October 5, 2023 | ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT | By Deck Harper
People spent their time during the pandemic in a myriad of ways – I spent it listening to “Hasidic New Wave.”
Founded by trumpeter Frank London and saxophonist Greg Hall, “Hasidic New Wave” brings Hasidic music together with jazz-fusion to create a stirring and unique sonic landscape. The group’s music is technical, but never solely for the purpose of showing off. It’s touching but not overly sentimental. It’s derived from traditional Hasidic spiritual music, and yet intensely original. Simply put, it’s a lot of fun.
Until recently, I only listened to “Hasidic New Wave” on the radio, as it wasn’t available on streaming platforms, and regrettably, I didn’t own any device with which I could play CDs. I’ve long since scrawled out the names of my favorite tracks from the band, but it’s only in the past few weeks that I’ve been able to find them and listen to them again, as “The Complete Recordings of Hasidic New Wave” recently hit streaming platforms.
The late 20th century is often touted as a period of klezmer revival in which traditional Jewish music went through a period of renaissance and renewal.
As Frank London puts it in an interview with Tzvi Gluckin, “the idea was to embrace your people’s cultural heritage and learn your history.”
London details a fair bit of his personal history in that same interview. While studying at the New England Conservatory, he tried to take up every musical opportunity available to him, in any style and from any part of the world.
When the opportunity to start playing klezmer music presented itself, London accepted on a point of principle. Although London was excited to discover another musical tradition, he didn’t view it as a way to explore his Jewish identity. As he says in the Gluckin interview, “I believe our identities are huge and made up of so many elements. Some that we’re born with. Some we acquire. Some that are put upon us. Some that are practical. Some that are mystical. We are very broad people.”
London goes on to explain the origins of “Hasidic New Wave.” When he began playing Hasidic weddings, he already had a wealth of experience with Jewish musical traditions but was unfamiliar with Hasidic music, specifically. As London along with Greg Wall started to learn it and experience the energy and spirituality of Hasidic weddings, they had the idea to combine these musical traditions with improvisation and their own artistic sensibilities. Enter: “Hasidic New Wave.”
Their complete recordings total over four hours, and although they’re worth checking out in their entirety, for the sake of this article, I’ll talk a little about the music I remember most from the radio – the ones I wrote down in my notes.
“Debka” is a fun track with a lot of fanfare. This is a band where all the instruments get a chance to shine, and “Debka” is no exception. The guitar has a quality that is both subdued and chaotic and sits nicely amid the bouncy trumpet and saxophone lines. The more melodic sections, such as at 00:45, provide a nice break in the hectic overtones that dominate the piece. I certainly find myself chuckling on a few occasions when the musicians inevitably surprise me with their prowess and imagination. The interplay of instruments right at the very end makes for a lyrical and powerful conclusion.
“Benigni” is a somewhat ethereal, slow-burn tune. Its riffs are hypnotic and dark. Haunting melodic passages followed by slow, swelling notes droning over repeating rhythms echo throughout the composition. The very end of the piece shifts moods, to something almost triumphant and adventurous as it fades eventually into nothing.
“Hasidic New Wave’s” rendition of the “Bobover Wedding March” is gorgeous. It has a dark tenderness to it – it is somber at times, but not in a tragic way. To me, it evokes memories of the past with a kind of nostalgia, while also taking the prospect of an unknown future seriously. The bass playing really shines here, and the renditions of the main melody are sweet and complex.
I checked out some other version of “Bobover Wedding March,” as “Hasidic New Wave” was my introduction to this piece. They are all beautiful in their own way, but the “dark tenderness,” as I put it, of “Hasidic New Wave’s” rendition makes it stand out to me.
As London said, our identities are complex and made up of many parts. “Hasidic New Wave” is a band that brings together an unorthodox mix of musical identities, and the result is magical and still feels novel and exciting to listen to, even all these decades after their founding.
- “The Frank Zappa Memorial Bris”
- “Sea of Breeds”
- “Bobover Wedding March”