This year, the music ranges from ancient piyyut to Klezmer. Tonight, following last night's music Sabbaths, the festival kicks off in earnest with the return of the Israeli ensemble, Yemen Blues
This is a case where I can claim to have known the person "back when," since Ellie and I met back in the mid-1970s in Jerusalem. I don't think that either of us back then considered "Jewish music" to be a relevant term. We were both Arik Einstein fans, of course. But, we were young.
Now, Ellie is on the verge of a doctorate and the Jewish Music Festival is celebrating one last time in its current form. It's a big deal. I first heard bands like Brave Old World and The Klezmatics at the festival, along with Bukharian Jewish music, cantorial music, and an ever-growing wide range of new and old traditions. Having taken over the festival full-time from founder and Holocaust survivor Ursula Sherman, in 2004, Berkeley is finally giving her some respect:
It takes a Jew from Oklahoma to give us the folk ballad, "The murder of Leo Frank" ("Next time you're at services / say a kaddish for Leo Frank"), followed by a lovely "Rumainyan Fancy." I also appreciate the topicality, breadth, and poetry of the songwriting, from "Key Chain Blues," ("Well the boss man called me up today / Said I gotta take a key off your key chain....") to "(Why am I trying to) kill myself" to the organizing song, "No more to you."
The recording opens with Rubin leaving Texas in "Blues rides a mule," but this music is the best cure for the blues I've heard in too long. This one will be on the playlist for a long time. Best, you can get your own copy—physical CD or download—from our friends at CDBaby. Download it soon, y'all. Time to enjoy some prodigious good picking and feel good about the world again. Great album art, too.
One of my favorites among the many tunes popularized by Adrienne Cooper, here played by Marilyn Lerner, with three of Toronto's most exciting vocalists. A good listen on a Shabbes eve on my way to a shul dinner where we'll hear a speaker from Israeli on the upcoming elections. May all have this song in their hearts as they vote:
From Eve Sicular:
My 2009 Sara Ivry interview just re-posted by Tablet Magazine in time for our 2015 sneak preview of the new run for 'J. EDGAR KLEZMER: Songs from My Grandmother's FBI Files' (Feb 6th at The Actors Temple NYC; Feb 12-15 at Centenary Stage Company, Hackettstown NJ). I obtained the declassified documents on Grandma—Dr. Adele Sicular—through a Freedom of Information Act request, and created a piece of musical documentary theater we're now bringing back with Isle of Klezbos & Metropolitan Klezmer bandmates. A few government surveillance revelations have surfaced meanwhile.
If you're not on their email list, or their snailmail list, or you aren't following them on Facebook, then you probably don't know yet that the Boston Jewish Music Festival has announced this year's schedule. We're talking about a range that goes from "Sacred songs of Hindus and Jews" with Cantor Randall Schloss and Deepti Navaratna, to a movie about Doc Pomus and the return of Israeli world-music ensemble Yemen Blues. Did I mention Sarah Aroeste and Diwan Saz (piyyut music via Israel)?
It's cold outside. What better time to start planning your spring: www.bostonjewishmusicfestival.org
Jeremiah Lockwood is the long-time frontman for one of the most interesting young Jewish bands, The Sway Machinery. He is creating some of the most interesting new Jewish music today. The grandson of a cantor, he has been musing about khazones in several recent forums. This blog post from Jewish Currents is one facet of that engagement:
Legendary voices: The education of the great cantors, by Jeremiah Lockwood, posted Dec 2, 2014.This is no casual interest. Lockwood has recently released an album of works inspired by the music of Cantor Zebulon Kwartin, Songs of Zebulon, with help from several luminaries of the NY music scene: Frank London, Ron Caswell, Brian Drye, and Shoko Nagai. The album is on the "Blue Thread" label (an imprint of Jewish Currents and is both a Lockwood original, and to a lesser, but still significant degree, Frank London's ongoing exploration of khazones. The voice is the voice of a khazan, but the music pulls in sounds from the blues, from North Africa, from spirituality around the world in an exciting, not always easy, mix. For people like me, this is the sort of music we keep waiting for—something that listens to tradition from other ears, and with an exciting patchwork of twentieth century identities. For one hint of how that all pulls together, listen to the slide on "B'rach Dodi" (I assume it is Lockwood's blues slide.) There are also flashes of familiarity, as with the album's closing "Od Ha-Pa'am" ("Once again"). You can find out more about Cantor Kwartin and his time, and listen to samples, from the project website, or get your own copy directly from Blue Thread.
