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Ben Holmes: Naked Lore (Chant)

A review of the Brooklyn-based trumpeter's debut album for Chant

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Ben Holmes: Naked Lore
The cover of Naked Lore by Ben Holmes

Klezmer, the celebratory Eastern European Jewish music, has experienced a resurgence as of late, intersecting with jazz, rock, and folk and reaching ecstatic heights. A major highlight of 2019 was the klezmer rollick of clarinetist/composer Michael Winograd’s Kosher Style; this year, Brooklyn-based trumpeter and composer Ben Holmes, who lent his talents to Kosher Style as a member of Winograd’s big band, is striking out on his own.

Holmes, a longtime presence and crucial voice in Brooklyn’s avant-jazz scene, already has two impressive albums as a leader under his belt, 2012’s Ben Holmes Trio and his Quartet’s Anvil of the Lord, released in 2015. But it’s his debut for the style-spanning Chant label, Naked Lore (which also doubles as the name of his trio), that truly finds him homing in on a distinctive sound. Blissfully crafting an ultramodern take on old-world music, Holmes leads a remarkably deft trio including nylon-string guitarist Brad Shepik and percussionist Shane Shanahan.

The nine tunes on Naked Lore are cut from klezmer cloth but fused with bits and pieces of chamber jazz, folk, and traditional Jewish melodies. Holmes, Shepik, and Shanahan let their instruments do the storytelling, rife with flying colors and vivid detail. Holmes’ gripping lines soar above the fray with elegance and grit, while Shepik’s fingerpicking mettle and Shanahan’s clattering beats are the perfect complement to his dancing and darting blows on tunes like the stomping “$43, a Smile, and Bullshit.” The trio also delve into foot-tapping waltzes (“Swamplands Chusidl”) and lurching marches (“Interlude on Avenue J”).  

Kindred souls who share an unmistakable rapport, Holmes and crew create joyous and meditative compositions that look forward even as they maintain an ancient, ritualistic feel.

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