In 1965, nothing short of a miracle was performed in a synagogue in Worcester, MA, when a 17-year-old rabbi’s son – and fledgling composer – named Joseph Klein lured one of the greatest names in jazz to join in performing a jazz prayer ceremony. Herbie Hancock, a pianist so gifted that Miles Davis had sought him out for his own quintet, came; so did trumpeter Thad Jones, drummer Grady Tate and sax/flautist Jerome Richardson. And then the vocalists! Phyllis Bryn-Julson became one of the most significant contraltos in contemporary classical music, Antonia Lavanne a noted operatic teacher.
We are not told how the young Klein got this band together (nor anything about his subsequent career); indeed Hear, O Israel was, until this first CD release, only available as a fabled, privately released LP. But these tantalizing omissions apart, this is an extraordinary document. In Klein’s vocal lines, one hears clear nuances of the jazzy inflections still present at the time in Steve Reich’s music. Klein’s prayer service belongs to an era when there was an interest in revamping liturgical music and searching for new ways to combine music and worship. Think of David Fanshawe’s African Sanctus or the musical mission of the Church of St John Coltrane.