Tzadik Aaron Novik : Secret of Secrets (US,2012)****'
Clarinetist/composer Aaron Novik was inspired from or dedicated this album to the writings of Eleazar of Worms, a scholar and rabbi who explored the hidden meanings in the sacred Jewish texts using gematria, the numerology commonly associated with Hebrew letters that explains the separate words and associations expressed on a different level of understanding them. "Secrets of Secrets" are five books, which delve into a whole series of hierarchic names, where he even explains how to make a golem. The musical concept contains a parallel world of contrasts, expressed by a distorted electric, let’s say metal and slow-doom band, called Simularca (aka “metalclarinets”), which is also a real Californian band featuring Aaron Novik, which takes care of one layer of expression, while a chamber music band, called The Real Vocal String Quartet, explores possibilities of expression ranging from classical towards Middle Eastern and even Arabesque musical styles. The Jazz Mafia Horns, a brass band, provides the finishing touches, harmonies and richness, playing more often with a full tonal awareness more than with a separate style of their own. Additionally we have some dumbek, Middle Eastern hand percussion. Together this makes a 15 piece-band with a powerful sound.
The band core members are Matthias Bossi on drums ; Cornelius Boots on robot bass clarinet ; Aaron Novik on electric clarinet, percussion and programming ; Calara Kihlstedt on electric violin ; Willie Winant on timpani, vibraphone, glockenspiel, gong, tubular bells ; Fred Frith on guitar with guest Ben Goldberg on contra-alto clarinet, clarinet ; Lisa Mezzacappa on bass ; Aaron Kierbel on darbuka. The Quartet consists of Irene Fraser and Alisa Rose on violins ; Dina Maccabee on viola and Jessica Ivry on cello. The horn section was Henry Hung on flugelhorn, trumpet, marching French horn ; Afam Theis on trombone ; Jamie Dubberly on bass trombone and Doug Morton on tuba.
The first track, “The Secrets of Creation (Khoisdl)” progresses first very calmly in a classical music way/sense on a double bass rhythm, cello and with some bowed arrangements before brass is added. This starts to change, through rhythm, with an additional darker foundation : violins and clarinet then repeats a theme rhythmically on top of a distorted electric bass with drums with a tension that become heavier with emotional electric distortion. An electric fuzz solo with reverb echo as if being a muezzin singing, in a Middle Eastern mode, then takes the lead. Heavy bass and drums are then added, and also a brass section, which seems to be presented like an old 78” Klezmer recording. Then new chamber arrangements are mixed in with the electric band. This is a great heavy and dark groovy piece with the contrasts working well together .
The second track, “Secrets Of The Divine World (Terkish)” at first shows a clarinet (?) solo combined with some heavy rock electric distorted bass and a slamming percussion rhythm, on which are added rather Arabesque chamber string arrangements, which are again carried away by more heavy electric guitars and drums, before returning with a break to the orchestra once more, solo (in Arabesque and in plucked style) accompanied by dumbek percussion only. This then also gets some emotional lead solos on viola (?) and some more classical chamber progressions before allowing a new electric guitar solo, with later also more bass. The electric tension perceives somewhat avant-garde echoes, with still a few melodic associations returning as a theme.
The next track, “Secrets Of The Divine Chariot (Hora)”, starts once more calmly with a clarinet improvisation, mixed with a loudly recorded Middle eastern rhythm on double bass and some viola arrangement, and then, some orchestral harmonies. This is followed by a solo violin improvisation accompanied partly by a bass-brass instrument drone. The rock doom band element then returns to the lead solo voice of the electric violin under the form of the stamping drums theme with some heavy but short vibrating bass, repeating itself, as a renewed theme where deep harmonious brass harmonies are added, the drums pushing this to something harder. This improvises a bit further with the wining electric violin and sliding electric guitar concluding the track alone moodily.
“Secrets Of The Holy Name (Doina)” builds itself up slowly from various directions with the brass instruments, with one of the bass tones vibrating again almost like a didgeridoo. Fred Frith here slowly improvises on his guitar, with a few sliding avant-garde sounds as well. More avant garde distortion on guitar are echoing its way with or into its own realms, vaguely droning into space with some brass to it only, trying to return to a chamber group feeling again, the guitars still heavy echoing, until only some heavy electric deformations and changes are left over, a direction leading to the next and concluding track.
“Secrets Of Formation (Bulgar)” is the strangest track of them all, with heavy stomping drums, electric bass thunders, and a kind of Baroque computer-game-like numerical ascending tones played by electronics and electric guitar, repeating itself madly. This builds up further, like a vision from another planetary condition, until it finds, in all its rhythmical progression, some orchestral feeling again with vibraphones, gongs and such, so that it can finally break away from it with a last purely orchestral version of the ascending theme translated into stringed plucks and rather filmic strings, descending the tonal series deeper and deeper, leaving in the end only a rotating motor sound and some organ behind it as its remains, like an echo from this rhythm behind its orchestral shadow/meadow. In this track I can understand and hear well its gematrian content being revealed, as if showing with it, another, even physical world to experience.