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Aaron Novik: Secret of Secrets

Eyal Hareuveni By
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Aaron Novik: Secret of Secrets Secret of Secrets is the most ambitious project to date by Bay Area composer and clarinetist Aaron Novik. This dark and epic, deeply personal composition draws its inspiration from the writings of the late 12th century mystic Rabbi Eleazar Rokeach, known as Rabbi Eleazar of Worms. The Rabbi's masterwork, the five-book Secret of Secrets, deals with different mysteries of the spiritual realm, delving into these hidden worlds and divulging the true names of god, the secrets of the divine chariot, angels and even how to make a golem—an animated anthropomorphic being, created entirely from inanimate matter.

Novik's five-part composition attempts to transform the cryptic Kabbalistic texts using gematria, the Jewish system of assigning numerical value to a word, translating the texts into contemporary classical compositional techniques with references to different klezmer dances, avant-rock, metal, world music and improvisation. Novik's materializes his musical vision with some of the best forward-thinking musicians living in the Bay Area, including guitarist Fred Frith, violinist Carla Kihlstedt and clarinetist Ben Goldberg.

Novik is clearly a gifted composer and his multilayered and nuanced compositions are rich in detail. This can be hear on the gentle minimalist introduction to "Secrets of Creation," the first part of Secret of Secrets, which gains power and energy as it develops. This beautiful opening, however, is transformed into dark, electronic metallic version of Jewish wedding song, Khosid, and the carefully built composition loses its focus in order to find a sonic symbol for the chaotic nature of the divine creation.

"Secrets of the Divine World" emphasize its klezmer roots even more. Frith's inventive guitar playing coupled with Matthias Bossi's powerful and heavy drumming find an infectious groove in the traditional melody, but again, the piece is transformed, abandoning its energetic groove in favor of a cerebral abstraction of an oriental Jewish Dance until till Frith and Bossi seize control once again, retaining the groove and finishing with a blizzard of distorted sounds.

Goldberg sketches the fragile introduction of "Secrets of the Divine Chariot" and like the previous parts, a metallic symphonic ritualistic segment contrasts his sensitive, celestial playing, obscuring its delicate nature. Frith's sustained guitar lines construct the arresting improvised opening of "Secrets of the Holy Name," later intensified with Kihlstedt's electric violin and Novik's electric clarinet, both adding strange sounds of their own, but keeping its mysterious, uncompromising improvised character until the coda. The finale, "Secrets of Formation," follows this most impressive piece and Novik returns to another irreverent hybrid mix of klezmer dance, bulgar, with speed metal, that sound episodic.

This impressive composition is burdened with too many heavy elements, but Novik's unique compositional strategies are apparent throughout.


Track Listing: Secrets of Creation (khoisdl); Secrets of the Divine World (terkish); Secrets of the Divine Chariot (hora); Secrets of the Holy Name (doina); Secrets of Formation (bulgar).

Personnel: Matthias Bossi: drums; Cornelius Boots: robot bass clarinet: Aron Novik: electric clarinet, percussion, programming; Carla Kihlstedt: electric violin; Willie Winant: tympani, vibraphone, glockenspiel, gong, tubular bells; Fred Frith: guitar. Special guests: Ben Goldberg: contra-alto clarinet, clarinet; Lisa Mezzacappa: bass: Aaron Kierbel: dumbek. The Real Vocal String Quartet: Irene Fraser: violin; Alisa Rose: violin; Dina Maccabee: viola; Jessica Ivry: cello; Jazz Mafia Horns: Henry Hung: flugelhorn, trumpet, marching french horn; Adam Theis: trombone; Jamie Dubberly: bass trombone; Doug Morton: tuba.

Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Tzadik


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