Nearly a decade in the making, A Night in the Old Marketplace is an ambitious project based on a 1907 play by Yiddish writer IL Peretz featuring a powerful score by klezmer virtuoso Frank London and darkly poetic lyrics by playwright Glen Berger. If that description sounds a bit esoteric, relax; London and Berger (and theatrical director Alexandra Aron) have created a highly original musical universe that's true to its hundred-year-old source, yet extremely accessible and entertaining to modern ears.
London, a key player on the Downtown new Jewish music scene through his membership in groups like the Klezmatics and Hasidic New Wave, boasts an almost absurdly eclectic resume that includes stints with everyone from John Zorn to LL Cool J to Mel Torme. That eclecticism is evident in his tunes here (21 of them; some lasting just a minute or less), which combine Jewish, jazz, classical, opera, rock and world music elements, often within a single song, while evoking a Kurt Weill-meets-Tom Waits mood of decadent cabaret. There are some beautiful numbers here, like the opening "Bottom of the Well," haunting ones like the wordless "Canon of the Dead," religious ones like "God's Reply to Job" and danceable ones, like the fast-paced klezmer workout, "Desire It." Berger's lyrics are bleak, but wickedly funny as they bring Peretz' story of love and betrayal, ghosts and golems and piety and profanity in the vanquished world of the Polish shtetl to life.
Somehow, what could have been just a mish mash of disparate styles holds together, thanks largely to the stellar ensemble of musicians assembled. The core band for the recording (Art Bailey on accordion and keyboards, Ron Caswell on tuba and bass, Brandon Seabrook on electric guitar and banjo and Aaron Alexander on drums) offers a cutting-edge twist on traditional klezmer, while guests drawn from the realms of Jewish music (the Klezmatics' Lorin Sklamberg), Celtic music (honey-throated singer Susan McKeown), alternative rock (New York favs They Might Be Giants and Shudder to Think's Craig Wedren) and even the Broadway stage (Bombay Dreams star Manu Narayan) all make valuable contributions.
A Night in the Old Marketplace is a remarkable achievement well worth the attention of fans of klezmer, jazz and all other types of music.
When he's not composing, the tireless London is also one of the busiest trumpeters around. He can be heard, for example, on the self-titled release by the Brooklyn-based band Gachupin, a group of about a dozen jazz, rock and Latin players who together produce a winning mix of danceable, groove-oriented world beats. Take a dose of African-style guitar, add some AfroBrazilian rhythms and some Miles-esque electric funk and stir.
Tracks and Personnel
A Night in the Old Marketplace
Tracks: The Bottom Of The Well; What Is Man's Worth?; Nosn's Vision; Madness; The Tale Of The Drowned; A Word; One Prayer, One Lullaby; Forever Yours;Meet Me In The Old Marketplace; The Ten Faces Of God; The Saga Of The Singers Of Brod; Call It Disappointing; Breath Into The Bones; Canon Of The Dead; It Doesn't Matter; Is There Room On Earth?; Desire; God's Reply To Job; Perhaps I Went Too; Far Vanity All; A Tavern In Pinsk.
Personnel: Ron Caswell: tuba, bass; Brandon Seabrook: guitar, banjo, mandolin; Art Bailey: keyboards, accordion; Aaron Alexander: drums; Susan McKeown: vocals (1, 20); Lorin Sklamberg: vocals (7, 15, 20); Craig Wedren: vocals (3, 20); Karen Goldfeder: vocals (2, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20); Steve Hrycelak : vocals (2, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20); Manu Narayan vocals (4, 6, 7, 8, 17, 19, 20); Silvie Jensen: vocals (2, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20); Jane Kelly Williams: vocals (15, 20); Martha Cluver: vocals (2, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20); Matt Hensrud: vocals (2, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20); Joanne Borts: vocals (5, 20); Latanya Hall: vocals (9, 20); They Might Be Giants: vocals (21).
Tracks: Irish Juju, Attiso, Preza, Las Armas secretos, Knife, Marrakech, Lotus, Freakonomics, Red Tempo, Green, Riverside Drive.
Personnel: Jon Petrow: guitar; Lynn Wright: guitar; Tony Maimone: bass; Chris Michael: drums/percussion; Brian Dewan: keyboards; Sergio Borrero: percussion; El Yoky: alegre; Miguel Gandelman: alto sax; Scott Harrell: trumpet; Paul Watson: cornet; Sam Sadigursky: tenor sax; John Martin: baritone and alto sax; Frank London: trumpet.