When I post online about the latest outrages around the world, I most often find myself saying some variant on, "we won't have peace until all sides care about each other's children as their own." Here's an effort to drive that idea home, sent by Yale Strom:
My song "What Time Will It Be" composed by me and lyrics by me and Elizabeth Schwartz is on this recording with many other world renown artists. Please tell others. All money raised goes to the cause of helping children in war torn areas throughout the world.
youtu.be/yeaCI_KNBdE featuring: Yale Strom, Ahmed Mukhtar, Robin Hogarth, Blessings Nqo Nkomo and Slim Ali & The Hodi Boys.
Must highlight this event: Two of the most creative people in Jewish music today have come together for an event that resonates deeply with recent events. I'm almost ready to fly to San Francisco and add my voice—you'll have to do it for me.
Book of J
Wednesday, December 17, 7:30pm
708 Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA
$10-$15 sliding scale, buy here
If you are interested in where old-time religion meets radical politics, Book of J is for you. We do songs that started life in Black and White religious communities and were later adopted by organizers for racial, economic and social justice. In the tradition of the Hebrew prophets, the songs ask for devotion and righteousness and offer power beyond what one still small voice can effect. Expect angels and demons, workers and bosses, hard times resolved and destiny fulfilled. Also singing along is good. Book of J is Jewlia Eisenberg and Jeremiah Lockwood (Sway Machinery).
Ack! It is almost Khanike and I still have stacks of CDs that you should know about in case you have made gift-giving part of your seasonal celebration of light. Okay, let's get short bits up about a few of them, at least.
From the clarinet glissando that opens the first song, first echoing Gershwin, then blasting that thought out of the ears, Benjy Fox-Rosens 2011 EP Tick Tock signalled a major shift in the way we think about Yiddish songs and Mordechai Geburtig's legacy. It is totally new all over again. "Yiddish Art Song" is reborn, in a thoroughly imaginative, beautiful manner. Listen, for instance to "Grine Oygen" (Green Eyes), which quotes from several popular klezmer and yiddish cliches, turning them inside out. I can only conclude by mentioning the title of the final song on the EP: "S'iz Git"—It's Good! You can get a copy of the EP in digital or physical form via BandCamp.
But, I really got you here to talk about the more recent 2014 Fox-Rosen release, Two Worlds, a reflective, sad song cycle comprised of reset songs by Mordechai Gebirtig. From the opening, "When father beats me," you know that this is not a shmaltzy picture of life in the old country. What makes this essential, and I think why I can't stop listening, is how real it is. The picture is so vivid, the music so intense, that I find myself at the end and starting over. Backed by his Yiddish Art Trio bandmates Pat Ferrell on accordion and Michael Winograd on clarinet, with his brother Avi on guitar and Tyshawn Sorey on drums, Benjy Fox-Rosen's voice and bass weave the arrangements into compelling, haunting stories. His music is new. But it is new swirled with traditional Yiddish folk, theatre, and klezmer fragments, recreated to make a vanished community real again, and to tug at our hearts, to make us care about that community and their lives, anew. You can get a copy for those amazing purveyors of wonderful new sounds, Golden Horn Records.
Looking for something smooth, jazzy, uplifting for the holiday? David Chevan's Afro-Semitic Experience has just the thing, Souls on Fire. After several recent releases that focused on Jewish cantorial tradition, this year the band turned back to its roots, presenting songs from Pharaoh Sanders, MyCoy Tyner, Duke Ellington, along with traditional Jewish klezmer, and spirituals such as "Go Down, Moses" and "Avadim Hayinu" (We were slaves), from the Passover seder. Selections also include that gospel cantor, Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "Up above my head I hear music in the air." A perfect accompaniment to quiet evenings around the menorah or even a roaring fire. You can get your copy, digital or otherwise, from cdbaby.com.
It is the rare holiday season when you can celebrate with a new release by the punk Eastern European rhythms of "Golem." This is one of them, and Tanz is the most fun the band has had in years. A frenzied cross between the Brave Combo, Gogol Bordello, and your neighborhood klezmer band, Golem's songs are pleasantly twisted, the rhythms are propulsive, dance-perfect. There is a lounge music component that keeps us from taking anything too seriously. Whether telling a plaintive story of two sad sacks finding each other and falling in love ("Miskayt"), harking back to the old country and the many changing linguistic contexts of modern life in "My Horse" ("but with my faithful horse, I speak mameloshn") or telling the stories of recent immigrants to the USA from the former USSR (most notably, sadly, on "Poletim," story of a hijacking gone a bit awry), this is a wonderful burst of energy and fun. This, and other fine recordings by the band are available from their website: golemrocks.com.
