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David Chevan with Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi & the Afro-Semitic Experience: Yizkor: Music of Memory

Yizkor might not be the first album to combine jazz and Jewish music, but it’s probably the first set of Jewish cantorial music to feature resonator guitar among the instrumentation. The pliable notes and tone of the instrument fit with the music, which combines traditional Hazzanut melodies with a droning accompaniment and grooves from multiple percussionists.

Bassist David Chevan composed these six pieces using text from various Psalms. The music doesn’t typically follow a vocalist-soloist pattern of straight jazz, opting instead for one where Alberto Mizrahi’s vocals stand together with Will Bartlett’s reeds. In a sense, the cantor’s performance works like another instrument and makes the accompanying translations optional.

At times piano flourishes and percussion evoke Pharoah Sanders’ spiritual flights of the 1970s. “Esa Enai” begins with Bartlett blowing a strong melody over the percussion, with Stacy Phillips adding a bluesy streak on the guitar. But Mizrahi takes things to another dimension, singing the text with the drama normally attributed to an operatic aria. The combination of disparate musical elements can be a shock initially, but Chevan’s ensemble makes it work.

Two of the pieces appear in alternate, instrumental versions. Both work well, but the reeds and guitar seem more at home with the music when Mizrahi sings it with them.

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