Elegance, Tastefulness and Contemplative Spirituality
The above title could well serve to sum up David Chevan and Warren Byrd's Let Us Break Bread Together, released on Reckless
DC Music in 2000. Sub-titled Further explorations of the Afro-Semitic
experience, this bass and piano duet album is another David Chevan and Warren Byrd effort that could leave you gasping and gaping in sheer awe.
Let Us Break Bread Together is a collection of eleven Afro-American spirituals and Jewish liturgical songs that share common themes such as community, fellowship, redemption and ideals that a community must strive to attain and maintain to survive, themes that are strongly shared between the Afro-American and Jewish communities and cultures. The eleven selections here are given instrumental interpretations in a modern jazz idiom that is highly personal and individualistic, that firmly bears the stamp of both Byrd and Chevan yet is also totally united, a perfect synthesis. The style and arrangements are elegant, tasteful and tasty, the spirituality is contemplative, meditative, rather than ecstatic. The virtuosity of both players is flawless, their improvs are elegant and lofty. The overall effect of David Chevan and Warren Byrd's Let Us Break Bread Together is calming, relaxing, stimulating quiet contemplation. This, and the fact that it is such a successful exploration of the shared Afro-Semitic experience, is what makes this album highly exciting - such sustained sheer elegance, calmness and tastefulness, without ever getting into the remotest danger of becoming bland or worse, is very, very rare indeed in our age. Warren Byrd, probably the most exciting American pianist of his generation, often reminds of "O.P." Oscar Peterson with his light, elegant touch and spiritual depth, while David Chevan is undoubtedly one of the most creative bassists of his generation all round with an equally elegant style and spiritual depth. Together, Chevan and Byrd make for a very formidable team indeed.
Recorded directly to two-track digital tape, this album conveys great immediacy and spontaneity as well as a rare warm intimacy, contributing greatly to the attractiveness and charm of this recording.
The eponymous opener of David Chevan and Warren Byrd's Let Us Break Bread Together is one of the most moving interpretations of this well-known spiritual and also sets the calm, contemplative mood for this album. Byrd's effortless dancing of his fingers across the keyboard and his dreamy, sparkling improvs are a sheer delight, matched perfectly by Chevan's caresses of his strings and dreamy, here and there almost fiery improvs. Oseh Shalom (Take 2) is the first of two versions of this piece. As both takes are very distinct and equally strong, it's most welcome indeed that both were included. Although here heard first, this is the second take, with a mostly lighter, almost airy personality, quietly affirmative, with glimpses of joyfulness. The gospel standard If I Can Help Somebody, forever associated with Mahalia Jackson for anybody over a certain age, continues in an uplifting vein and David Chevan and Warren Byrd don't miss a single nuance of the Mahalia Jackson version while adding a few of their own and making this old favourite sound fresh. Eliyahu HaNavi, a song about the prophet Elijah that is sung both as part of the Passover Seder as well as the Sabbath evening Havdalah service that marks the end of the Sabbath and the beginning of the new week, is given an up-beat treatment that somehow manages to convey an incredible sense of renewal. As the liner notes suggest, Little David, Play On Your Harp does indeed remind of Aaron Copland, a joyful little piece that is whimsical, playful, almost teasing at times. Etz Chaim Hi, sung during the Sabbath service as the Torah scroll is being returned to the Ark, is presented in two distinct versions on Let Us Break Bread Together. The first is a contemporary setting by Tanchum Portnoy, powerful, even somewhat majestic. Probably the most driven as well as driving piece on this album, How Much More (of Life's Burdens Must We Bear) clamours and rails for succour and respite, but ultimately provides its own brilliantly. The second version of Etz Chaim Hi, although commonly sung in Ashkenazi synagogues today, is a traditional melody that is probably of Portuguese Sephardi origin. Very different in character from the first version, it is much more affirmative with its subtle swing. Chevan and Byrd claim 'Trane (John Coltrane) as one of their principal sources of inspiration for their version of the old spiritual Soon I Will Be Done, and this is indeed very discernible. Their interpretation often invokes the atmosphere of A Love Supreme and both David Chevan and Warren Byrd play some very Coltrane-esque licks. Hineh Maah Tov combines two settings, the first a traditional folk melody in a minor key that's given a very effective modal treatment, with a light, lilting three-beat feel. This segues into the well- known melody by Moshe Jacobson, here strikingly re-harmonised by Warren Byrd and giving rise to complex and highly sophisticated improvs. The closer of Let Us Break Bread Together takes the form of the second version of Oseh Shalom and was the first take. This is somehow much more sober if not somber than the earlier heard second take. It would be futile to try and choose between the two versions, just as it would be to choose among any of the tracks on this incredibly consistent album.
The excellent liner notes of David Chevan and Warren Byrd's Let Us Break Bread Together provide detailed background information on each of the songs, while the beautifully stark black and white cover photograph makes for a rare in our times truly outstanding cover. This provides a perfect match to the elegance and sophistication of the music.
David Chevan and Warren Byrd's Let Us Break Bread Together has to be essential in any contemporary jazz collection and equally so in any contemporary Jewish music collection. This music is utterly compelling and wonderfully suave and sophisticated.
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