A surprising amount of wonderful new Jewish music doesn't come from European Jewish traditions. Likewise, some of the most striking new music is old, as in this recreated Sephardic wedding song cycle arranged by Aron Saltiel, Ensemble Saltiel / Boda. There seems to be no comparable cycle in Ashkenazic tradition. Saltiel has combined decades of field research, with singers and musicians familiar with the repertoire, and takes us from a celebration of the first glances, to arranging the engagement, completing the bridal trousseau to the groom presenting a gift on the wedding night. Gathered from former Ottoman lands in the Balkans and Turkey, the melodies, the singing, and the sense of tradition are fantastic. The singing features for individual solos and a powerful Sephardic chorus. The CD is beautifully packaged with notes (including a brief introduction by Dr. Judith Cohen) and images, as well as translations of all of the tunes. This is just wonderful, good-time music, all the more precious for being a rare recording based on a vanishing/vanished tradition. You can get your copy, digital or otherwise, from Golden Horn Records.
I saved my favorite among favorites for last. César Lerner and Marcelo Moguilevsky have been creating a wonderful fusion of Jewish and South American music together for almost as long as there has been a KlezmerShack. On their most recent (first?) trip to Boston two years ago, they brought Alef Bet, their most fully realized recording, yet. The album features their patented interplay between woodwinds and percussion/piano. Listen to Moguilevsky turn a simple "Zhok," first on flute?, and then Lerner's piano response, and then they begin improvising. "Una Luz" opens with quite, sparse chords by Lerner, and continues quietly exploring until the rapid pace of "Popurri" picks up Moguilevsky's clarinet and then the two are off, conversing wildly, excitedly, again. This is a quieter, more sure recording than their earlier efforts. It is less "klezmer-jazz fusion" and more it's own modern music in which one discerns strains of many things, but mostly, two musicians who have been sharing their conversations for decades, and who continue to find new, deeper, always-satisfying things to say to each other. Listening to Marcelo's whistling, as Lerner's piano walks quietly beside on the closing "Part of me," best expresses how far they have come, and how much richer our ears have been for the journey. Better, the days when ordering their CDs meant finding one's way in an Argentinian website and fantastic shipping charges are over. You can get this, and other recordings, directly from iTunes or Amazon.com.
It is already after Thanksgiving and I haven't had time to make any additional dents in the pile of CDs that you =should= be considering for holiday gifts. Okay, I'll try to give some brief reviews of some of the essential new (mostly new) recordings:
I used to think of Isle of Klezbos as the lesser cousin of Metroplitan Klezmer, both anchored by drummer Eve Sicular, and both featuring many of the same musicians. But Live from Brooklyn shows that Isle of Klezbos is one of the premiere purveyors of that American form of klezmer: jazzy, brash, full of yiddish theatre songs and great dance music. This one is for the dancer in the house. You can get your copy right on CDbaby.com. Bonus: Order this between now and 12/3/14 midnight, and shipping is free.
Folklorist, singer, dancer Michael Alpert has been sharing a stage with Julian Kytasty for many years. One sings in Yiddish. The other in Ukrainian. Together they weave together two folk cultures in a beautiful acoustic set, Night songs from a neighboring village. Appropriately timed, given Ukraine's prominence in recent news, this one will leave you feeling all sweet inside—except for "Homebrew," which will encourage you to eschew the store-bought stuff and drink local. I remember the tune as Irish, but what do I know. What a great way to celebrate 20 amazing years of music from Oriente records.
I first noticed Zisl Slepovitch because of his brilliant "Minsker Kapelye" CD. But, that was back in the old country. Arriving here in the US, he formed a new ensemble, Litvakus, and presented the unique repertoire of Belarusian Jews as a thing of beauty. This is a pre-American jazz form of klezmer, along with nign and folksong. Raysn is a recording of unadorned beauty. I am in awe. Available online from Bandcamp.
Although you are less likely to hear cantorial music, much less good cantorial music in the synagogue today than even when I was young, one compensation is the myriad of ways in which cantorial music is being recontextualized. Some stylings are more tuneful and gentle, as in Frank London's cantorial music albums. Other artists, like Jeremiah Lockwood of The Sway Machinery have been louder and more discordant. Here, Tzadik recording artist, guitarist Yoshie Fruchter (also the grandson of a cantor) has reimagined and recontextualized some cantorial gems. Some are rendered as instrumentals, with his searing guitar replacing the cantorial sobbing of a hundred years ago. I find myself, in particular, drawn to his reimagination of the "Rosh Hashanah"" plea.In a few cases, he mixed original recordings in with his new musical settings, or sings the music, himself. The result is a loud, discordant, and ultimately immensely spiritual CD. Check out Schizophonia / Cantorial recordings reimagined and get copies for the musical explorers on your gift list. Available from Bandcamp.
