Six years ago, back when Jewsapalooza was a twelve night festival at the Knitting Factory leading up to Christmas night, I had the pleasure of turning my typical Jewish Christmas into a New York Jewish Christmas with Hasidic New Wave and Yakar Rhythms. Christmas eve with longtime Catholic pals, Christmas brunch at 2nd Ave Deli, a movie, chinese food for dinner, and then the long walk across and downtown, in the snowy sludge, to Leonard Street to catch the culimnation of Jewsapalooza 2001. Fiery Jewish music, mixing jazz, funk and rock with Jewish melodies and African rhythms. It was fantastic. And while I loved all the tunes Hasidic New Wave jammed out, it was the cohesion between Hasidic New Wave and the three incredible drummers of Yakar Rhythms. I bought “From the Belly of Abraham” the album length collaboration between the two groups immediately and it was in heavy rotation for a few years. I’ll admit I hadn’t listened to it in while, but when backbeat told me the two groups were playing together last night at Southpaw as part of Culture Clash, with Circuitbreaker and Avi Fox-Rosen opening up, I knew Knucklehead and I had to make the trek, and we took kungfujew along for the ride too.
Came in to Avi Fox-Rosen and his band doing their thing. The music was mellow, but delivered with an intensity that reminded me of st. Croix reggae band Midnite. The band is quite talented and delivered a great frame for Fox-Rosen’s tunes, including some pedal guitar I was really feelin. I’ve heard Avi perform before, but more in a jazz standards kinda setting; it was great to hear him stretch out with some musical rock/funk that reminded somewhat of Stevie Wonder. A great soulful voice, and the lyrics I could hear sounded interesting, but unfortunately I could only grab a few phrases here and there. A very promising first time listen from my end, looking forward to more.
Having a longtime fondness for Hasidic New Wave and having heard Avi perform before, the only real unknown quantity for the evening was Circuitbreaker. I figured a group between Avi and Hasidic New Wave would bring skills but wasn’t necessarily expecting to be blown away. But I should’ve been ready. Rashanim and Zorn guitarist Jon Madof put together a fantastic wrecking crew of musicians… I didn’t get a final count on how big the rhythm section was for southpaw, but it sounded like they had a crew of at least ten up there, including Frank London, Greg Wall, and Jessica Lurie taking up the frontline positions on Trumpet, Tenor and Alto, respectively. I’m sure I know the name Jessica Lurie from a collaboration from somewhere (she seems to jam with the folks Erin McKeown plays with) but I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing her perform before. She was fantastic, ripping into a couple of absolutely incredible solos. She may have been an unknown quantity when stepping (literally) between Wall and London, but she was sick. And I’m generally not an alto sax person, so that’s saying a lot. The whole group was tight, and stayed with Madof’s frantic conducting and the charts to put forth a powerful set, including a great roots reggae groove and a great funky rock song in ten. Fantastic stuff.
And then, the main event. Hasidic New Wave and Yakar rhythms. Maybe its because I listened to that cd a ton, but those grooves are just fantastic. The way the drumming rhythms meld with the melodies on top was a thing of beauty and the grooves/melodies are so infectious, i’ve been walking around singing and drumming them all day. I don’t know how often these two groups play together, but it seems like they must work together a ton because they were TIGHT. Yakar Rhythms may as well have been one drummer with six hands, and the way they blended with the pocket of Hasidic New Wave was tremendous. And what could I say about Greg Wall and Frank London that hasn’t been said? The melodies and harmonies came together so well, and they are both monsters in their solo spaces. The rhythm section laid an impeccable foundation, and their guitarist got to rip a few awesome solos in his own right.
Thoughtful soul rock, ridiculous afrobeatjazzfunk, and Funk-jazz-rock-klezmer meets african rhythms. what’s not to love? All I needed after that awesome Jewish Christmas three course meal was a fortune cookie and some plum wine. I won’t be in NYC for any of the awesome Jewish christmas events in the next two days, but it’d be hard to see one of them topping that show.