Daphna Sadeh & The Voyagers - Reconciliation
Almost six years ago to the day, a CD arrived on my doorstep by an artist then seemingly new to me (it subsequently transpired that she had been a past member of Israel's East West Ensemble, which I was indeed familiar with), and fairly new to the UK. That artist and album were Daphna Sadeh and Out of Border. I instantly fell in love with the music.
Now, we have Daphna Sadeh and The Voyagers' latest album, Reconciliation, released at the beginning of the year on John Zorn's prestigious New York based Tzadik label. It has been an amazing experience to watch (shurely shome mishtake? 'Watch'? Ah, an 'Oirishism'!), witness, then, Daphna Sadeh's music evolve and grow over the years, and Reconciliation is the latest stage of that evolution. A very different sound from the early days here, and a different sound even from her 2007 album Walking The Thin Line. Not merely due to the radically different line-up and instrumentation of the Voyagers, either. More than that, the music itself has acquired a different sound, leaning more towards a swing-klezmer groove overall while still retaining that eclectic, electric blend of Mediterranean, Sephardi Jewish, Mizrakhi Jewish, klezmer, Arabic, and Balkan influences and styles, tempered with Western classical influences and heavy world jazz leanings. There are all these familiar echoes, the roots of Sadeh's and the Voyagers' music are still clearly there, some of Ms. Sadeh's favourite riffs and licks are still there, but they have also evolved into something new and just as exciting as ever.
However, one does get the distinct impression that at least some of the slight predominance of the Eastern European Jewish / Balkan sound on Daphna Sadeh and The Voyagers' Reconciliation might be due to the album having been commissioned by John Zorn for his Tzadik label. This undoubtedly must have imposed certain constraints on Ms. Sadeh who normally favours a much stronger musical melting pot of cultures, a much stronger cross-cultural dialogue.
As for the changes in personnel, of the original Voyagers line-up only Daphna Sadeh herself on bass and Stewart Curtis on woodwinds remain. Regarding the latter, his rich alto and tenor sax have gone, but instead we hear more of his equally rich clarinet, darker and more Middle Eastern sounding than ever but here with some very fine, high registers klezmer style playing also. Gone also is Nim Schwartz's superb oud. In its place, we hear the equally superb guitar and mandolin of Ivor Goldberg and the exceptional bone of Mark Bassey, while Eddie Hession has taken over on accordion. All three of these players should need no introduction. And Ronen Kozokaro has already become the longest incumbent of the percussion seat. Altogether, as much of an allstar line-up as ever, if not more so! Bassey's bone may, at first, seem like an odd addition to the Middle Eastern-leaning sound of Daphna Sadeh and The Voyagers. Not so, it fits into this sound picture supremely well and enlarges it considerably, adding a certain raunchiness here, gravitas there, and even a touch of humour in places. In some ways, this addition is reminiscent of Rabih Abu Khalil's inclusion of the tuba, replacing the double bass in this latter instance.
Daphna Sadeh and The Voyagers' Reconciliation consists of eight tracks, seven of them Sadeh originals, of exceptional variety and breadth, despite the earlier referred to slight predominance of Eastern European Jewish and Balkan influences. The album is utterly consistent and compelling, as you would expect from Daphna Sadeh & The Voyagers, and so it would be impossible to really single out any particular tracks. Nevertheless, Kilil deserves a special mention on several counts. First, there is Ms. Sadeh's outstanding bowed bass, so vocal-like you have to listen twice to believe it! Even when she changes to plucked bass, this feel continues. There's also Eddie Hession's incredible button accordion, and Stewart Curtis' phenomenal flute, mainly in the lower registers - which he manages to endow with an unusual degree of power - in the slow section, while the higher registers sparkle and dance in the fast groove, almost choro or charanga like. Then there is Mark Bassey's wonderfully bass-like bone, almost tuba like at times - as so often on this album - but graver rather than humorous. Ivor Goldberg's vocalisations and guitar also shine, while Ronen Kozokaro provides a very solid rhythm engine on his traps.
The dominant mood of Daphna Sadeh and The Voyagers' Reconciliation tends to be one of celebration, a kind of reconciliation, joyousness even, with only the occasional hint of melancholy here or there, especially in Kadish. Taken as a whole, the album has an almost soundtrack like feel to it, especially so though in the opener, Queen of Sheba. Above all, Reconciliation bristles with the kind of deep universal spirituality so characteristic of Ms. Sadeh. This is music that stirs your emotions, its heart and soul cannot fail to captivate yours. It is the customary mesmerising and seductive, enchanting and enthralling Daphna Sadeh and The Voyagers music we have come to love and even expect.
When all's said and done, Daphna Sadeh and The Voyagers still remain the most exciting world music band on the scene today. They also are a band that you absolutely have to experience live, above all.
Daphna Sadeh and The Voyagers' Reconciliation must be essential in any half decent world music collection, and also any good world jazz collection. Don't let the Tzadik - Radical Jewish Culture label fool you or put you off. This is far more than just Jewish music, although no collection of contemporary Jewish music could be complete without this fabulous album either.
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