This last mention for tonight is from a recording that has been sitting on the review shelf for too long. I was reminded of it with a pang last night when I listened to Andy Statman play at a local club. Statman is famous for mixing klezmer and hassidic music and bluegrass so seamlessly that it isn't so much a melding of genres, but a fluency so natural, that all genres sound like facets of the same universal harmonies. That's what the Freilachmakers do with their blend of various Jewish music, starting with klezmer, and with Irish music. Intriguingly, this third recording, Klezmer at the confluence by the ensemble is all Jewish in source: klezmer, yiddish, ladino. But, I am happy to say that the Irish is also still present. Another very special recording from a very special band. This one goes to the persons on your list who don't yet know that klezmer is another way of speaking Irish. Get your copy(ies) from cdbaby.com.
I first encountered accordionist Christina Crowder back in Budapest almost 20 years ago. She was playing amazing klezmer and doing lots of interesting field research. Twenty years later, she is in New Haven, CT, and has a new ensemble, which she calls a "Bessarabian Chamber Klezmer" ensemble. Last night I got to hear it first hand in the relaxed confines of the Armory for the Arts in Somerville.
Bivolița is a klezmer trio, a Bessarabian chamber klezmer ensemble. They play a relaxed interleaving of dance sets based primarily on Crowder's research (both fieldwork, and as a print music geek), with additional special numbers brought to the band by other members. It is a more stately presentation of music than one might be used to, but also a fun one. Crowder's accordion is a powerful anchor. Last night, Brooklynite Keryn Kleiman filled in on lead violin, contributing some pieces new to the ensemble (usually, we would have heard Gretchen Frazier on viola), with Brian Slattery playing an essential, and lively "secunde" violin.
This is a fun approach to klezmer. I am glad that their first release is, in fact, a live recording, Live at USNH, available from CDbaby.com, purveyors of so much fun, independent music. Something to consider with the holiday gift season approaching!
This past week saw the CD release of Dmitri "Zisl" Slepovitch's latest project, Litvakus. To note that the CD is an extraordinary Eastern-European-style klezmer CD would be an understatement. (We would expect no less from the person responsible for the equally lovely Minsker Kapelye CD several years ago). You'll understand why the review is so knowledgeable when you glance at the byline:
Litvakus' New Album "Raysn" is Party Music for the Klezmer Set: Ethnomusicologist Dmitri Zisl Slepovitch plays the Jewish music of his native Belarus, by Rokhl Kafrissen / October 29, 2014
Joel writes: A nice video of part of my Midnight Prayer program with the Joel Rubin Ensemble in Geneva this past June 15 at Théâtre Cité Bleue, sponsored by Les amis de la musique juive. With Kálmán Balogh, cimbalom, Csaba Novák, bass, Claudio Jacomucci, accordion, Mark Kovnatskiy, violin:
He adds: (p.s. the CD of the whole program is on Traditional Crossroads and just went into a second printing :-) )
Academic Conference on Jewish Liturgical music
University of Leeds, UK
Tuesday 16 - Friday 19 June 2015
AHRC "Care for the Future" Theme, Performing the Jewish Archive
For the first time in Britain an International Academic Conference is being devoted to the music of Jewish prayer. Internationally acclaimed scholars in Jewish liturgical music will lead the programme presented jointly by the School of Music, University of Leeds and the Academic Wing of the European Cantors Association.
The conference is organised in association with the international research project Performing the Jewish Archive, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
From Rory Michelle:
Hi Jewish music mailing list!
I'm excited to share that I'm recording an album of songs inspired by Jewish texts and Pete Seeger. These 8 songs were written during my time at Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies this spring in Jerusalem.
They range from a fun, playful ballad about Rabban Gamliel to a singable interpretive version of Birkat Hamazon, that many have loved and claimed as a great Jewish camp song - and more. Please check out my Kickstarter Page here. (spelled out: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/rorymichelle/rory-michelles-3rd-studio-album-the-god-album)
I'd be very grateful if you would take a look, consider funding, and share it with your networks.
Many, many thanks!
Rory Michelle, singer-songwriter
This is the amazing project Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett has been working on these past few years. Tremendously exciting.
WARSAW -- With anti-Semitism having become more prominent again across Europe, something quite different is growing in a huge, translucent building at the center of a vanished neighborhood in Warsaw.
After several days of concerts, seminars, festivals and hoopla, the core exhibition of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews -- the most ambitious cultural institution to rise in Poland since the fall of Communism -- will be unveiled on Tuesday. Poland's top political leaders will be there, as will the president of Israel and other international dignitaries. The institution has been embraced across the political spectrum and has drawn only scattered, mild protest.…
These are posted each week by Pete Rushefsky to the Jewish-Music mailing list:
O rebbe I stand and shiver
In my heart burns fire.
