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Frank London: The Jew with the Horn

By Published: November 13, 2007
This is a belief I have about spiritual Jewish music, about spiritual music and about music. Often with Jewish Music—and I mean Jewish through the text and the singing or specific musical tradition—in countless recordings of Jewish music from the twenties the accompanying music is very pop—swing, disco, whatever it is, it's just sort of generic. Countless Hassidic recordings, to which I listen only to learn the lyrics, are really bad. But every accompanying instrument has to have the same spiritual intensity, a meaning, kavana, that the lead voice has, and than you create a coherent all, a spiritual integrity, a connection to spirituality. Like on Albert Ayler's first records. That's the idea on Hazònos; we were working from the inside to really elevate the performances, that are all working in a very deep way, and it is less important if it is coming from Ashkenazi Jewish music, or outside influences such as free jazz, Pakistani Kawali music, classical—all are possibilities. It's not been done until now.

A lot of what I do in all my work, I study the structure, how it works. The ontology of music is contained not only in individual harmonies, melodies and rhythms, but in the way instrumental sounds are combined with the structure. If you talk about ontology of bebop and the Blue Note quintets that Horace Silver or Art Blakey embody. So when I look for models for Eastern European Hazònos music I look for Om Kalsoum and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and I want to study where rhythm comes and goes in those structures.

AAJ: What are your coming projects?

FL: For the last twenty-eight years I've been working on Klezmer and Yiddish songs, for the last fifteen years with Hasidic songs, and for the last five years with Hazònos. I love music beyond music as such, as part of political structure and in conjunction with different arts, dance and theater. I worked a lot on theater music. Lately I've been thinking about Yiddish theater; again how this deep, deep culture with so much essential art, aesthetic, politics and music, became nothing more than mindless, nostalgic, unimportant stuff. I started to think about it ten years ago. My last album, A Night In The Old Marketplace (Soundbrush, 2007), is based on a hundred year-old play by Y. L. Peretz. It's music theater and I'm clearly referencing all the traditions of Yiddish theater music, but again, in the same manner of the Klezmatics, getting rid of the kitschy elements, the nostalgic elements. I'm trying to integrate and open it up, as I did with Klezmer and Hassidic and Jewish brass music.


I'm going to make three albums, two of German music. One is German folk songs that my wife Tine sings. I've been asked to reinvent German Oktoberfest and beer songs with a brass band. It's fun and we are going to get rid of all their kitschy elements. I'm aware of the connection between kitsch aesthetics and fascism, and in Germany, where the history is so alive, I'll do anything that can help them embrace their culture, but be critical and anti-fascist. We are going to find songs with good revolutionary texts, Hans Eisler, Jewish writers. And the third, I'm going to take the Klezmer Brass All-Stars, and I'm going to do a Hasidic dance record, with women singing traditional Hasidic songs with electronic rhythms.

But I want to tell you about the highlight of my summer. Music is about energy, creativity, and how far you can push yourself as an individual and how deep you can go to achieve a greater statement in music. Albert Ayler, Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus asked the same thing. But on the other hand, as much as I hate kitsch, I love spectacles, but it's difficult philosophically because mass spectacles are akin to fascism, and you always have to remind people in the moment of mass group ecstasy—that almost mystical transformation where through the group all become one, and you are dancing and singing and you're losing your sense of self identity—that it's fantastic, but you have to be careful about it. It leaves us with personal responsibility. How can we have both, without losing our morals? This is why rational Jews are at odds with mystical Jews. So much of what I'm doing is going between these poles, and I don't have an answer, except that I'm aware of it. Spectacle as a kind of anti-spectacle.

Frank London

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