Herbie Hancock, Thad Jones, Ron Carter, Jerome Richardson, Grady Tate, Jonathan Klein - "Torah Service - Adoration" (Hear O Israel: A Prayer Ceremony In Jazz)
Shifting from using one’s surname to their given usually indicates that things have gotten more personal. The output of Jonny Trunk’s Trunk Records already oozes personal obsession; the discography includes soundtracks for Deep Throat, Dawn of the Dead, and The Wicker Man and key recordings by Basil Kirchin, and the recommendations page on his label’s website shares his appreciation for certain recently purchased jazz LPs and a recent sunny day when a woman took her shirt off in the park to catch some rays. So, what does it mean that he formed a sub-label, Jonny Records, just for this record? That’s one tidbit of information he has not chosen to share, but one might speculate that he wanted to keep this Godly endeavor separate from the sometimes-lascivious material he celebrates at Trunk.
Certainly, in other respects Hear, O Israel: A Prayer Ceremony In Jazz is an odd enough duck to fit into the Trunk catalog. Privately pressed in 1968 and only available at certain East Coast synagogues, it first came to Mr. Trunk’s attention 30 years later, at which point it was notable mainly as one of the most obscure entries in Herbie Hancock’s discography. While there was nothing new even then about the wedding of jazz and religion – witness Duke Ellington’s sacred concerts or Charles Mingus’s “Better Git Hit In Your Soul” – they tended to be Christian. This record, which sets a Jewish prayer service to then-contemporary modal jazz, beat John Zorn to the punch by several decades.
The project began in 1965, when a teenager named Jonathan Klein accepted Rabbi David Davis’s invitation to compose some music for a service. How the set came to be recorded by some of the day’s first-call jazz musicians and a couple classical singers remains a mystery, but they don’t sound like they’re slacking too much. In particular, Hancock sounds great, uncorking a fleet solo on “Sh’ma” and effortlessly swinging on “Torah Service – Adoration.” Also on “Torah Service – Adoration,” saxophonist Jerome Richardson uncorks an alto excursion that sounds like it was meant to cut through cigarette smoke and chatter, not incense and prayers. Thad Jones takes a while to get started, fluffing some notes on the former track but negotiating some tricky charts and solo opportunities with aplomb. As a composer, Klein comes across more like a vocal arranger; the tunes are generally minimal launch pads for the players, but the singers’ parts are intricate to a fault. If broad interval jumps in high pitches raise your hackles, there are parts of this record that’ll make you want to leave the service early. But if enjoy records like Andrew Hill’sLift Every Voice and Max Roach’s similarly titled Lift Every Voice And Sing, this one should be right up your alley.