Review: Hear O Israel — A prayer ceremony in Jazz

By Gerald Aaron, June 6, 2008

Herbie Hancock

At the heart of one of the most unusual Jewish releases in years is a problem that will be familiar to every urban rabbi — how to get young people into shul on a Friday night when the big city is full of funkier temptations.

Back in 1965, Rabbi David Davis from Worcester, Massachusetts, came up with a novel solution. He commissioned a swinging, spiritual jazz version of the service from another rabbi’s son, 17-year-old composer Jonathan Klein. The result was so successful, and someone in the congregation so well connected, that soon afterwards a limited-edition, privately pressed recording of the concert was made, featuring the cream of the late-’60s US jazz scene.

This music might have remained a historical footnote but for the persistence of London jazz nut Jonny Trunk, whose Jonny Records has re-released the record for a wider audience.

Fortunately, there is a lot more going on here than mere kosher wow factor. This is a stellar band — led by Herbie Hancock on piano, and featuring Ron Carter on bass and Grady Tate on drums — undoubtedly in its prime.

Musically, it is very much a product of its time, when free jazz was emerging from the embers of be-bop,
and so the highly strung, angular melodic passages and the “out” vocal harmonies might not be to everyone’s taste.

On Sanctification, there are flashes of the great spiritual jazz record of the 1960s, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, and sometimes the soprano voice darting above the saxophone and trumpet recalls the classically inspired arrangements of the best Charlie Mingus
recordings. For non-jazz fans, it is worth getting for the avant-garde bossa nova kiddush alone. Extraordinary.

Released on Jonny Records JBH025CD

Last updated: 2:54pm, February 18 2011