A musical meeting of two cultures occured on Friday November
2nd when New York's Symphony Space presented a concert entitled, "Falafel, Freilach and Frijoles: From Mambo to Borscht."
The concert led by Arturo O' Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra examined the long standing relationship between the Jewish and Latino communities. A relationship described in the evening's program guide as going all the way back to the Spanish Inquistion and up thru a pre-Castro Cuba. It also included the era of of the Catskills resort area where Jewish patrons could see and dance to the top latin bands of the day. Along with Arturo O' Farrill and his orchestra were musicans Steve Bernstein, Anat Cohen, Larry Harlow and Rafi Malkiel, each bringing their own musical perspectives to the project.
To warm things up, the ALJO opened with "Manteca" by Dizzy Gillespie. They started out with a big Afro-Cuban rhythm bang, but the playing became low key in it's overall approach.
The first tune of the evening's program performed was "Desert"
by trombonist and composer Rafi Malkiel. It was very upbeat and had a middle eastern vibe to it as well. Malkiel is from Israel and his compositions performed throughout the evening reflected the influences of the Middle East and surrounding regions.
Trumpeter and bandleader Steve Bernstein opened his set with a tune entitled, "Blessing Suite." Bernstein described it as a suite of blessings which included the Chanukah blessing, Ma' Otzur, and Aveenu Malkenu. The percussion section of Roland Guerreo on congas, and Joe Gonzalez on bongos started off the piece. The horn section followed them and together gave off the sounds of a funeral march. It envolved into loud playing which had the melodic vibe of John Coltrane's "Africa Brass" tune. O' Farrill played very freely on the piano and Bernstein who was conducting, switched back and forth on the trumpet. At times the band sounded like they were playing homage to the Charlie Haden Liberation Orchestra of many years ago. Despite the religious title and it's overtones, the playing was in a free jazz style. The orchestra played like a solid marching band who had total freedom to do what they wanted.
In the second part of the suite, the playing simmered down. O'Farrill and the percussion section had a nice interplay with one another. The final part of the suite had O'Farrill on piano, the percussion and saxaphone sections playing together very softly. They created a low rumba feel before the entire orchestra closed it out in a heavy Afro-Cuban style.
Bernstein followed next with a tune called "Cha" which had the frontline of Anat Cohen on clarinet and him solely on trumpet. It started out slowly and envolved into a Klezmer and middle eastern
rhythm. Bernstein had a nice intense solo followed by Anat Cohen's breezy light solo on clarinet. Her playing got stronger and stronger as the tune progressed. Ms. Cohen played in the various sets of the evening and was one of the stand outs. She is a rising star and is probably the most exciting clarinest to come on the scene since Don Bryon twenty years ago.
"Bei Mir Bistu Shein" is a popular Yiddish song composed by Jacob Jacobs back in the thirties. There have been many rendetions, but the most famous was by the Andrew Sisters singing group back in the forties. O'Farrill bought out Larry Harlow for the tune and he is someone the theme of the concert could of been built around his life story. Harlow is Jewish and was born in Brooklyn to a show business family. A inspiring jazz pianist who went on to become one of the greatest piano player and arranger in the world of latin music. O'Farrill described Harlow "as one of the biggest inspirations to Jewish and Latino musicans." As evident of his legendary status, Harlow was feted with homage via kidding by O'Farrill throughout the night. Harlow and the orchestra played Jacob's tune in a very fast mambo style. Frank Cohen on the trombone had a very strong solo throughout the tune.
After a brief intermission, the orchestra opened with "Freilach-A-Night," which means a night dance. Anat Cohen led the way on clarinet and it was a very fast, jazzy, swinging tune. The arrangement was a mixture of latin and middle eastern rhythms.
Rafi Malkie came out for another set of tunes called, "Jewish Blues" and "River Blue." The frontline consisted of him on trombone, Cohen on clarinet, and Bernstein on trumpet. While "Jewish Blues" was very laid back in tempo, "River Blue" opened very loud by the horn section. Emmit Cohen who played piano on a few tunes, slowly drew out the notes giving the piece a bluesy feel.
"Mazinha" conducted by Bernstein is a chair dance played at Ashkenazi weddings. It was very exciting and performed in a fast Afro-Cuban style. Anat Cohen played strong and Bernstein had a trumpet solo which became very soaring.
Larry Harlow returned for the Yiddish theater favorite, "Papirosen." Harlow on piano started the tune very slow and midway in, it turned into a salsa piece. It became very fast with the percussion pounding away and the horn sections going at top speed that the audience could of gotton up and danced if there was space in the theater. Harlow's piano playing was so intense and captivating that O'Farrill who was conducting, stopped and proclaim loudly, "El Judio Marvilloso," (The Marvelous Jew) which has been's Harlow's trademark in the music world.
Rafi Malkei came out and performed "Mai Eden." A tune which is also the name of his wife and young baby daughter. He and Anat Cohen led the way on the tune. There was a nice interplay between just the horn section and Roland Guerrero on congas. The entire orchestra created a mixture of middle eastern and latin rhythms into the Afro-Cuban style.
This performance was the first night of a two night concert series. This particular date of Friday November 2nd was at the end of the week of where Hurricane Sandy had hit the entire east coast. Because New York City was dealing with alot of damages, the organizers waived the admission fee for the first night. It became a free concert and patrons were able to make donations at the box office window to go towards the local relief efforts.
The overall theme of "Falafel, Freilach, and Frijoles" was to show people from different backgrounds coming together. While the concert was planned way in advance of Hurricane Sandy, it's theme fit in perfectly with a city just trying to come together.
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