12-14); Onel Mulet: saxophone (3,14); flute (13), maracas (9); Oscar Onoz: trumpet(2); Andy Statman: mandolin (1, 6).