Shakers N' Bakers: YFZ (Yearning For Zion) (2008)
Sometimes odd matches promise the most perfect couplings. Such is the case with the second release of the New York-based improvising ensemble, Shakers N' Bakers. They succeed beautifully with inspired interpretations of 19th century spiritual vision songs by the radical Utopian religion community known as the Shakers. The ensemble transfers the original texts through the musical lens of the revolutionary figures of free jazz, most notably Albert Ayler, while spicing an ecstatic stew with quotes from contemporary modern composers including John Adams, Gyorgy Ligeti and Arvo Part.
This coupling makes more sense after thoughtful consideration. The Shaker vision songs, mostly attributed to the period of Mother Ann (1837-50), were received in states of inspiration, and their authorship is attributed to spirits which took possession of the recipients. Shakers N' Bakers features arranger/composer/saxophonist Jeff Lederer, vocalists Mary LaRose and Miles Griffith, keyboard wizard Jamie Saft, bass master Chris Lightcap and drummer Allison Miller.
The group's collective improvisational style references diverse genres such as reggae, ecstatic gospel singing, free jazz sax flights and even modern minimalism, as exhibited on "Even Shakers Get The Blues." The piece references the title of alternative writer Tom Robbins' Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1977), quotes John Adams' "Road Movies Part 2," and interprets original Shaker texts, all transformed into an explosive and passionate R&B anthem that calls "Our leader has to go." "The Roar of G_D," turns Gyorgy Ligeti's well-known "Hungarian Rock" upside down, with a new arrangement shifting through a nervous, punk drumming introduction, guest Mark Feldman's folksy violin and an intense duet between LaRose's clear and gentle voice and Griffith's rowdy guttural vocal, concluding with a dreamy violin solo.
References to the outer space sonic excursions of the Sun Ra Arkestra are found in the wordless singing of "Chinese!!!," based on another Shaker vision song that may have been based on a "moon" language (as the Shakers often claimed), featuring Saft's urgent organ flights. "Lay Me Low" is an infectious gospel, spotlighting Lightcap's articulate bass playing and Saft's church-like organ solo. "Laughing John's Interrogatory" has a soaring sax solo by Lederer that leads a euphoric religious procession.
The closing "Limber Zeal" is based on Estonian composer Arvo Part's "Spiegel im Spiegel," written just prior to his departure of Estonia in 1978. Feldman and Saft follow the original melancholic score, while the vocalists and readers offer spiritual words of advice from various Shaker texts like "keep the fire burning," which states the importance of keeping the freedom of the spirit, amidst Miller's fractured drumming pattern, offering an ironic commentary about this innocent conviction.
A provocative and inspired work of art.
Track Listing: In Me Canoe; Even Shakers Get the Blues; The Roar of G_D; Scour and Scrub; Chinese!!!; Lay Me Low; Laughing John Interrogatory; Yearning for Zion; Limber Zeal.
Personnel: Mary LaRose: vocals; Miles Griffith: vocals; Jeff Lederer: tenor and soprano saxophones; Jamie Saft: Baldwin electric harpsichord, organ, piano; Chris Lightcap: basses; Allison Miller: drums; Mark Feldman: violin (2, 3, 9) ; Andrew D'Angelo: bass clarinet (4, 5), alto sax (4, 5), reading (9); Matt Wilson: drums (4, 5), cymbals (4, 5), gongs (4, 5), reading (9); Stephen LaRose: Baldwin Discoverer keyboard (9); Thomas LaRosa: reading (9).