Scientist at Work

Frank London

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Scientist at Work Review

by Thom Jurek

Frank London has been threatening for years to make a record like Scientist at Work. It's funny, but it took the help of John Zorn in the role of re-producer to make that happen. Scientist at Work was originally issued on a private label in 1999 in a very small print run. Earlier this year, Zorn was given access to the tapes and completely re-worked the material by remixing, editing, and adding substantial overdubs to the original. The result sounds more like a collaboration, though London's original voice is never sacrificed. All hype aside, this is one of the finest records to ever come out on this label, and may be the finest moment of London's very illustrious career thus far. London serves not only as composer and trumpeter here, but also as conductor of the Shekhina Big Band, which includes such downtown luminaries as Matt Darriau, the late Thomas Chapin, Rufus Cappadocia, Newman Baker, and Danny Blume, just to name a few. The guests include Cyro Baptisata, Jennifer Charles of Elysian Fields, Mark Feldman, Jamie Saft, Erik Freidlander, and Zorn himself on one track. While there isn't a mediocre second on Scientist, "Fela," for Fela Kuti, with its huge front line horn section and Lagos-style rhythmic interlocutions that drive a multi-part harmonies between the horns into overdrive, is a true standout. It's funky, greasy, infectious, and full of the almighty groove. Other tracks are moodier, coming out of the underside of traditional Jewish canonical music. They are layered through with sounds and overlaid strings droning in the foreground with horns flanking them. In the case of "Shabbos Bride," Jennifer Charles floats in a shimmering contralto slightly above the whispering instruments to dramatic and moving effect. But singling two tracks out of seven hardly does a recording like this justice. Suffice to say that this is a poetic as well as musical masterpiece, and London and Zorn have gone a long way in creating a virtually new music out of the heart of the Jewish folk tradition. Highly recommended.

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