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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Mazen Kerbaj - Walls Will Fall - The 49 Trumpets of Jericho (Bohemian Drips, 2018) *****

By Stef

Jazz and especially free jazz have taken up political messages since their early inception. The music itself is about breaking boundaries of convention, bringing together musicians across nations and across musical backgrounds, trying to find a deep resonance that unites.

Jazz also has a tradition of taking political positions, with bands such as Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, or Martin Küchen's with his solo work and his Angles ensemble, or more geographically focused efforts about civil rights (Matana Roberts, Wadada Leo Smith, William Parker, Jemeel Moondoc, and many more ...).

Some of those efforts try to create a deep collective sound, as a kind of humanistic groundswell to unite and develop a sonic power that brings all voices into a singular tone. William Parker's and JC Jones', Deep Tones for Peace, a collective of fifteen bass-players, is a prime example of this, or Peter Jacquemyn's Fundament which uses a collective of only a dozen low-toned instruments. The first one offers a political statement for peace, the second more a spiritual-musical effort.

On "Walls Will Fall", Lebanese trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj unites fourty-nine trumpet players to re-enact the biblical story of bringing down the walls of Jericho, in a seemlingly endless single tone that resonates majestically in a water reservoir in Berlin-Pankow, Germany. Like with Peter Jacquemyn's Fundament, the musicians actually walk around the different areas of the complex space, symbolised by the labyrinth on the album cover. I assume the number '49' represents the original story in which seven trumpet players blew their horns for seven days. Hopefully these fourty-nine trumpeters will do the job in one day.

Even if not discernable at first listen, the 34 minute piece consists of seven parts, first with tapping their instruments, then gradually starting to blow their horns, unfolding the full sound as the musicians march through the resonating space. At the very end of the piece, some trumpeters start shouting "Walls Will Fall" like demonstrators, and as an incantation.

The walls to be torn down are not specified, but they can be the wall between Israel and Palestine, Trump's wall against migrants, the border betwen North and South Korea, or the less physical walls created by European states against migrants from Africa and the Middle East, or any other type of barrier to exclude people.

The music is unique. It is a strong statement. Its collective power is amazing. So is its unwavering linearity. There is no reason to change too much from the core message. There is only one: we are all together and we will bring down the wall.

Apart from Mazen Kerbaj, the musicians are Güley Alagöz, Tom Arthurs, Ulrike Arzet, Nafea Abo Assi, Damir Bacikin, Juri Bell, Johannes Böhmer, Linus Bornheim, Paul Brody, Axel Dörner, Sabine Ercklentz, Ruhi Erdogan, Gabeyre Farah, Steffen Faul, Cornelius Fritsch, Gaetano Gangarossa, Callum G’Froer, Alexander Gibson, Dennis Ginzburg, Nils Lennart Haack, Claudia Habig, Brad Henkel, Didrik Ingvaldsen, Tyge Jessen, Jan Kaiser, Milad Khawam, Carina Khorkhordina, Martin Klingeberg, Anke Lucks, Arvid Maier, Yannick Mäntele, Gisela Meßollen, Fritz Moshammer, Nikolaus Neuser, Frank Noé, Dearbhla Nolan, Daniel Allen Oberto, Kelly O’Donohue, Achim Rothe, Florian Scheffler, Kristine Schlicke, Aaron Schmidt-Wiegand, Leo Schmitt, Paul Schwingenschlögl, Saeid Shafiei, Przemek Swiderek, Mai Takeda, Cornelia Wolf, and Armando Carrillo Zanuy.  The participating trumpet players are all based in Berlin but come from from countries as wide apart as Australia, Austria, Cuba, Denmark, England, Germany, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Somalia, Spain, Sweden, Syria, Turkey and the United States.

In times like the ones that we witness today, with shocking disparities between rich and poor, with many countries run by extreme right wing and conservative zealots, who believe in their god-given superiority over other people, or run by extreme left wing dictators who believe that 'the people' are too dumb to decide for themselves, it is great to hear a musical political statement such as this one, and it is  furthermore great to listen to.

The album is released in vinyl LP and available digitally. The downside of buying the vinyl album is that the performance is cut in two pieces. For once the digital track is preferable. The producers recommend headphones for listening to capture the full power of the sound.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

A side-note on the real walls of Jericho: the stories and legends of the bible/torah were collected and expanded in 700 BCE by King Josia to serve several political purposes. He needed a narrative to show that he was a direct descendent from the legendary forefathers Abraham, Mozes and David, and he needed a narrative to show that the tribe of Judah could reunite all other tribes of the region and take leadership for it. Many of the stories were created to demonstrate this power. So also the story of King Joshua trying to capture the city of Jericho. In the 13th century BC, the settlements that existed were never fortified: ie they had no walls. "In the case of Jericho, there was no trace of a settlement of any kind in the thirteenth century BCE, and the earlier Late Bronze settlement, dating to the fourteenth century BCE, was small and poor, almost insignificant, and unfortified. There was also no sign of a destruction. Thus the famous scene of the Israelite forces marching around the walled town with the Ark of the Covenant, causing Jericho's mighty walls to collapse by the blowing of their war trumpets, was, to put it simply, a romantic mirage", write Israeli archeologists Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman in their eye-opening book: "The Bible Unearthed".