CDs that remind us to give thanks
- German Goldenshteyn / A Living Tradition, 2006
- KlezKanada Faculty Anthology 2006, 2006
- Judith R. Cohen / Sefarad en Diaspora, 2006
- The LeeVees / Hanukkah Rocks, 2005
- Frank London Klezmer Brass All-Stars / Carnival Conspiracy, 2005
- The Merlin Shepherd Kapelye / Intimate Hopes and Terrors: Tales from the Kishkes, 2006
- Balkan Beat Box, 2005
- Marilyn Lerner / Romanian Fantasy, 2006
- Andy Statman / East Flatbush Blues, 2006
- Art Bailey's Orkestra Popilar / Branch from the Tree, 2006
- Klezmatics / Wonder Wheel, 2006
- A Chanukah Feast Volume II, 2006
- Klezmatics / Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah
I am beginning this article right before Thanksgiving, 2006, hoping to get out the word on at least a few of the extraordinary CDs on the review pile. I'll be posting these to the main KlezmerShack page as each is completed. This is the gathering of the reviews.
German Goldenshteyn / A Living Tradition. LTD 1803, 2006. Available from CDbaby.com
[Updated from the KlezKanada newsletter, 24 Aug 2006] Nothing makes up for the sudden loss of German Goldenshteyn this past summer, but for those who remember him and his music, Living Tradition records has released a CD recorded last year at KlezKamp. (There will be a second Goldenshteyn CD, probably in Winter 2007. One track from the second CD is available in the KlezKanada Faculty Anthology now.)
KlezKanada regular Alan Sissel calls it "the only CD I'm listening to right now." Goldenshteyn is backed by some of the best klezmorim around, from Josh Horowitz to Michael Alpert. The real star, however, is German Goldenshteyn, whose songs and whose clarinet are, as the label says, a Living Tradition. This is traditional klezmer as no one knew it was played any more until German arrived in the US and demonstrated the music that he had been playing all of his life. a bisl of the music that formed his living tradition is now passed on to us.
The money from the sale of the CD is going to a special fund set up to support his family. [GRADE: A+]
KlezKanada Faculty Anthology. KKCD-01, 2006. Available from CDbaby.com
[Updated from the KlezKanada newsletter, 24 Aug 2006] KlezKanada faculty include not only the most amazing musicians playing traditional music from Yiddish-speaking cultures of the last century. Faculty also include some of the most amazing musicians playing entirely new types of Jewish music grounded in those cultures. Produced by former KK scholarship kid Eric Stein, this CD is a fundraiser for KlezKanada. All faculty contributed tracks free of licensing charges (and got their record companies to do the same). It not only includes the sorts of things one would expect: tracks by Elaine Hoffman Watts, Steven Greenman and the Chicago Klezmer Ensemble, but also tracks that push the edges from David Krakauer's Klezmer Madness with DJ SoCalled, still-unreleased material from Alex Kontorovich's new band, D Minor, a cut off the brand new Susan Hoffman-Watts CD, and a first recording by an amazing new collaboration by Marilyn Lerner and Adrienne Cooper, amazing material from Shtreiml (hint, they aren't "just" a klezmer band any more) and Frank London's Klezmer Brass All-Stars (personal favorites of the KlezmerShack). I haven't even mentioned the revolutionary (a strong word for such traditional-sounding music, until you think of what has just come together and how well it was done) work by the Strauss/Warschauer Duo. Other artists include Khupe, Beyond the Pale, Pete Rushefsky/ Elli Rosenblatt, and Brave Old World—if you haven't heard them and made up your own mind, you know them from the aforementioned KlezmerShack and general media already.
The CD production was underwritten by the Tauben Family Fund of Irwin and Sara Tauben. Says Stein, summing up succinctly: "I've seen a million klezmer sampler CDs. I think this is the most interesting—top artists performing a veritable cross section of the contemporary klezmer scene." You can read more about this CD in a longer KlezmerShack review, with links to more info about each of the featured artists. [GRADE: A+]
Judith R. Cohen / Sefarad en Diáspora, Pneuma, 2006 PN-780.
Ordering information: Karonte Distribution, Avda. Alfonso XIII Nr. 141, E-28016 Madrid. Fax: +34 91 350 3358. Available from Casa de Jacob's (they're in alphabetical order by CD title - scroll way down, or, apparently from HMV in the UK
A new CD from Judith Cohen is always a treat. Her recent albums have been primarily, but never exclusively, Sephardic folk songs. In this latest outing she has assembled a wonderful ensemble featuring Wafir Sheikh and Bill Cooley. Her daughter, Tamar Adams, has also matured vocally, and is a greater delight with every recording. The call response on "Romance Hermanas Reina y Cautiva," accompanied by solitary kanun(?) is wonderful.
