The Afro-Semitic Experience / Further Definitions of the Days of Awe

A joyuous David Chevan!

The Afro-Semitic Experience / Further Definitions of the Days of Awe
Reckless DC Music, RMCD-1055, 2011
Available from iTunes and

David Chevan has been exploring Jewish and Afro-American spiritual music through the lens of jazz, for years. As I love mentioning, my first date with the person who is now my wife was at the CD release of one of his first efforts. The music gets better. David writes: "For most of the past decade the Afro-Semitic Experience has played the midnight Selichot service with Cantor Jack Mendelson at his synagogue in White Plains. We have, in the process, created a new way to accompany cantorial music and we decided to document it. We recorded three concerts in August, 2010 just before the High Holy Days, one in New York City, one in New Haven, Connecticut, and one in Greenfield, Massachusetts. And now that music is ready for you to hear. The new CD is called Further Definitions of the Days of Awe and it features the band with special guests Cantor Jack Mendelson, Cantor Lisa Arbisser, Cantor Erik Contzius, cantorial soloist Danny Mendelson, and trumpeter Frank London.

That's the bones. But it also misses the extent to which, in a country which has stopped celebrating hazonus, Jack Mendelson—frequently with David Chevan and the Afro-Semitic Orchestra, has reminded us all how it is and how much we have given up since the "golden age" of cantors so many years ago. I also have to say, from the spare opening chords of the Ashrei, how much I appreciate the way that the Afro-Semitic Experience eschews the drippy strings and orchestrations of that bygone Golden Age to give us something more spare and more fitting to go along with the cantor's voice.

There are moments when the mix of black and Jewish spiritual music that are the focus of the Afro-Semitic Ensemble fuse with Mendelson's prayer perfectly. The opening fanfare of the "Viddui," for instance, is just perfect, and yet would never have happened in another context. The Latin-tinged opening of "Adoshem, Adoshem, Part 2" (and the call-response of the arrangement) is another example. And then, we are reminded why we especially go to shul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with Cantor Mendelson's supplication on the opening of "Mitzratzeh B'Rachamaim."

There are also moments when, despite (or enhanced by) new arrangements, the brilliance of those hazanim from the Golden Age shines through. One gem is a marvellously fun rendition of Yosele Rosenblatt's "Hassidic Kaddish." Another is Alter Yechiel Kamiol's "Tivienu," introduced reverently with explanation, and then introduced again by jazzy clarinet, all stepping back as Cantor Mendelson pleads the words. In the same vein I call attention to Cantor Erik Contzius' "Sh'ma Koleinu."

In their High Holiday series, David Chevan and the Afro-Semitic Experience have truly fused an American spiritual original, and in the process have also reminded us of the glory of hazanos. For this CD's listeners, there is the added benefit of hearing a wonderful CD, released just in time for the yamim noraim, the Jewish High Holidays. For 5772, there is something new under the sun, and a reminder that Jewish religious music, like its secular klezmer cousin, is wonderful to hear on all occasions.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 24 Sep 2011.

Personnel this recording:
Cantor Jack Mendelson: cantor
Cantorial Soloist Daniel Mendelson: cantor
Will Bartlett: tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, baritone sax
Warren Byrd: electronic keyboards
David Chevan: bass, egg shaker
Alvin Carter, Jr.: drum set
Baba David Coleman: percussion
Saskia Laroo: trumpet, electronics
Frank London: trumpet (New Haven concert)
Cantor Lisa Arbisser: cantor (New York and New Haven concerts)
Cantor Erik Contzius: cantor, New York and Greenfield concerts)


  1. Ashrei, Part 1 featuring Jack Mendelson (Jacob Rapaport) 4:01
  2. Ashrei, Part 2 featuring Jack Mendelson and choir (Jacob Rapaport) 8:00
  3. Viddui featuring Jack Mendelson and choir (Charles Davidson) 5:03
  4. Mitzratzeh B'Rachamaim featuring Daniel Mendelson (Jacob Rapaport) 6:35
  5. Adoshem, Adoshem, Part 1 featuring Jack Mendelson (Traditional; new music by David Chevan) 4:59
  6. Adoshem, Adoshem, Part 2 featuring Jack Mendelson and choir (Charles Davidson) 4:26
  7. Shomer Yisrael featuring Daniel Mendelson (Yossele Rosenblatt) 8:11
  8. Hassidic Kaddish featuring Jack Mendelson and choir (Yossele Rosenblatt, new music by David Chevan) 3:58
  9. Tivienu featuring Jack Mendelson (Alter Yechiel Kamiol) 6:43
  10. Sh'ma Koleinu featuring Erik Contzius (Jacob Goldstein) 15:03
  11. Haneshamah Lach featuring Jack Mendelson (Zawel Kwartin) 6:14
  12. Avinu Malkeinu featuring Jack Mendelson and choir (Traditional) 5:00

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