Like Checking Out a Funky Little Club

It’s been 36 years since two young Jews, Andrew Goodman and Michael
Schwerner, and a young African-American man named James Chaney found
martyrs’ graves together in the struggle for civil rights in the American
South. In many ways, however, it seems a good deal longer than that as
memories of a shared agenda for a better life have faded, the good will
between blacks and Jews challenged by angry charges of exploitation and
ingratitude.

Leave it to the artists among us to heal the breach. On their new CD, “Let Us Break Bread Together: Further Explorations of the Afro-Semitic
Experience” (Reckless DC Music), pianist Warren Byrd and double bassist
David Chevan explore and celebrate the musical ties that have bound these
two traditions together across centuries of suffering and redemption.

It’s a concept that is equal parts simple and profound. African-American
spirituals and Gospel tunes and Hebraic melodies from synagogue services
both ancient and modern serve as the basis for improvised essays that
reveal the passion and drama of this deeply spiritual music. Messrs. Byrd
and Chevan approach their task respectfully but not altogether solemnly,
frequently leavening their performances with wit and light-hearted humor,
as in their treatment of the spiritual “Little David, Play on Your Harp” or
the Seder song “Eliyahu HaNavi.” But neither do they ignore the soulfulness
of their material; the sense of mystery they bring to “Soon I Will Be Done
With the Troubles of the World” recalls composer Adolphus Hailstork’s
incisive comment that the Negro spiritual is the Gregorian chant of
African-American music.

Both Messrs. Chevan and Byrd are academics in Connecticut colleges and
bring an obvious seriousness of purpose to this project. But their
musicianship is equally obvious. Listening to this CD is a bit like
checking out a funky little club in the basement of a church or shul. Or
listening to a sermon on a bus ride headed South.

Mr. Goldsmith is the director of the classical music channel at XM
Satellite Radio, a former host of NPR’s “Performance Today” and the author
of “The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Music and Love in Nazi
Germany.”

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