A few special things seen at the Ashkenaz Festival
The problem with writing about a festival whilst attending, is that one feels some obligation to hear music every waking minutes. So, this will be a brief list.
We drove in from the States late and missed Geoff Berner's set on Saturday, which had been one of our goals. I did get a chance to catch him at an interview about his just-released book (which sounds good, but has nothing to do with Jewish Culture, new or otherwise) with SoCalled, and that was fun, if not musical. On his recordings, Berner has a political and somewhat satiric bent that reminds me of Daniel Kahn, except that Berner sings in English. You can catch him on his most recent recording, Victory Party.
David Buchbinder's Odessa/Havana show was a highlight. It isn't just that the band was tight, or that the singer, Maryem Hassan Tollar is exceptional, but pianist Hilario Duran is a treasure. If you saw the performance, you already have the new CD. If you weren't there, let me assure you that the CD is exceptional.
We were exhausted, but stayed for the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, a delightful street band that has been on tour for the last couple of months. Extraordinary energy and much fun in a sort of Eastern European mix. Huge orchestra! I hope they come to my neighborhood's "Honk!" festival this year and soon. David Buchbinder came out to join the band in one number, as did members of Forshpil, and the incomparable Polina Shepherd. Readers of these pages already know that Shepherd is an extraordinary singer. Here at Ashkenaz, she and husband Merlin Shepherd blew audiences away. If there were justice, they would have been booked for several more shows here. Several of her recordings have been reviewed in raves on these pages. Live, she is even better.
One special moment at the festival so far was the appearance of Steve Greenman with Chinese pipa player Gao Hong. They were right. The two musical traditions, as well as fiddle and pipa, were made to play together.
Michael Winograd's new project, "Sandaraa" was billed as a fusion. In truth, it is Pakistani music, mostly from Baluchistan, and I love it. (Yes, it is a Jewish music festival, but ...) Played by Winograd's ensemble, and featuring the voice of Zebunnisa (Zeb) Bangash, with a touch of "jam band" feel, this was just plain fun. Of special note, along with Winograd's clarinet, was Richie Barshay's amazingly fluent drumming and percussion.
We ended last night with Zion80, a relatively new project by Tzadik recording artist Jon Madof. The band has just released a new CD of Zorn's music, following their initial release of Carlebach tunes. The fusion of Jewish avant garde jazz and Fela Kuti's African beat is phenomenal. We danced our way home. In a few minutes, the Ashkenaz parade will come by, then I'll go listen to Shtreiml, see the new Veretski Pass theatrical piece, "Lilith" (Likely to write more about that later), and then, sadly, but with great fun, the Festival Finale.