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Afro-Semitic Experience

Further Definitions of the Days of Awe

(Reckless DC; US: 13 Sep 2011; UK: Import)

L'shana tovah

The Jewish High Holidays begin around the end of September this year. To help celebrate, that fusion jam band the Afro-Semitic Experience has released a dozen holy tracks that combine the voices of religious cantors with jazz musicians to create a divine mix of liturgical experimentation. The singers know how to stretch the prayers into invocations by turning each part of a word into multi-syllable entreaty to the heavens. Take the Yom Kippur prayer “Sh’ma Koleinu”, a 12-word plea for compassion. The Afro-Semitic Experience turn this short invocation into a 15+ minute chant. For over the first two and a half minutes, Cantor Erik Contzius just kvetches before he even sings the first word, and then spends the next two and a half minutes asking the Lord to listen (“Sh’ma Koleinu” means “Hear our Voice”). Of course the jazz band contributes their share of improvisatory mishegas, including the more than a minute long upright bass solo near the end of he same tune. Combining religious singing with spiritual jazz makes intuitive sense as both genres are literally rooted in soul, which is truly a radical connection.

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Steven Horowitz has a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa, where he continues to teach a three-credit online course on "Rock and Roll in America". He has written for many different popular and academic publications including American Music, Paste and the Icon. Horowitz is a firm believer in Paul Goodman's neofunctional perspective on culture and that Sam Cooke was right, a change is gonna come.


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