While some ethnocentric types go on about Jazz being "Black Music" and Anglocentric types maintain jazz is an American music (a good arguement, I'll admit), jazz is really a world music with its roots in the unique, (proudly) mongrelized contraption known as the USA. The clashes (sometimes literal) of cultures in the USA is where jazz sprang from, and attempts to "localize" it are doomed to failure (some folks eat up the "this is OUR music" spiel, but it’s baloney all the same) the band Afro-Semitic Experience is a perfect exponent of the (joyous) culture-clash Big Bang theory. Co-led by bassist David Chevan and pianist Warren Byrd, this quintet (which is sometimes a bit bigger) celebrates the co-mingling/fusion of elements from the collective African-American and Euro-American Jewish experiences.
As part of the Tzitzit: Voices From The Jewish Fringe series, the Afro-Semitic Experience recently appeared at the Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago to an enthusiastic crowd of between one and two hundred. The ASE set the bar high with their sound-check tune, Charlie Mingus’ "Better Get (H)It in Your Soul." This tune exemplified the ASE and its similarity to the earmarks of Mingus’ style: thoughtful, engaging, twisting melody lines and a rousing whomp of earthy, gospel-charged rhythms. Throughout their two sets, the ASC played mostly original that featured (alternately or together) elements of gospel, klezmer, traditional Hebraic melodies, African-based rhythms and bluesy melodies. Chevan played like a genetic hotwiring betwixt Charlie M and Dave Holland, all sinuous and buoyant, bass you can feel even if you’re not up-close. Byrd reminded me of both Dave Brubeck (percussive approach, affable melodic style) and Jaki Byard (eclectic, encompasses both post- and pre-bop styles), a swell marriage of formidable technique, conviviality and dynamism. Will Bartlett played reedy ‘n’ warm, gently pointed clarinet and shiny, big-toned tenor sax had both the blues-charged boisterousness and modernist edge of Booker Ervin and the supple warmth of Jimmy Heath (whom he studied with, btw). Alvin Carter Jr. played crisp, crackling drums, full of honest swing and strongly tinged by African rhythms, and Baba David Coleman provided both spice and breadth with his various African percussives. Highlights included a fab hunk o’ tune-age that recalled the soul-jazz groove of Horace Silver and Cannonball Adderley at their respective bests, including a madly catchy melodic hook and some taking-on-Saturday-night, ribs ‘n’ tasty hot sauce tenor lines, and a luminous cover of Abdullah Ibrahim’s "Water From An Ancient Well" (also heard on their next-to-newest CD This Is The Afro-Semitic Experience), where they accented the gospel-rich aspects of Ibrahim’s gorgeous-as-it-is melody. Best of all, this was not one o’ those teams who dispense with the head/theme ASAP so they can get down to some serious long-winded soloing ASE were and are a lot who play as a band, where the totality of the composition and the meaning(s) behind/beneath it are paramount. And yes, everyone seemed to have a swell time, plus a few intrepid souls got up to dance. Do yourself a favor and see/hear these guys.
[If you're in or not-far-from Chicago and want more info on this concert series: www.kfarcenter.com ]