On this CD, Cohen is focused on the Sephardic diaspora, and the way that songs and melodies travel. Sometimes one changes, sometimes the other; sometimes all that is left is the theme. What unites them on this recording is wonderful singing and playing. We hear two variants on the shabbes song, L'cha dodi. And then there is "Romance de la Vuelta", the familiar story of the faithful woman awaiting her soldier, gone for seven years. In the seven very different variants here (Moroccan to French to Italian to Turkish...), as, here, in "John Riley", after testing her faithfulness, he reveals that he has returned. In other variants, she is told that he is dead. A very gloomy song in some versions, but the singing and instrumental playing make them all worth hearing, whether it is the supposedly happy ending of damsel first tried by her alleged lover, or the sadder versions. [GRADE: A]
The LeeVees / Hanukkah Rocks. JDUB Records Available from amazon.com
It's been several years since Rob Tannenbaum ("What I like about Jew") inflicted "Hanukkah with Monica" on an unwilling world with the claim, "there aren't any good Hanukka songs." In the intervening years, we've had Adam Sandler's "Hanukkah Song", and now, for the ultimate in total cultural fun, the LeeVees, featuring Guster's Adam Gardner and Dave Schneider of the Zambonis. By total cultural fun, of course, I mean that this is a CD that rocks, that celebrates Hanukkah, and has absolutely nothing to do with what you may have learned in Hebrew School. Hmm. Nope. This CD has everything to do with what you may have learned in Hebrew School, even if you didn't attend. It doesn't have anything to do with what your parents meant for you to learn in Hebrew school. This album considers the important cultural imperatives, like "Applesauce vs. sour cream" (no-brainer. Applesauce. Sheesh.) or "How do you spell Channukkahh?" with a brief bow to tradition in recounting the dreidl rules: "Nun Gimmel Heh Shin."
Some days I find myself getting uptight about this new Jewish culture stuff that celebrates symbols of "Jewish" without requiring any knowledge of or living Jewishly. Fortunately, such days do not occur around Hanukkah, when the infectious beats and good will of this album keep me full of good cheer despite that other holiday that is being commercialized all around me. I say, good will towards all, even to our goyim friends—especially if they don't mention dreidls made of clay or ocho kandelikos one more time until my nerves fray just a bit too far. Nope. I'm a convert. Hanukkah Rocks, and so will you. Don't forget to see the band in concert, too! Coming to a major center of Jewish life near you this Hanukkah season. [GRADE: kicked out of class!]
Frank London Klezmer Brass All-Stars / Carnival Conspiracy. Piranha Records CD-PIR1902. Delightful notes by Frank London are available on the Piranha website. CD available from amazon.com
It's been over a year since Frank handed me the pre-release CD of this album so I'd have something to keep me awake during an early-morning airport run at KlezKanada. I was immediately blown away by the incredible vocals and insane brass wall-o'-joyous-sound on the opening "In Your Garden Twenty Fecund Fruit Trees" and never looked back. I'm still awake and still tapping my toes. Of all the Frank London projects, the one I love the most unceasingly is the brass band, and so far, each new CD has been mind-blowingly good, and still different from the one preceding. While writing about the KlezKanada Faculty CD a couple of days ago I got that guilty feeling. I had never reviewed this CD on the KlezmerShack. A shande!.
From the relatively traditional Yiddish "Oh Agony, You Are So Sweet Like Sugar I Must To Eat You Up" featuring Lorin Sklamberg at his best, following by Michael Alpert doing the same, but to an Argentinian band´-klezmer fusion (What's with these song titles? It's like someone was inventing names for the original Naftule Brandwine tracks, but on acid.) The music swings from balkan brass to New Orleans with plenty of klezmer in between. The chorus that was assembled for the Divahn soundtrack (Kol Isha?) is back to good effect, as well. Susan Watts-Hoffman blows trumpet with the best and then sings to bring tears to our eyes. The people participating on this album include the best of the best, from up-and-coming tuba god Ron Caswell, to the recording debut of the late clarinetist German Goldenshteyn. The album finally closes with a cluster of sad fanfares, a familiar hasidic nign(?) that invariably cause me to start again at the beginning. This is one of the major feel-good CDs of the last couple of years, and still one of the most frequently played on my CD changer. [GRADE: A]
Merlin Shepherd Kapelye / Intimate Hopes and Terrors: Tales from the Kishkes. Oriente Musik, RIEN CD 58, 2006. Available from Oriente Express. In the US, available from Hatikvah Music (Editorial note: ignore the Hatikvah website. Email or call for amazing service.)
