MARY HALVORSON — John Zorn – Mary Halvorson Quartet : Paimon (Book Of Angels Volume 32) (review)

MARY HALVORSON — John Zorn – Mary Halvorson Quartet : Paimon (Book Of Angels Volume 32) album cover Album · 2017 · 21st Century Modern Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
I was born eighteen years after the end of WWII and spent my early childhood in a downtown district, bordering with what during the war was a Nazi's established Jewish ghetto, one among the biggest in Europe. In the mid 30s one third of my hometown population was Jewish, at the end of the war there still were a few thousand of them survived by chance. Others were deported to German concentration camps and died there, those few who survived never returned back. Some were killed by Nazis right here, in the outskirts of the town. As a result, only three per cent of pre-war Jewish population stayed in town. Our closest neighbors and friends were Jews.

I can't remember I ever heard music coming from their apartment though. Probably, after the years of holocaust, there were not much place for music in their souls. One of the rare (still black-and-white) photos I still have from my childhood is a green sunny slope on the back of our building where 10 year old neighbor girl Rivka looked after me, a bit chubby blond boy, just started learning walking. And I remember her mum Rachele, she often feasted us flavorful dishes of unusual taste. There were a lot of partially ruined buildings around (the result of Russian bombing at the end of WWII), and plenty of abandoned too. Thousands of Jews that had predominantly inhabited the area, just disappeared, leaving the strange ghost town, which very slowly has been fulfilled with new inhabitants. Some buildings stayed ruined for decades to come, no one knew, where are the people, who lived there before the war, are they alive or not. Probably, everyone knew they will never return back though.

The main city's market square was not too far, just about 15 minutes by walk, I loved to go there with my grandma. On the way we always met people speaking loudly strange language I wasn't able to understand and sometimes there was a disabled old man playing an accordion, very catchy danceable and melancholic tunes, much different from everything I heard elsewhere. It was the Yiddish world of my childhood (I didn't know the world then).

Later our family moved to a brand new apartment on a green new district close to the city's center, and there our closest neighbors and friends were Jews. They were a two-generations family and I still remember the golden plate with their surnames engraved on their apartment's door - "Birshtein & Eidelman". The old lady (I called her "Grandma Sonia") was my grandma's best friend, and our apartments' doors have been never locked - we lived as one big family. It was her who introduced me to tasteful "Tzimmes", from her I learned what "Matzah" is. We started visiting a new market place buying meat and vegetables, and there another old Jewish accordionist played Klezmer for coins. All that has never been something big or important, better to say it was just an ordinary everyday life.

Many years later, one sunny day walking around already rebuilt Old Town, the former WWII-times Jewish ghetto district, I noticed the klezmer trumpet sounding from the small yard. It was a renown Nuyorican Frank London playing klezmer on the land where this music is born. He came to touch the roots of his music and his heritage. I was born and grew up here, listening occasionally to this music, but only found out that it's called "klezmer" in my mature age. We just called it "Jewish music", in a ghost town of Jews with a few Jews alive.

Another, more significant, popularizer of klezmer is with no doubt Nuyorican composer and trumpeter John Zorn. Thanks to him, his own sort of klezmer-jazz became well known and popular around the world. Some years ago he played in my hometown as well, during jazz fest, not on the streets, but anyway hereby klezmer returned back to his home again.

Zorn's "Book of Angels" is a series of klezmer-based compositions, performed by leading New York jazz scene musicians. Mary Halvorson Quartet's "Paimon", is the closing, 32-nd release.

With her regular drummer Tomas Fujiwara, capable bassist Drew Gress and second guitarist Miles Okazaki Halvorson dives into new for her waters. Zorn's composed klezmer-based music is tuneful very emotionally colored, tuneful and melancholic by its origin, not exactly what we know about Halvorson's own music.

The result is quite unusual - "Paimon"'s music is hardly klezmer or jazz. It's more "post-everything" take on Zorn's short well-structurized songs with catchy melodies. Halvorson's usually angular and abstract guitar sound is most successful in interplay with the more flexible (and traditional) guitar of Okazaki. Sentimental tune snippets are presented almost everywhere but not always are right in place. In best, the music flows as quite abstract and quirky take on very conservative material, in other moments there is a feeling that klezmer strict frames are suffocating for Halvorson, she tries to cross the borders, but responsibly returns back to the game's rules.

For me, Halvorson's music here on "Paimon" is a parallel universe klezmer, an interesting music with removed roots. An experiment which doesn't touch a heart. What is possibly very much my personal feeling - this sort of klezmer has nothing too much in common with my childhood's "Yiddish world". But, as with almost any of Halvorson's work, I like to hear her playing.
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