Jan 30, 2015
One of the great Melting Pot bands working in jazz today, The Afro-Semitic Experience manages to resist definition as it finds new adjectives to describe the music they play. Co-founded by African-American jazz pianist Warren Byrd, and Jewish-American jazz bassist David Chevan in 1998, the seven-piece band combines an eclectic array of styles, sophisticated musicianship, good songwriting, deep grooves, and years of friendship with a simple message: Unity in the Community. By taking the music of their respective heritages – the African Diaspora and Jewish liturgy – and treating it as if it were a jazz, gospel, or even funk tune, Byrd and Chevan create something truly unique.
Warren Byrd is a Hartford, Connecticut native with roots in the church choir with his older By the timehe’d been awarded a full scholarship for Classical Vocal Studies at Hartt College of Music, he’d decided he wanted to be a Jazz artist. His piano playing has graced the stage with and recordings of Archie Shepp, Eddie Henderson, Steve Davis, and many more.
David Chevan was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts. His passion for music has led him to explore a wide range of musical realms from singing in synagogue, to playing in Gospel groups, Polka bands, Klezmer bands, and Italian wedding bands, and finally to Jazz and contemporary composition and improvisation. He has composed music for a wide range of artists and ensembles, including several collaborations with dance and film. His most recent compositions have focused on melding jazz improvisational practice with Jewish liturgy. In addition to performing regularly in a duo with pianist Byrd and leading their group, Chevan is an active participant in the Radical Jewish Culture movement. He has recorded and performed with Frank London and plays, composes and writes arrangements for the Ayn Sof Arkestra.
The Band’s current lineup expands on these two fine collaborators, and includes Will Bartlett (sax), Alvin Carter Jr (drums), Alvin Carter Sr. (congas), Stacy Phillips (violin/slide guitar) and Saskia Laroo (trumpet).
Our conversation covers their musical philosophy, how Jewish and African Diaspora music have merged into something unique and wonderful, and where to find the group on Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday week. Musical selections include their version of John Coltrane’s “Wise One” form their latest CD, Jazz Souls on Fire; “Tivieynu” from their collaboration with Cantor Jack Mendelson on Further Definitions of the Days of Awe; the title track from Let Us Break Bread Together; and "Heaven's Gate."