I met Merlin Shepherd about ten years ago at KlezKamp. He was an awesome clarinet player then. He has gotten scarily better. On this outing he gathered up a posse of so-far-unknown-to-the-west klezmer players of the former Soviet Union. The ones you find jamming non-stop at the Klezmer festivals and blowing everyone's minds. These guys already knew the repertoire from KlezKamp, so Merlin wrote new stuff. This is the sort of CD I've been waiting for, for years. New klezmer music. But, at this first listen (the CD only arrived today), it's klezmer that manages to sound both traditional, but also as though it were written this year (which it was). This isn't the worshipful, "I can write like the old guys" klezmer. This is the "okay, the old folks stole all our best ideas. let's work on some new ideas" klezmer. Must get the word out now. May have more to say once the CD has sunk in. You can catch some tracks at Merlin's MySpace page.
Balkan Beat Box JDub Records JD003, 2005.
CD available from amazon.com
If there is an album that I like as much as Frank London's Klezmer Brass All-Stars, this is it. Balkan Beat Box provides a wonderful fusion of sounds from balkan brass to rai to international hip hop. Like their label-mates DJ SoCalled (but entirely different in sound), BBB pull together a new world folk dance gestalt. Favorite cuts? The incredible middle eastern weave around Victoria Hanna's chant, "Adir Adirim" or the amazing harmonies on "Bulgarian Chicks," the unstoppable beat and cheer of "Sunday Arak," the growling bass and kaval of "Hassan's Mimuna," or the bluesy intro to the "La Bush Resistance" rap ... Stop me before I kvell over each track. If you ask me, world hip hop like BBB and Idan Raichel, SoCalled's new album, and Frank London's (okay, not hip hop) that define the exciting dance music this last couple of years, and I expect, the next years to come. Stay tuned—the band is doing a lot of Hanukkah tours. Could be coming to a town near you real soon. [GRADE: A]
Marilyn Lerner / Romanian Fantasy. ML-001, 2006 www.marilynlerner.com JD003, 2005.
CD available from CD Baby.com
I am at the point that if Marilyn Lerner breathes on a piano, I am already giddy. Here, on the first solo outing in a few years based on traditional Eastern European Jewish music, I am doubly ecstatic. Her improvisational playing is as inventive as ever. From the explorations and chording the forms the bones of the "Yismekhu", there is something magical about her sense of sound and tone and music. As Michael Wex notes in the liner notes, this isn't klezmer, or Eastern European Jewish folk music, nor classical nor jazz. It's the Jewish music about which I once wrote, "I can see the Shekhinah sitting up in the heavens, listening to this music performed, smiling to herself and saying to the assembled angels, 'Finally, we can listen to it in its true time and place.'"
This is improvisational music very different from Tzadik's Radical Jewish Music. I don't quite know how to describe the difference. It isn't that Anthony Coleman (another of the piano players of whom I never tire) never plays quietly, for instance. But he plays quietly differently—loudly. Part of the difference is that Lerner isn't playing jazz. This is improvisational music, like jazz, but it is much more influenced by 20th century classical music (to the very limited extent that I know it). The scales and explorations are different. Her "Nign" is quiet, but incredibly complex. It eschews jazz chords and phrasings. Like Coleman's music, however, this stays interesting. More than interesting. I find myself listening, rapt, focused. The title track is a marvel of unstated complexity. Like a Hasidic tale, there are layers and layers of listening such that one is drawn in from the first, but each time the ears come up for air, more meaning is apparent. The transition from the rhythmic "Dem Tzadik's Zemerl" to the less structured, quieter "Gasn Nign" perfectly captures the spirit of both. It is too short a hop from there to the closing (using Wex's translation) "good-natured people". As Wex writes, "Rigid categories can be fatal; Lerner melts the boundaries away. [GRADE: A]
Andy Statman / East Flatbush Blues. Shefa Records, HORN-3001, 2006 www.andystatman.org .
CD available from amazon.com. Elliott Simon has also reviewed this CD for All About Jazz.
