Jazzy Jeff can just fuck off.
To many music lovers, myself included (although I think of myself as more of a banger), Jonny Trunk is a legend. Why? Because like a hyperactive (and canine) James Belushi sidekick on crack, Jonny Trunk has a talent for sniffing out weird and wonderful (and often obscure and deleted) curios, giving them a brisk rub down and rinse in the sink and a strong, straight and damn stiff talking to before throwing them squarely into the stupid faces of the stiff-upper-lipped music press with a note attached that says "How d'ya like them fuckin' apples, ya Coldplay lovin' wank-pipes?". So far, so lovely.
'A Prayer Ceremony in Jazz' is just that...er...a prayer ceremony in jazz. To be more specific, it's a Jewish prayer ceremony in jazz...which means it's in Hebrew...which means most people have got as much chance of deciphering it as Arcade Fire have of writing a good song.
But that's really not important. I mean I sank into rather a heated discussion with a fellow muso last week who admitted that he cared not a jot about lyrics. To him, the music was the thang; the lyrics merely existing to give intellectuals something to discuss whilst drinking over-chilled Sancerre, wearing black, scratchy turtle-necked sweaters and berets and stroking silly little beards in an effort to look more intelligent (I know this superficially appears to be an assault on poncy French Existentialists and wankers that appear on Newsnight Review, so let me clear that up straight away by confirming your suspicions and telling you that it is), and who make inverted commas with their fingers when laughing at jokes about antidisestablishmentarianism and guffawing heartily at the witticisms of de Gaulle. Wankers.
But then what could I have expected? My companion is a practising musician after all. And whilst I don't agree with him, I do have to concede that he's bang on the money when it comes to this album: the music is the thang.
For those of you that agree with Joey 'The Lips' Fagan and think that jazz is musical masturbation, I pretty much agree with you too. Or maybe I did. Historically I'm a blues man you see; to these ears most jazz sounds like the shit that Derek Smalls wrote for Spinal Tap Mk II. This album however, is seriously making me reconsider.
'A Prayer Ceremony in Jazz' was originally commissioned by Rabbi David Davis, pressed in 1968 and although a few were sold at live concerts and the like, it then vanished pretty quickly. Fast forward a few decades and the story goes that Trunk came across a copy in the late 1990s, fell in love with it and began the struggle to secure it a proper catalogue release. And boy has it been worth the wait.
This album is all about the jazz legends that play on it; Herbie Hancock, Jerome Richardson, Thad Jones, Ron Carter and Grady Tate - and seventeen year old composer Jonathan Klein - that's a pretty fucking great line up I'm sure you'll agree. And with such talent on board, the fact that the music is uniformly excellent comes as no surprise at all.
From the gentlest introductions imaginable ('Blessing Over The Candles') through the inspired Hancock-heavy 'Sh'ma'; the smoky female vocals of 'Micho Mocho' to the saxophone bombast of 'Sanctification'; right up the rather abrupt end of 'Final Amen', this is a work of hypnotic beauty and tranquil power.
Although many might regard this as just a lost Herbie Hancock album, his presence, although brilliant, is never once overpowering and the performances of the other players (in particular Jerome Richardson on flute, tenor and alto saxophones) are phenomenally assured and wholly beguiling. And it's not an impenetrable or wildly free-form album either; the New York jazz genre influence ensures that there are identifiable songs on this record and a discernable structure, which just proves my theory that when jazz musicians are reined in and controlled, they can do great things. It's only when someone foolish says "Hey fellas, let's jam and go crazzeeee" that jazz starts to sound rubbish.
It's not a purely instrumental ticket either. Soprano Antonia Lavanne and Contralto Phyllis Bryn-Julson occasionally pitch in with some traditional Jewish prayers and Rabbi David Davis throws in some readings too, all of which fit perfectly with the quietly bewitching noodlings of the musicians.
The original masters of 'A Prayer Ceremony in Jazz' are now long gone and as a consequence Trunk was forced to rip new versions straight from the grooves of the vinyl itself. Far from being detrimental, the occasional hum, squeak, pop and fizzle actually add a bizarre sense of authentic scuzzy jazz atmosphere to proceedings; a kind of aural onomatopoeia that epitomises the monumental route this record has taken to get into your local record shop.
If you're a fan of Hancock, Richardson or Thad Jones (trumpet and flugelhorn), you're sure to love this album: it's a great addition to their oeuvres. And for those who might not be so enamoured of jazz as a genre, it serves as a great introductory piece too. I really can't recommend this album highly enough.
I'll leave the (almost) last words to the man responsible for dragging 'A Prayer Ceremony in Jazz' into the twenty-first century: "You don't have to be Jewish to discover just how beautiful the album is. Thanks for listening." I couldn't agree more. Thanks for finding it.