Frank London / Hazónos

Album cover: another Tzadik cover. Lots of Cantors.

Frank London / Hazónos
2005, Tzadik Records TZ8102

CD and MP3s available from Tzadik Records

The pairing of Frank London with Cantor Jack Mendelson has been one of the most unexpectedly delightful happenstances in recent Jewish music history. Those who were introduced to Cantor Mendelson in the wonderful documentary, "A Cantor's Tale will have witnessed the video output from that first meeting. This is the audio. And where the Mendelson biopic focused on the more traditional side of hazónos, and on Cantor Mendelson, here we get to listen to an enlarged sense of hazónos explored and made new. I love both. While I can't watch the movie every day. I have been listening to this CD steadily for many years. It is long past time to get the word out to the rest of the world.

Most striking is how Mendelson's vocals, sung traditionally, are heard so differently as London's music envelopes, caresses, causes us to listen anew. Without London's arrangements, this is hazónos as would be heard in a traditional shul. With the instrumentation—in particular London's trumpet, and his and Anthony Coleman's keyboards, this becomes a secular form of davening, prayer; music that connects the soul with something greater than.

Sometimes, as on "Repentence," it is the instrumentation, alone. Voices in space, coming loosely together. At such times, the CD is a continuation of early explorations in similar themes, the earlier, instrumental-only Invocations, or 2000's Shekhina. But, I'm not sure that dividing London's work into comfortable boxes makes sense. The way I hear most of his music is as one hears an iconoclast, an early mashup artist par excellence. This is the same Frank London of the Klezmatics or the Klezmer Brass AllStars; the same knowledge that has given us new Yiddish artsong and nign, or the more overt fusions with worldbeat in the Hasidic New Wave.

The thing is, once you have davenned to this Hazónos, sitting in a traditional synagogue may seem empty. I suspect that the musicians would say that we daven in many places, none necessarily superior than the other. It is even arguable that davenning with a minyan a quorum of other humans, as different from listening or working alone to this music, is more important to community. That could well be. But, even in that case, this is still an album of extraordinary, ethereal beauty, no comparison needed. The beats behind "Shir Hama'alos Pt. 2," for instance, send me in ways that shul no longer does. I am perfectly comfortable with the idea that shul-goers find it equally spiritual.

I am wrapping up this review after listening to Frank London and Steve Bernstein perform a "cantorial" concert (which, with some humor was called "Brass Khazones") at the National Yiddish Book Center this past weekend. The davenning continues.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 26 July 2013

Personnel this recording:
Frank London: trumpet, harmonium
Cantor Jacob Ben-Zion Mendelson: voice (tracks 1-3, 5, 7)
Anthony Coleman: piano, organ, harmonium
David Chevan: bass
Gerald Cleaver: drums

Daniel Mendelson: voice (tracks 2, 7)
Cantor Simon Spero: voice (tracks 5, 7)
Cookie Segelstein: violin
Dan Rosengard: keyboards
Tomas Ulrich: cello

Song Titles

  1. Sanctification 3:23
  2. Sheyibone beys hamikdosh—In the house 7:39
  3. Moron d'vishmayo 4:52
  4. Repentance 15:21
  5. Shir hama'alos pt. 1 4:13
  6. Aspiration 1:25
  7. Shir Hama'alos pt 2 5:24
  8. Blessed is the Eternal 2:16
  9. Holiness 12:08

Music composed, arranged, transcribed, and orchestrated by Frank London.

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