I want to be a good khosid,
a faithful khosid.
A song from the repertoire of Josh Waletzky's grandfather Morris. Commentary by Itzik Gottesman. Now at the Yiddish Song of the Week.
A project of Center for Traditional Music and Dance and the Sholem Aleichem Cultural Center's An-sky Institute for Jewish Culture.
New video from The Moors. Not particular related to Jewish music, per se, but fun, nonetheless:
There are a host of interesting and significant events happening this week in our northeast corner of the country.
Tonight, in NYC, Jeremiah Lockwood, leader of The Sway Machinery is back on this coast and will be debuting his new CD and offering up a tribute to his late mentor, Carolina Slim. Expect lots of blues.
Tomorrow night in Manhattan, CTMD and others present the exceptionally exciting NYC premier of Deborah Strauss's new women's klezmer violin trio, Figelin. More info at the KlezmerShack calendar. I might note that the trio is also appearing on Monday night in Brooklyn.
Most important for me, however, is the 2nd Annual Klezmer Festival at the Regattabar, here in Cambridge. Two of the most interesting Klezmer fusion bands, Klezwoods and KCB clarinetist Ilene Stahl's Klezperanto join forces. I've waited years to see Klezperanto again. This is going to be big. According to Ilene, we'll get the world premiere of lots of new repertoire and special guest, Kasia Sokalla, singer
Wednesday, for those lucky enough to be in Manhattan, Zisl Slepovitch is previewing his new Litvakus CD. I've heard it, and this is killer. It's called Raysn: The Lost Jewish Music of Belarus, and Dr. Slepovitch will also give a talk. He spent a decade researching the hidden musical treasures of Jewish Belarus (White Russia, also known in Yiddish as "Raysn") with the late, noted scholar Nina Stepanskaya. CTMD's Pete Rushefsky will interview Slepovitch during the program. More info on the KlezmerShack calendar, of course.
Details are on the kickstarter page
Act now. Don't let this one fail, or you'll kick yourself for the next 120 years (we should all live and be healthy for so long).
Those who have scanned the KlezmerShack calendar may have noticed that Mark Rubin and the Youngers of Zion will be performing next week in Lafayette, LA. What you may not know is that you can tune in. Pay what you want, and the Blackpot Festival and Valcour Records Present will be playing this 30 minute (or longer) show directly into their laptop, just for you! Feel free to request songs in the chat room and leave a tip when you enjoy something.
I have reviewed early Koby Israelite releases on these pages, and always with delight. But this latest, which includes some wonderful Americana, along with his usual patented remixing of world traditional music from all over (including a classic version of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," perhaps arranged as only an Israeli exile in London can). If you haven't heard of Israelite, or haven't yet heard Blues from elsewhere, you are in for a treat.
The only thing sad about Ezekiel's Wheels first full-length release is that it has taken me a year to get it online. A traditional American klezmer band, the Wheels seem to infuse everything with a special energy. Their arrangements, even their newer compositions, are so much a part of the traditional approach to klezmer without foregoing what it means to be an American band making Ashkenazic Jewish simkhe music. They don't just sound special as a band, but in person they still seem special. This is the best capturing of that soul, so far, Transported
So, we're just about at the end of my writing about the Ashkenaz 2014 fest and what I saw and heard there. Just a few more bands/releases to cover. Bear with me. I've kind of saved the best for last, so you wouldn't all go away.
The first full evening of the festival was Saturday night. As festival director Eric Stein noted, every act playing Saturday night was Canadian. That already makes Ashkenaz special. Beyond the rare incursion by some of the Montreal bands, you wouldn't think from sitting here in Boston that there was Jewish music, much less new Jewish music in Canada at all.
One of the key ingredients of the festival is the ongoing dancing. This year, the band that did most of the playing for that dancing was a Montreal band, Ichka, that has also done some minor touring—they were even south of the border, here in Boston on a double bill with local favorites Ezekiel's Wheels last winter. They are a powerful, brassy ensemble that remind me in some ways of the venerable Dutch band, Di Gojim. Ichka is young and they play with excellence and fervor. Their first release, Podorozh, captures the contemporary North American klezmer sound: Not only familiar songs such as "Nifty's Freylakhs" or "Fun Tashlikh," but updated to include Steven Greenman's excellent "Dreaming of Goldenshteyn," a delightful "Glazier's Hora" from Alicia Svigals, and best of all, reaching across the pond to capture "the Tongue," by Merlin Shepherd (who, as already mentioned, was also at Ashkenaz with wife, singer/piano player, Polina Shepherd). Opening with a fantastic drumroll and a fantastic blaring of horns, this is both a blast from the past, and a statement about keeping the dancing speaking to us. If you were't at Ashkenaz, you can get your CD or MP3s from bandcamp.
