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Afro-Semitic splash in Boston

band photoDespite a decade of mixing Jewish and African-American sacred music with jazz, David Chevan and Warren Byrd—now wonderfully expanded as the Afro-Semitic Experience have still only played Boston twice. And last night, at Simmons College, was the closest they've come to a regular club gig yet.

It was a miserable time of day for a gig (5pm) and the weather was miserable (icy rain) so I drove the half-hour walk in my car. It only took 45 minutes. But it was worth it.

With two drummers, one of whom is a Yoruba priest, an excellent reed player, the surprising Stacey Phillips on Hawaiian steel guitar & violin, plus Chevan on bass and Byrd on keyboards, the band was comfortably tight and kept the audience thoroughly engaged. This was sort of music as dialogue. Sometimes the dialogue was with the audience, sometimes between the musicians, always in the music. There is a lot good that can be said about a set that can go from South African Abdullah Ibrahim, to cantorial music, to getting the audience up and trying to dance to a straight-forward freylekh and then closing with one of my favorite Mingus numbers, "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting." I mean this short review to say those good things.

I was too sick to hang out afterwards, and my nose was threatening to drain faster than the rain outside. But it was also nice to see the students at Simmons, and a few other bystanders, mix with the band. The concert was a thoroughly pleasant experience, with a melding of sacred traditions that made it something more. This is one that I'll happily see again. What I really don't understand, though, is how in a town with as much live jazz as happens in Boston, neither the Afro-Semitic Experience, nor Greg Wall's "Modern Prophets" are making inroads. Aye, thar's the rub. Time to change that.