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Frank London: The Jew with the Horn

By Published: November 13, 2007
I think about how to show the commonality in music, the respect of working together, like when I come together with [Palestinian oud player] Simon Shaeen because of the close proximity of Jewish and Arabic music and our related cultures, or Boban Markovi', where it's about very similar and interrelated cultures—Eastern European Jewish music and Eastern European Gypsy music—or Natsuki Tamura, , with whom I'm going to play at the Festival of New Trumpet Music, and who comes from free jazz. We come as individuals and multi-faceted personalities, acknowledging the complexities of our identities finding ways how the music can work together.

It's similar to what we did with Hasidic New Wave. All—Wall, guitarist David Fiuczynsky, bassist Fima Ephron and drummer Aaron Alexander—are just so strong players like in the late Mingus quintets, with so much energy, and everything is filtered through the Jewish music. We were doing so very consciously—for the game, for the learning. Like a song I wrote, "Sea of Reeds, as a Jewish version of Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island and his Blue Note records. When Alexander brought "Yemin Hashem, which is a great Lubavicher nign, we did a cross between freylekh and a James Brown rhythm with a bass line, but tried not to make it a formula. "Spirit of Jew-Jew [all from From The Belly Of Abraham (Knitting Factory, 2001)] is a clear reference to Wayne Shorter and Archie Shepp, so all the influences came in a very unique way.


My identity and music, as Jewish, is true but also it is just a sub-division. Being Jewish became more important in my life and my family, that's why I am interested and so involved with so many aspects of Jewish music—the cantorial hazònos, Hasidic nigunim, for example—but I am now studying Arabic music, makams, Ethiopian music and, recently, German folk songs; and I love it so much.

AAJ: Tell me more about your fascination with the Jewish cantorial music, hazònos.

FL: My dream is to find how the original Jewish music of Israel, the cantorial music of the temple, represented a musical continuity through the years to the deepest shtetl in Eastern Europe. To look at what the late cantor of Egypt, Moshe Eliahu, or the chief cantor of the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra, Emil Zrihan, do and reestablish its connection and construction to East European cantorial music. I'm trying to explore ideas all the time. It is one of many ways to go for the future.

My recordings Invocations (Tzadik, 2000) and Hazònos (Tzadik, 2005) are sketchbooks. Each of them were done in one day—I explained the concept to the musicians and "gp. The idea was East European cantorial music, which I began to listen to five years ago. I knew the connection of Hazònos to Hassidic songs and Klezmer, but did not know what it was. I hated every thing I heard, often because of the practices, like bad operatic performances.

What broke the ice was when Hankus Netsky, from the Klezmer Conservatory Band, gave me a recording from 1912 of "Avinu Malkenu, from the Yom Kipur service, and it's an amazing piece of music that gave me all sorts of inspiration. It's an open form that reminds me of Bill Dixon, in a sense of the openness of space and time. Time is not dictated by a beat, but by a text. In the voice of the great cantors, not the operatic ones, you can feel the connection to Old World, muezzins, Eastern world, music of pre-Diaspora Judaism, all the elements spread there. It is so open and challenging and ties back to the early AACM solo instrument concerts.

So I began to transcribe the solos of great cantors, David Rosenblatt, for Invocations, and thought, "What I can do with it? How can the trumpet sound like a voice, how can the two harmoniums slightly suggested a Pakistani Kawali sound without going there, and how can the church organs that we use in synagogues and, obviously, Albert Ayler be implied as the cantor rather than stated. You can hear what Milford Graves would have done through the whole record, without him being there.

Hazònos came from a soundtrack that I did for a documentary on cantor Jacob Mendelsson, The Cantor Tale. These are the great prayers from the slichos prayers of Yom Kipur. Their structure is so simple, build to a climax and than resolve very quickly. The high point of that record is an instrumental free jazz piece, "Repentance, that follows one of the prayers, and shows my personal attachment to this music and where it's going.


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