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Alberto Mizrahi: Matzah to Menorah: A Holiday Jazz Celebration

Hrayr Attarian By

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There is a well-established legacy of fusing the sacred with the secular in jazz. Pianist Duke Ellington's Concert of Sacred Music (RCA, 1966) is, perhaps, the most ceremonial example of this but there is a myriad of other recordings. Guitarist Grant Green's gospel-inspired Feelin' the Spirit (Blue Note, 1962), pianist/harpist Alice Coltrane's exploration of Hinduism and beyond on Universal Consciousness (Impulse!, 1972) and saxophonist Pharoah Sanders' nod to Islam with the classic Summun Bukmun Umyun (Impulse!, 1970), are a few of the more freewheeling expressions of this musical relationship.

With Matzah to Menorah: A Holiday Jazz Celebration, classically trained tenor Alberto Mizrahi brings a jazzy spontaneity to the rich and long tradition of Jewish song. Accompanied by Trio Globo, Mizrahi—who is a hazzan or cantor at Chicago's Anshe Emet Synagogue—sings eight tunes associated with the Passover Seder, four with the Hannukah celebration and cedes leadership to the trio on one.

The first set originates from Andalusia, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor and Italy. This diversity of folkloric heritage, as well as the innovative delivery, makes for an intriguing listen. "B'Tzet Yisrael (Chant)" is a solemn interpretation of Psalm 14. Mizrahi's haunting and monophonic vocals bear strong elements of both Gregorian liturgy and Judaic religious music. Harmonicist Howard Levy punctuates the piece with his deep notes, underscored by cellist Eugene Friesen's wistful drone, creating an atmosphere both ancient and timeless.

Much like with their lineage, the orchestration of these canticles shows a fascinating mix of motifs while maintaining a common team of spirituality. "Dayenu" has hints of American folk music, especially in Levy's harmonica solo and up-tempo, ragged piano, while Mizrahi's evocative singing on "Odecha Ki Aniani" is as passionate as that of a Delta blues shouter, albeit much more burnished, its melody possessing elements of both Jewish and Islamic mysticism.

The last five tracks are more lighthearted but no less creative. The delightful "Ocho Kandelikas" features Mizrahi's soaring and agile voice over pianist Levy's darkly sweet lines, percussionist Glen Velez's tango rhythms and Friesen's melancholic cello. On the instrumental "Mi Yemalel," Levy's fluidly complex mouth harp, Friesen's almost guttural bowing and Velez's unpredictable and angular percussion create a vibrant ambience.

Mizrahi and his band mates have created an engaging and stimulating harmonic amalgam that spans both geography and history.

Track Listing: Abastava A Nos (Sephardic “Dayenu” Chant); Dayenu; B’Tzet Yisrael (Chant); B’Tzet Yisrael (Livorno Tradition); Miriam’s Prophecy; Odecha Ki Aniani; Un Cavretico (Ladino “Chad Gadya”); Eliyahu Hanavi; Oy, Chanukkah; Mi Yemalel; S’Vivon, Sov, Sov, Sov; Ma’oz Tzur; Ocho Kandelikas.

Personnel: Alberto Mizrahi: voice; Howard Levy: diatonic harmonicas, piano; Eugene Friesen: cello, voice (11); Glen Velez: percussion, throat singing (1).

Title: Matzah to Menorah: A Holiday Jazz Celebration | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Self Produced

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