Eyal Vilner (conductor, arranger, alto sax, clarinet, shofar); Bryan Davis
(trumpet, shofar); Andy Gravish (trumpet); Wayne Tucker (trumpet); Jim
Seeley (trumpet, shofar); Stuart Mack (trumpet); Itai Kriss (flute, track
3); Jay Rattman (alto sax, clarinet, flute); Bill Todd (alto sax, clarinet,
flute); Evan Arntzen (tenor sax, clarinet); Dan Pearson (tenor sax,
clarinet, flute); Eden Bareket (baritone sax, bass clarinet); Matt
Musselman (trombone); Becca Patterson (trombone); Max Seigel (bass
trombone); Jack Glottman (piano); George DeLancey (bass); Eran Fink
(drums); Tamar Kern, Martina DaSilva, Vanessa Perea (vocals, track 4)
Recorded November 2016 live at Museum at Eldridge Street, NYC
Bandleader Eyal Vilner, Israeli-born but now a NYC resident, has arranged
an EP sized disc (20 minutes only) of pieces based on traditional Jewish
holiday songs. The result is a five-track album, though the opening track
is a very brief prelude, that cleaves to the time-honoured verities of the
swing band era.
That 90-second Prelude offers a brassy chorale more redolent,
perhaps, of Salvation Army bands at Christmas – that’s the effect it had on
me, at any rate. Once beyond that, Maoz Tzur picks up the theme
and swings it in a way familiar from bands of the 1930s and 40s, courtesy
of the spick and span, instrumentally excellent aggregation at his
disposal. Vilner takes a sprightly alto solo, and there’s neat pianism from
Jack Glottman whose bass pointing à la Basie shows good stylistic lineage.
Itai Kriss’ flute leads, pirouetting fruitfully over Erán Fink’s percussion
in the next track, Sevivon, that perhaps along the way evokes Sing Sing Sing procedurally speaking. The Jewish strain in Big
Band jazz, as much as the ‘Spanish tinge’ in jazz noted by Jelly Roll
Morton, is a vibrant component and the alchemical procedure by which
Eastern European stage music infiltrated American popular music is
something that can be seen reflected in arrangements such as this.
In Oh Hanukkah! a trio of vocalists deliberately summon up the
shade of the Andrews Sisters, supported by a tenor solo from Evan Arntzen.
The final offering is Mi Yemalel in which the most obviously
Jewish elements are present, notably in the use of the shofar and the
baleful menacing trumpet over percussion and pedal note. Some of the
orchestration’s pastel elements are very reminiscent of Gil Evans but the
first part of this 7-minute piece offers the most concentrated example of
the Jewish elements Vilner is attempting to evoke; the second part of Mi Yemalel offers instead straight-ahead swing.
This is something of a conundrum as the disc is very short measure, there
are no notes and there are some potentially contradictory musical
aspirations at work. Don’t expect a consistent ‘Jewish tinge’ or you’ll be
disappointed, perhaps, to encounter largely Basie-Goodman era music-making
and some retro Andrews Sisters close harmony. I happen to like all of that.