Joining Ichka on its debut album was the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, one of Toronto's best street orchestras. You don't know from street orchestras? Somewhere, in an urban area near you there is a festival called "Honk!" featuring these popular, often-amateur ensembles from around the world. (Boston's was held this weekend, in fact!) Lemon Bucket is famed for calling out the band to play in an Assisted Living home, or to accompany a good protest. At Ashkenaz, they headlined on Saturday night, exciting the largest crowd I saw during the festival with incredible energy, precision, and a scintillating mix of klezmer, balkan, and whatever else they felt like playing. Their new recording, Lume Lume has the frenetic mix you would expect, with tunes from all over Eastern Europe, Jewish and otherwise. They close with one of my favorites, "7:40." Back towards the beginning of the klezmer revival, this was recorded by everyone. We all moved on. I am greatful to the Lemon Buckets for bringing it back, and for having so much fun playing. You can find out more and get your own copy (CD or MP3) from their bandcamp page.
As part of my introduction to the artists playing at Ashkenaz, I mentioned Lenka Lichtenberg's recent CD, Songs for the breathing walls. She was at Ashkenaz to promote a new, just-released project, an album of lullabies which she has put together with Iraqi-Israeli artist Yair Dalal. Lullabies from Exile presents lullabies from both European and Mizrahi Jewish traditions. Featuring the gentle voices of both, as well as Dalal's wonderful oud, and backed by an excellent ensemble, this is the children's recording of the festival. Soothing and gentle, and drawing from so many Jewish traditions (and their overlap), it is a pleasure. Check out Lichtenberg's website for your own copy and for more info.
Finally, we come to my personal favorite, Sunday night's headline band, Zion 80, jazz guitarist/Tzadik recording artist Jon Madof's recent project merging the AfroPop sounds of Fela Kuti with the melodies of Shlomo Carlebach. While that original project was a wall of danceable, infectious nign, this concert highlighted material from the new release, Adramelech: The book of angels, vol. 22 featuring Madof's arrangements of John Zorn tunes from "The Book of Angels." The band isn't much smaller than the Lemon Bucket Orchestra, and took Jewish music to another continent entirely. If you don't have both of the Zion 80 releases, time to catch up. But, I also have to express my pleasure and delight especially at the new release. Available, of course, from Tzadik Records. Enjoy. Same time, same place, in two years for the next Ashkenaz Festival?
Josh "Socalled" Dolgin was ubiquitous at this past Ashkenaz (continuing my coverage of Ashkenaz 2014—if this goes on much longer, it won't end until I switch to KlezKamp coverage). He DJ'd late at night. He did magic tricks for kids. He interviewed Canadian folkie Geoff Berner about Berner's new novel. You could pick up copies of his little books of puns at the souvenir stand. No performances of his own music.
Truth is, Socalled appears to exploring a larger world outside Jewish remixes. We saw him evolving as a songwriter on recent recordings (see below), and in fact, his current project is the musical, "The Season." It sounds zany and fun, but is outside the scope of these pages. That being the case, let's work backwords for a while. But, I'll also note that there is a kind of neat capsule of the incredible diversity of Socalled's early Jewish-connected work in "The 'Socalled' Movie," back in 2010. You'd think someone this young doesn't yet need a movie. But, if you are at all familiar with his music, you'll have a lot of fun. And if you aren't familiar, this is a great introduction.
In 2011, Dolgin released the Sleepover. To my ear, this was the first that focused primarily on Socalled the Canadian songwriter and hiphop artist, without any klezmer, and without any yiddish. With hits like "UNLVD," "Work with what you got," and "Richi," it's a lovely hiphop-ish, even pop-ish release. Featuring an abundance of Katie Moore's amazing voice, it is his most tuneful and soulful release to date, but also a curious one—a bit of a grabbag, as though he wasn't sure where he was going, but also wasn't going to hold back from trying whatever came to mind. The standout, for me, is a cover of the old Peggy Seeger anthem, "Springhill Mine Disaster." Sung at a faster clip than most versions, it is nonetheless beautiful. It is also one of the few songs to feature Socalled's highly expressive singing voice. More typical is the upbeat, calypso-tinged "Work with what you got." But then, just when you figure you've got the changes figured out, you encounter the "Richi" remixes at the end—a short Irving Fields solo piano gem, and a 15-minute dance remix by Derrick Carter. Like all Socalled releases, you can catch up with this one at the Socalled store.
