Following record releases with Tzadik Records by John Zorn, the multi-instrumentalist from Rome arrives at his eighth solo work (third CD for Parco della Musica Records) at the head of a brand new quintet in which the traditional Sephardic repertoire is repurposed from the perspective of modern jazz improvisation in a truly unique and original project. The group’s sound is forged by the presence of ud and the voice of Ziad Trabelsi, a longtime member of the Orchestra di Piazza Vittorio; piano and live electronics by Alessandro Gwis, founder of Aires Tango and great Latin Tinge expert; the percussion and vocals of Arnaldo Vacca, probably the greatest Italian percussionist; and the bass of Mario Rivera, founder of Agricantus and repository of Mediterranean music.
Sefarad is the name by which the Jews called Spain, and this is where our journey begins. Fourteen centuries in which Sephardic culture was able to progress in contact first with Christianity and then, beginning in the eighteenth century, with Islam as well. Eight centuries of encounter-clash between these three different cultures testify to a period of great historical and, of course, musical interest. Beginning in 1492, the year of the painful expulsion of the Spanish Jewish communities by the Catholic kings Ferdinand and Isabella, Sephardic culture expanded throughout the countries of the Mediterranean basin-Portugal, France, north-central Italy, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, and throughout the rest of the Ottoman Empire, particularly Turkey, Greece, Palestine, and Syria-but there was no shortage of important settlements in Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, and the Americas as well.
The most distinctive features of Sephardic music go back to their Spanish, medieval, and Renaissance origins. Archaic traces are present in its melodic structure, cadences and forms in use in the minstrel music of the Christian West are preserved, but also similarities with the coeval Cantigas de Santa Maria collected by the Spanish ruler Alfonso the Wise. Also found in Sephardic music are some of the most important performance practices that characterize Islamic musical systems: scales, ornaments, microintervals, guided improvisations, interpretive style-just think of the assonances with the Arab Andalusian tradition.