Seven recent releases, from jazz to Sephardic music to klezmer and beyond
Suddenly, without having written full reviews of the CDs on the "review me now" pile, there are several new and interesting CDs that have arrived over the last couple of weeks. As I did last September, I am going to try to get the word out and eschew, for the moment, full reviews:
Klezmer Nova / L'Entre-Deux. Every few years Pierre Wekstein surfaces with a new recording that starts with klezmer and fuses other elements of his musical life. This latest recording by Klezmer Nova features a heavy dose of jazz and Spanish melody mixed in with traditional and new yiddish/klezmer folk tunes. According to the liner notes, he is back from four years in Reunion, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. So be it. I say, "check it out" at www.klezmernova.com
Alon Yavnai and NDR Big Band / Shir Ahava. There is an explosion of excellent Israeli jazz musicians now being recorded and making a name for themselves internationally. Things have come a long way since Arele Kaminsky hosted a weekly Thursday night jam session at Pargod in Jerusalem in the 1970s—the best substitute for a country that couldn't seem to sustain an actual working jazz band. The most recent CD to cross my desk is this lovely new recording by pianist Alon Yavnai. No new territory, just excellent compositions played with excellent musicians. You can find out more about Yavnai on his website, or listen to samples/purchase the CD from CDBaby.com and other fine online vendors.
Harmonia / Hidden Legacy: Folk & Gypsy Music from Eastern Europe. I don't know where I first met Walt Mahovlich. He and fellow bandmates Steven Greenman and Alex Fedoriouk are everywhere insanely great balkan (and klezmer and Eastern European) music wants playing. But a couple of years ago I had the privilege of being Greenman's guest in Cleveland and got to see the entire Harmonia ensemble live (as well as the three aforementioned masters at a separate klezmer festival). I would happily drive back to Cleveland, or anywhere in between, to see them again. The full septet includes the stellar voice of Beata Begeniova, as well as a bass/plucked string master; sopilka and other wood flutes; and a second violin who challenges even Greenman. This new recording by Walt, Steven, Alex and the band brings back those memories and captures their sound. To paraphrase Tom Lehrer, "Don't shade your ears" &hellip get your copy from Folk Sounds Records and then come back and read the rest of these quick notes.
The gonifs. A decade or two ago when I lived in the Bay Area, I stepped out of the annual Klezmer festival in Oakland, CA and discovered several waif-like klezmorim busking at the entrance. They were great. They were the Gonifs. Lo, these many years later, Jeanette Lewicki, Peter Jaques, and a host of friends are still stealing our hearts and now we have an actual recording, one that especially features the Yiddish vocals of that mistress of street-corner Yiddish song, Lewicki, herself (also reknowned for her excellent accordion), now joined by a host of friends (including the cast of Veretski Pass). There are neat blog posts about the different songs on the Madame Levicki blog. If the all-star cast doesn't move you, consider that what got the Gonif's off the street and into the recording studio was that this is actually a benefit for the Prisoners Literature Project. So, do yourself a listening pleasure and do good at the same time, from Porto Franco Records.
Ljuba Davis Ladino Ensemble / East and West. Harking back to my years in the Bay Area, I have a definite memory of listening to Ljuba Davis, at the very least featured during a fund-raiser around the time of the Bosnian War. With a lovely, real-sounding voice and a delightful selection of traditional repertoire, she was one of the few Sephardic singers that stuck in my mind. Here it is many years later, and there is finally a recording. Not only that, but the ensemble behind her voice captures a Balkan/Spanish Sephardic sound that is perfect. This CD is one of a small (but growing!) number of traditional Sephardic music CDs worth listening to. It is also designed to learn from--in addition to a CD featuring Davis' voice, there is a second CD featuring a male voice (or just instrumental) designed to provide access to the melodies by those who want to learn to sing the songs (or who are limited by the current haredi "kol isha" fetish). The CD release party is in NYC on June 15, and the official album release is on June 12. But, KlezmerShack readers don't have to wait. You can order the CD (as well as read the lyrics, enjoy photos of the ensemble), at the Ljuba Davis Ensemble home page.
Hal Aqua and the Lost Tribe / Lost and Found. Hal Aqua, a Denver, CO-based graphic artist, has been making Jewish music for decades. Unlike many klez-revival bands, he has appeared less interest in returning to wedding sounds of yesteryear and much more interesting in playing a wide variety of Jewish music. With his latest band, the Lost Tribe, he takes things farther, often setting familiar songs back and forth to familiar-sounding melodies from rap to reggae. He also accomplishes the opposite, as on using strains from "Mezinkes Wedding" to backdrop Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues." The repertoire covers the Jewish gamut and I really like it. You can get your own copy from cdbaby.com.
Bart Weisman Klezmer Swing Group. A gentle and pleasant recording of klezmer and Yiddish Theatre songs set to pleasant, easy-listening jazz, this is very pleasant sunny afternoon simkhe music. Songs include not just Jewish, but also swing classics such as "When you wish upon a star" and "It don't mean a thing." Listen to samples and get your copy from cdbaby.com