One of my favorite all-time releases is this all-star gem featuring David Krakauer, Socalled, and Fred Wesley (better known with James Brown). Jewish klezmer yiddish hiphop fun! I can't cover this in one paragraph. You can read the entire review of Tweet Tweet, or just rush to the website and get your own copy.
In 2007, Socalled released the first CD to primarily feature his own songs (as opposed to the inspired remixing and rapping he had been doing for years). "You are never alone," singing of the 'Yiddish Cowboy' is a post-klezmer-revival classic, and that's just one of the songs. There is a full review of Socalled / Ghettoblaster finally up on the KlezmerShack. And, as above, you can get your own copy at the Socalled store.
The most recent Krakauer-Socalled collaboration (excepting Abraham Inc, of course, and the very different intro/outro pieces composed for Krakauer's recording of Messiaen's "Quartet for the end of time" released last spring) was 2005's Bubbemeises. You can read more about this wild klezmer-jazz-hiphop collaboration on David Krakauer & Josh 'Socalled' Dolgin / Bubbemeises
As I was saying, Socalled was over the place at Ashkenaz 2014. But if it's Socalled's music you're looking for, these cover the last decade. Enjoy.
I want to take time out for a few minutes to note the current season and mention a few recent releases that may help get you in the mood for t'shuvah.
I'll first mention a new instrumental release by Tzadik saxophonist Paul Shapiro / Shofarot Verses. His 2003 "Midnight Minyan" put the daven into jazz. Here he continues that tradition, with some of my favorite Tzadik musicians, including Captain Beefheart alum Marc Ribot on guitar, Brad Jones on bass, and Tony Lewis on drums. From the opening moments of the very season-appropriate "Hashivenu" through the closing "With Reed and Skins" Shapiro manages to combine jazz and a sense of nusach (Ashkenazic Jewish cantorial modes) in ways that seek out that still small voice within us. At the same time, as on "Daven Dance," he reminds us that joy can physically move us. The shofar-like soprano sax impulsion on "Halil," with Ribot's answering guitar is one standout, followed by an actual shofar on "Ashamnu," which takes the familiar Yom Kippur melody to a new place of grace. The album's ethos is perhaps best expressed in the description of "Search your soul," "Finding solace in the house of b-flat." More info at Paul's website. The music is available from Tzadik and the usual disk and MP3 vendors online.
Coming from another place, entirely, (and perhaps exemplifying the difference between the gritty downtown New York scene vs. the spiritual secularism of California's Bay Area) singer/cantor Linda Hirschhorn's voice and words speak directly to those parts of us that aspire to heal and to help a world in need of healing. Her 2013 recording, "Amazed" is also an album with beautiful personal love songs. With an all-star cast, including Holly Near on the backing vocals of the opening hymn, "Amazed," this is just a wonderful album, balm for a "verbissener velt." Tunes range from the folkie to the blues, as on "Some Love," to the hum along inspirational and aspirational, as "Give it all you have." You can listen to samples and purchase the CD from Linda Hirschhorn's website and the usual online vendors.
Siach Hasadeh is a Montreal-based duo, clarinet and bass, exploring Jewish niggun. Since they also appeared at Ashkenaz 2014, I can also link this set of reviews to my continuing coverage of the standout artists at that festival. Although the music is sweet, the duo explores the rougher sides of harmony as well. There is a delightful tone poem/art song/modern classical dissonance that weaves in and out of these tunes, from the opening "R' Levi Yitzchak Berditchever's Niggun" to "Niggun firn di tsaddikim in gay eyden" or "Rabbeinu's Niggun" featuring Shtreiml masters Jason Rosenblatt on harmonica and Ismail Fencioğlu on oud. For those who enjoy digging deeper and letter ways of niggun wash over them, this is a rich recording. You can read more about the recording on the band's website or purchase it directly from CDBaby.com.
The standout voice, the woman everyone wanted to hear at this year's Ashkenaz Festival was Polina Shepherd. Readers of these pages over the years will not be surprised—you have read reviews of her singing with choirs, with brass bands, with just her husband, Merlin Shepherd, and friends. She plays an amazing piano, but it is her voice that you notice. Amazing range. Beauty, and a force of nature. Born in the former Soviet Union, this recording is a tribute to both her Russian and Yiddish roots. She sings of love and longing, universal yearnings, whether, say, in the Russian "Silver Birch" or the more modern Yiddish of "Birch Tree;" from folk melodies, to Eastern European "scat," here a wordless prayer in "Ay Yay Yay;" whether the text comes from the Song of Songs, "Place me like a seal," her own poetry (most of these pieces), or evokes life, itself, in the Yom Kippur plea, "Avinu Malkeinu" (Our Father, Our King). Shepherd's voice is transformative. More information, and CD purchases from the artist's website.
