Frank London//The Glass House Orchestra

Astro-Hungarian Jewish Music
Piranha Records PIR 3063

Like those 1960s urban country blues players or citybillies who tired of recreating other persons’ sounds, some Klezmer revivalists have gone in two separate directions for more authenticity. Like those urban pickers who moved south to join local country bands, Klezmer players trekked to Eastern Europe to intensify appreciation of pre-Holocaust texts and resurrect others. Back in the 1960s as well, bands like Electric Flag and Country Joe & The Fish, to pick two, were started by players who used their knowledge of blues and folk as a basis for psychedelic-electric experiments. With Astro-Hungarian Jewish Music, New York trumpeter-bandleader Frank London is someone in the Klez field trying both routes simultaneously.

Known for his work with bands such as Hasidic New Wave and the Klezmatics, London also devotes himself to the preservation of pre-World War II Jewish Hungarian music and the band takes its names from the Glass House or Üvegház, where Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz hide Jews during the Hungary’s participation in the Holocaust. At the same time while part of the CD recreates traditional tunes, the group doesn’t copy them the way contemporary Dixieland combos reproduce the tunes exactly as if it was the 1900s. Instead the trumpeter and his band mates play material in which shetel tunes are updated with 21st century tropes – jazz, punk, rock and so-called classical. His associates are familiar with these styles as well traditional Hungarian, Carpathian and Roma music. One particular stand out is Miklós Lukács, whose playing of the traditional Magyr cimbolon alternately brings out its zither, harp, guitar and dulcimer backgrounds.

The least altered tunes are languid ones such as “Astro Hungarian Suite Pt I" and “Vizhnitz Nign”, where Edina Szirtes’ yearning vocalizing pushed the emotionalism further propelled by violin glissandi from herself or Jake Shulman-Ment. Similarly the melancholy expressed by London on “Tasps” retains the same sombre mood. Moving to post-modernism “Sirba in E”, an eastern-European dance tune now comes complete with blues-rock licks from guitarist Aram Bajakian and some Surf-bass approximations from Pablo Aslan. Other pieces call for some Classic Jazz-like breaks from percussionist Yonadav Halevy and Béla Ágoston on clarinet, who also capable of Free Jazz-like atonality elsewhere. What sums up the CD best however is “Furfangos Frigyes” which gives the cimbolonist full scope for his piano-like facility and guitar-like rhythm, but blends this with dirty twangs from the real guitar, plunger brass tones, fiddle lines that go from smooth to sul ponticelo and the interjection of bel canto vocalizing, as the bass thumps and drum bops echo even after the tune ends.

As much as this CD honors the Astro-Hungarian Jewish Music tradition, London and The Glass House Orchestra also show that he sounds can be brought up to date to encompass more than heartfelt laments and lilting dances.

__Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Glass House 2. Astro Hungarian Suite Pt I 3. Astro Hungarian Suite Pt II 4. Técsö Jewish Tune #1 5. Técsö Jewish Tune #2 6. Sirba in C 7. Sirba in E 8. El Male Rachamim 9. Furfangos Frigyes 10. Vizhnitz Nign

Personnel: Frank London (trumpet); Béla Ágoston (winds, voice); Edina Szirtes “Mókus” (violin, vocals); Jake Shulman-Ment (violin); Miklós Lukács (cimbolon); Aram Bajakian (guitar); Pablo Aslan (bass) and, Yonadav Halevy (percussion)