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Hasidic New Wave: From the Belly of Abraham

Following a wave of klezmer revivalism that happened in the ’80s (ushered in by Andy Statman’s Klezmer Orchestra, the Klezmer Conservatory Band and Klezmorim), a number of renegade klezmer units began popping up on the alternative music horizon, including the Klezmatics, Naftule’s Dream, David Krakauer’s Klezmer Madness and the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars. One of the brightest and most fiercely uncompromising alternative klezmer band to emerge in recent years is Hasidic New Wave. Formed by trumpeter Frank London and clarinetist/saxophonist Greg Wall, this renegade bunch has combined the signature scales of Jewish music with the fatback grooves of James Brown, free-jazz leanings and plenty of freak-out electric guitar work courtesy of David Fiuczynski, perhaps the most original and audaciously talented plectorist on the scene today.

After a string of solid recordings as a working quintet, drummer Aaron Alexander came up with the novel idea of grafting African drummers onto the group’s uniquely Jewish sound. The result is this inspired collaboration that at once harks back to shtetls (villages) of Eastern Europe and mother Africa; a brilliant Afro-Semitic fusion best represented here by Alexander’s “Bo-Peep” and London’s cleverly named “Spirit of Jew-Jew.”

Another standout track is “Yemin Hashem,” where tenorman Wall wails with muscular authority on top of a Fela Kuti-esque groove created by bassist Fima Ephron (of Lost Tribe and Screaming Headless Torsos), drummer Alexander, guest organist Jamie Saft and a phalanx of drummers from Dakar collectively known as Yakar Rhythms (Abdoulaye Diop, Ousmane Sall and lead drummer Alioune Faye). For a change of pace there is Wall’s noirish ballad “The Sacred Line,” the only piece that is performed sans African drummers.

One of the most provocative tracks is “Bread of Affliction,” which is underscored by a tightly woven interlocking cadence set up by Yakar Rhythms. Both Wall and London unleash with free-jazz abandon on this deeply hypnotic groove (with London showing his debt to Don Cherry) while Fiuczynski follows up with some of his patented jazz-punk stylings (heavy on the whammy bar and wah-wah). London’s minor-key “Sea of Reeds” carries an early ’60s Blue Note flavor in its muted trumpet and tenor sax harmony theme (somewhat reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island”) while the battery of drummers and bassist Ephron bring an Afro-reggae sensibility into the picture. Fiuczynski manages to use his whammy bar to good Middle Eastern effect here.

The giddy “Frydginator” is an uptempo, authentic-sounding klezmer romp than might go over well at a Jewish wedding, although the blistering trading of fours between London’s trumpet and Wall’s tenor sax might be frowned upon by the elders, as no doubt would Fuze’s Led Zeppelin-meets-Holdsworth guitar solo. Oy! No less exhilarating, though decidedly darker, is Ephron’s “Waaw-Waaw,” which conjures up latter-day Miles Davis through its sparse, repeating bass figure and its insistent groove underneath London’s excellent muted trumpet work.

The energy this ensemble emits is extraordinary.

Originally Published