Facebook R&B crooner Mario has been relatively quiet on the music front for…
- Posted on Dec 4th 2007 11:00AM by Steve Hochman
The other day at a rehearsal, trumpeter David Buchbinder asked the rhythm players of his band to start up a rumba beat. With the groove going strong, he started singing, but something seemingly odd in the context: It was the chanted Hebrew text of Machar Chodesh, the haftorah reading he still remembered from his bar mitzvah some 35 years ago!
And it worked. Remarkably well. Not that Buchbinder was too surprised. He's spent much of the past two years intertwining Jewish and Afro-Cuban styles via Odessa/Havana, the distinctive ensemble he co-leads with pianist Hilario Durán. The Machar Chodesh reading was fitting: It's the passage from I Samuel used specifically on sabbaths that fall right before a new moon, a tale of the pained separation and joyous reunion of young Jonathan and David. Odessa/Havana is both a new phase for the artists and a reunion of cultural kin.
The first element is clear. Having led the Toronto-based Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band since the late '80s, Buchbinder, a few years ago, started looking for new contexts and combinations. "I was still playing Klezmer, but it was becoming more automatic," he says.
Looking for new challenges and inspirations, he found himself exploring Latin styles. It was a natural -- before he'd even heard klezmer, he'd played in salsa bands with Puerto Rican musicians in Germany, where he lived for a time in the mid-'80s. In April 2006, he got together with Afro-Cuban specialist Durán, another Toronto-based musician with whom he'd played when both were nominated for Juno Awards. At first, the idea was to work on some jazz ideas of Buchbinder's, what he calls a "crazy mix of hard bop and Mingus and classical and other things." But at some point, Buchbinder started hearing some relationships between the pianist's styles and the Eastern European Jewish melodies of his Klezmer music.
Working largely with musicians from Durán's band, the co-leaders developed the idea into reality with remarkable quickness and relative ease, debuting the concept in 2006 at Toronto's Ashkenaz Festival, for which Buchbinder has served as a director. Recording sessions happened shortly after and again in March 2007, the blend of musics all along seeing simply natural. And that's where the "reunion" aspect comes in.
"One key reason it works so well is the music is historically connected from medieval Spain," says Buchbinder, who was born in Kansas City and raised in St. Louis. "The Conquistadors came to the New World from Spain, from Andalusia, around the same time the Jews were expelled from the same place. Many of the Jews went to Eastern Europe. So what existed in Spain went to Eastern Europe."
He adds that the commonality in the melodies can be heard in the context of the Arabic/North African roots of Andalusia's golden age, echoes of which are clear in both Afro-Cuban and Klezmer sounds. And even the rhythms that moved to Eastern Europe in that diaspora bear enough of the African remnants to blend easily with the more prominent genes in the Afro-Cuban evolution. Another thing they share, he says, is of a perhaps less tangible nature.
"I've had this in mind, something I wasn't aware of before, but both musics have very deep spiritual roots, the religious side of the African drumming and Santeria and the whole root of Klezmer through Hasidic songs," Buchbinder says. "Both have these wordless, spiritually driven melodies."
These revelations sparked his imagination, as is clear on the album, just released by New York jazz and Jewish culture maverick John Zorn's Tzadik label -- the tracks flow with an organic sense, the Jewish and Cuban elements melting together into something that is at once recognizable as both and yet something new unto itself. And it neatly avoids the aura of being strictly an intellectual exercise that sometimes saddles Tzadik projects.
But beyond this specific release, this has also given him the creative renewal he'd sought. In fact, he's now reconvened the Flying Bulgar outfit with a fresh sense as it heads to its 20th anniversary -- not just from this project but also from several other side trips, including a jazz circus he created ("an 11-piece band and seven circus performers," he says) and some film score gigs.
"We're doing a new recording," Buchbinder says of the Klezmer group. "So this feels like a new turn on a spiral. It's not exactly continuous since I went away and learned a whole bunch of new things. From my side, on any level as a player or composer, I couldn't have done this stuff seven years ago. So all the places I went allows me to come back with a fresh take on the Jewish thing. I hadn't even thought about that until just now, but I have more experiences to draw on."
He's hardly moving on from the Odessa/Havana realm, though. As the group grows in live performances (just a dozen or so thus far), new possibilities are opening up, musically speaking. One of these days he might just do a whole Cuban Sabbath service.
"What you need to do is get a bunch of davening Hasidim and get them together with some Cuban percussion ..."
With that, you can bet he'd never have trouble convening a minyan.