There has been an evolution as Basya Schechter has gone from writing Middle Eastern-inflected folksongs, to someone more involved with rethinking religious poetry. He most recent CD was a recording of her settings of love poems, both to women, and to God (and sometimes, like "Song of Songs," as easily to read as expressing love for both) written in Yiddish by Rabbi A. J. Heschel. This latest recording by Pharaoh's Daughter consists entirely of settings of traditional prayer and piyyut. The music, though, comes from around the world. The opening "Adon Olam" conveys echoes of electronica. The familiar "Maoz Tzur" is rethought with celesta-like keyboard pinpoints, as though to highlight falling snow; in the simplicity of the melody you can hear echoes of a family lighting Hanukkah candles. Likewise, "Ha-nerot Halaluh" contains elements of electronica and metallic percussion and a lively sing-along melody. The title song, for instance, "Dumiya," echoes all of the above, with hints of African rhythm and Middle Eastern flow. The closing "Shebishlifleynu" has a driving, somewhat psychedelic beat. The current season is evoked with light glissando's of sound setting "Zikaron," a poem conveying the awe of standing in front of G-d on Yom Kippur, with a quieter new melody for "P'tach lanu sha'ar" (open a gate for us). If the music of Shlomo Carlebach and Debbie Friedman simplified melodies and invited congregational participation in davenning in new ways, the music of Basya Schechter and Pharaoh's Daughter fuses Sephardic, Ashkenazic, and indeed, world music traditions for a new generation of prayers. It is good to hear such eloquent settings for songs of renewal in this season of awe. Liner notes and more info available on the Pharaoh's Daughter website. You can purchase a copy from Amazon.com.
Before memories of this year's Ashkenaz Festival totally dissipate, I wanted to continue my mentions of several notable bands and musicians encountered there.
First up is Forshpil, from Riga, Latvia. Although they performed a couple of traditional klezmer/yiddish sets at the obligatory "Bella Did ya eat?" brunch at the FreeTimes Cafe, the band is much more "rock-klezmer" fusion. In fact, the opening "Volekhl" on their eponymous 2012 CD immediately attracts the ears, sounding like an improbably successful marriage between Hawkwind and traditional klezmer. From there, it's on to a funk-infused "Priv Trink Oys." Despite the quite, gentle rendition of "Di sapozkelekh" or the closing "Dobranotsh," and although there are reggae and jazz influences, the dominant sound is that opening "heavy metal progrock" feel, along with a certain Dick Dale-inspired speed guitar picking, as on "Meyld in di yorn." In this, the band reminds me not a little of "Yiddish Princess." The diversity continues to good effect. Like so much good klezmer-and-more recordings these days, you can get your copy at CDBaby.com, where you can also listen to samples of each of the songs.
Geoff Berner's 2011 "Victory Party" is a different kettle of fish. A long-time stalwart of the Canadian folkie scene, this is his sixth recording. Berner is often compared to Daniel Katz for the social commentary and (in Berner's case, relatively rare) Yiddish or klezmer inflections in his music. You can hear their similarities in songs such as "Laughing Jackie the Pimp" and in a very nicely contextualized "Daloy Polizei," also covered by Kahn (especially timely this year--and now that I think about it, all too often). At the same time, where Kahn both incites to action and expresses an ennui (this, too, will not ultimately change the world), Berner more often seems a bit more of a commentator, distant. His "Mayn rue platz" is less a call to action, than an evocation of sadness. But, we speak of relativity. "I am going to jail / to get a new pair of shoes" ("Jail") pulls few punches, despite its jaunty tune. "Oh my golem" is likewise fairly direct commentary. "Did you really think a perfect god / wants you to burn a goat / or nail the Messiah in place" from "Rabbi Berner finally reveals his true religion" may be gentle, but it's a call to action, nonetheless (smirk included).
In addition to performing at Ashkenaz, Berner was interviewed by DJ SoCalled (who also produced "Victory Party") at the Festival about his relatively recent short novel, Festival Man. Advertised as a hard-hitting satire about the Canadian Folk Festival scene, the book is actually a bit of a fond love poem to same—satire included, and a pleasure to read.
One of the highlights of the Saturday evening concerts at this year's Ashkenaz Festival in Toronto was the appearance of David Buchbinder's Odessa/Havana. Showcasing their 2013 release on Tzadik, "Walk to the sea," the music was exhilarating. The fusion of Cuban, klezmer, and jazz, and much more was seamless. Buchbinder and his bands are always excellent, but watching pianist Hilario Durán was magic. Listening to vocalist Maryem Hassan Tollar live was a revelation. I have a short review of the CD now on the KlezmerShack. Enjoy. You can get your own copy via the band's website.