What does New York City need?
It might not be high on most people’s list of responses, but Frank London’s wish list includes “a good Jewish music fest in this town of ours.” Of course, as the co-leader of the Klezmatics and Hasidic New Wave, and everybody’s go-to trumpeter in the Jewish music world, London has a strong rooting interest here. And, unlike most of us, he’s getting his wish.
The Klezmatics are playing Town Hall (123 W. 43rd St.) on Sunday, March 23 as part of the inaugural Newish Jewish Musical Festival. The festival opens on March 19 with the world premiere of “John Zorn’s Masada Book Three: The Book Beriah,” a marathon concert involving 20 different bands and over 50 musicians, including Zorn himself. Additional concerts will take place at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, City Winery and Le Poisson Rouge (http://thetownhall.org/the-newish-jewish-music-festival.)
As for the Klezmatics, they will be collaborating with jazz pianist-composer Arturo O’Farrill, Fania All-Stars great Lewis Kahn and numerous other guests from the city’s vibrant Latin music scene on a program called “Havana Nagila,” an exploration of the musical ties between Jews and Latinos.
“The World Music Institute and Town Hall wanted something new and exciting,” London said in an email this week, taking time out from the band’s recording session for its first album of all new material in several years.
“They know that the Klezmatics are game for trying new stuff, taking chances,” he added. “We talked various ideas, and this one really got everybody all jazzed up.”
London noted, “There have been many recordings of Latin versions of Jewish music since the 1950s. But this concert will present the broadest spectrum of what can be seen as Jewish-Latin fusions ever done. It’s far more than just ‘Yiddish songs with a mambo beat’ (although we’ll do some of those, too).”
London himself has worked this furrow fruitfully, notably with his band the Klezmer Brass All-Stars, and the Klezmatics have collaborated with Scott Kettner’s Nation Beat.
But adding the Latin jazz element gives the jazz-trained members of the band — London and reed player Matt Darriau in particular — a special pleasure.
“After so many years, it feels like home,” he wrote, and working with O’Farrill is a joy. [He’s a] genius, a dedicated, hard worker. We’ve known each other for years. We are both dedicated to taking our traditions seriously, being both ‘keepers of the flame,’ protecting a massive legacy of music, while also moving everything forward. That’s why this concert works: we all share a common philosophy and aesthetic and vibe.”
As for the festival itself, London insists on the larger value of such outbursts of short-term musical activity.
“It is great to have big events like this,” he wrote. “It really pushes the envelope, allows for big spectacles like ‘Havana Nagila’ and Zorn’s concert. These are things that by their nature cannot be done on a small scale.”