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This Is The Afro-Semitic Experience, well maybe and I then ask where do you file it? Jazz? Jewish music? Or perhaps Gospel/Klezmer/Nigunim/Spiritual/Swing? I prefer under Duke Ellington’s good music/bad music categorization.
This project of bassist David Chevan and pianist Warren Byrd brings together the musical traditions of Jewish-Americans and African-Americans to create a sacred music that would be to Mr. Ellington’s liking. Chevan and Byrd have collaborated before along these lines on the 2000 duo Let Us Break Bread Together: Further Explorations of the Afro-Semitic Experience (Reckless DC Music). This recording is an expansion into the nine-piece Afro-Semitic Experience band.
Chevan and Byrd’s music is more Mingus than Masada, more Rahsaan Roland Kirk than Klezmer. Like the aforementioned Mingus and Kirk, their music (certainly “jazz,” if anyone will allow me to use that word) is more than the sum of its parts.
The recording opens with the traditional Jewish song “Eliyahu HaNavi” from the 11th century. Could have fooled me, it recalls the Mingus/Booker Ervin band of the early 1960s, as does much of the music heard herein. That’s because these cats are playing American folk music from an African and Jewish diaspora perspective. They confirm it with a healthy rendition of Mingus’ “Better Git Hit In Your Soul” and Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Water From An Ancient Well.” The blues are ever present here especially on the Jewish ritual song “Tashlikh.” The band takes up a bit of Arabic sound on “Sha Shtil” and slide guitarist Stacy Phillips is heard throughout tossing in a dash of Texas swing. The band’s take on a Jamaican traditional piece “Waters Of Babylon” features a bluegrass dobro sound. Certainly a crowd pleaser, but I ask again, where do you file this in the record shop?
Track Listing: Eliyahu HaNavi; Tashlikh; Sha Shtil; Better Git Hit In Your Soul; Nefesh; Aalafiyal/Shir LaShalom; Water From An Ancient Well; Water Of Babylon.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.