Oh, right, there's no point writing reviews if I don't mention them....
I have slowly been trying to find my way out from under the scary stacks of CDs sitting here awaiting reviews. The good news is that there are so many, I get to choose my favorites for review first. The bad news? This is just the tip of the iceberg and next week I could be (and hopefully, will be) equally ecstatic over an entirely different list.
First on today's list has to be my homies, the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra who turn out their first straight-forward klezmer album in several years (Pincus and the Pig is due out next month) and it is just killer—my favorite album in years, by one of my favorite bands: Mayse (Tales). I need to add a minor caveat: the lone word of Yiddish on the cover was typeset by moi, so it's not as if I am entirely disinterested. On the other hand, as readers of these pages know, I wouldn't offer my services if I wasn't already blown away by the music: big, brassy, exciting American klezmer with lots of surprises that make it all even better.
Next up come a pair of very traditional albums from the Chassidic side of klezmer. First is Andy Statman's first release in years, Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge. On it, Statman explores the world of Chassidic nign, always informing the music with his own great klezmer, bluegrass, and jazz chops.
Good as Statman is, however, he is one amazing musician playing with a workaday accompaniment. Not so this re-release of Moussa Berlin's "Sulam" ensemble live recording. The album was re-released as a memorial to the late jazz flautist Roman Kunsman (with some new material added to the CD emphasize Kunsman's contribution to the ensemble) and more than most Moussa Berlin albums, this one is a collaborative effort with a whole amazing band playing together. Sulam is my favorite Berlin album, and the rerelease eulogizes Kunsman in the best way possible—by giving us a generous helping of his playing and reminding us of what we have lost, while cheering us up in our loss by letting us hear lots of his playing.
I knew that Aaron Alexander was ubiquitous, but I didn't realize what an exciting composer he was until I saw a piece off this album performed at KlezKanada. Then I got the CD and fell in love. Alexander brings unusual Jewish depth, both musically and otherwise, to his music, but he also brings jazz and lots more. This is the most fun I've had listening to a Tzadik recording since Koby Israelite's album last year, I think. When we talk about Radical Jewish Music, meaning music that pushes the edges of what "Jewish Music" is, and that gets you excited about the idea, this is the music we're talking about. Don't miss the Midrash Mish Mosh. It's less mish mosh than fusion; and an excellent midrash on how to make new, exciting, experimental Jewish music.
Coming from another place, entirely, this first solo outing by Basya Schechter, the creative genius behind Pharaoh's Daughter, is an exciting instrumental exploration of oud, santur, and Middle Eastern instruments used in the composition of new, very American music, that pulls together sounds from across and around the world. Queen's Dominion is every bit as exciting as Pharaoh's Daughter's most recent CD, "Exile", and completely different.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are more reviews written, just waiting for CDs to become available, and a host more that I'm going to catch up with very very soon, I hope. Stay tuned. In the meantime, good listening!