The Klezmershack received two new CDs by Andy Statman, recorded contemporaneously, each featuring a different side of the artist. This is the bluegrass CD, and on it Statman is backed by Jim Whitney, and one of my favorite Americana drummers, Larry Eagle. Eagle I last heard propelling Bruce Springstein's "Pete Seeger Sessions" show. Statman I last saw playing with one of my favorite bluegrass bands, Wayfaring Strangers. But standing there, Statman merged bluegrass with klezmer and hassidic music. On this CD, he pays tribute to Bill Monroe and to his bluegrass roots only. I gotta say: when you're Andy Statman, that's enough.
As you might expect, this isn't just bluegrass. It's bluegrass improvisation. Bluegrass nign, if you will. From his opening take on Bill Monroe's old "Rawhide, thought his own, "Sensitive Waltz" (and the most psychedelic "Old Joe Clark" you'll ever hear), Statman shows how and why he has had such an influence on bluegrass mandolin. The title track, alone, is a worthy successor to the "Flatbush Waltz", the last all-mandolin album he recorded--the album released 25 years ago which first established his reputation as an amazing mandolin player. It is notable. The Andy Statman who wrote the best-known klezmer revival tune, "Flatbush Waltz" was not religious. The Andy Statman who wrote the new "East Flatbush Blues," a beautiful new bluegrass tune, is steeped in hassidut. It's the same Andy Statman. He's still a genius, and as much as I'll always prefer to see him in an ensemble of peers that push him, hearing just the bluegrass side, here, backed by Whitney and Eagle, is still mighty wonderful. [GRADE: A]
Art Bailey's Orkestra Popilar / Branch from the Tree. HRL Records, RAT-001, 2006. CD available from www.artbailey.org.
PREVIEW: This week brought a long-sought CD from Art Bailey's Orkestra Popilar. The band features Klezmer Conservatory Band accordion player Art Bailey as well as KCB bassist Jim Guttman The ubiquitious plucked string wizard Brandon Seabrook (Naftule's Dream, Paul Brody), as well as relative youngsters Jake Shulman-Ment and Jeremy Brown on Violin. The goal is to recreate the ambience of the recordings by American tsimbalist Joseph Moscowitz—traditional klezmer and luscious, long sets. There is no tsimbl player credited, but I could swear that I hear just that on several numbers. In any event, Seabrook's mandolin and Bailey's accordion capture the feeling of Moscowitz' music, plus other traditional tunes and originals, in our time. What I've heard so far succeeds gracefully and delightfully. From the delightful lettering and graphic on the cover, the the music inside, this one is likely to stay on the changer for some time to come. [GRADE: A]
Klezmatics / Wonder Wheel. JMG Records, JMG 18033-02, 2006. CD available everywhere. Start at the Klezmatics website, www.klezmatics.com.
Seth Rogovoy about the Klezmatics' Woody Guthrie project
There are few concerts I have enjoyed as much as the Klezmatics' debut of Woody Guthrie songs that they had set to music a couple of years ago. (They are on tour with this music now, so check out their website or the KlezmerShack calendar for concerts near you.) The band has captured the spirit of Woody without ever sounding like anyone but the Klezmatics. Now, two years later I am listening to the actual music captured on CD with tears in my eyes. It's just that good.
I haven't been able to get "Mermaid Avenue" out of my mind since I first heard it, and it still captures the spirit of Coney Island as it was (and is):
...Where the lox and bagels meet
Where the halvah meets the pickle
Where the sour meets the sweet;
... Where all color of goodfolks meet;...
Those lyrics describe the album, from the pain of the counting song, "Come when I call you" and "Orange blossom ring" to the child's lullaby, "Heddy down" to Matt Darriau's psychedelic Beatles-esque "Pass Away," to the klezmer-influenced feel of "Wheel of Life" to the South-American flavor of "Condorbird" and the wonderful world-pop intro to "Heaven".
Everything about this album is exciting, including the possibility that it might finally get the band heard by a wider audience. As much as I loved what Billy Bragg and Wilco did with Woody's material, this recording proves two things: First, that the Klezmatics, collectively, represent deep and talented American music roots, and as much as I love Wilco (and Billy Bragg even more), they got nothing on this band. Second, that Woody Guthrie wrote some powerful, wonderful songs, and musicians continue to find the words relevant and good music with which to sing them. Okay, we already knew the latter and suspected the former. Now we know it all. [GRADE: A+]
*Note that there is a companion to this CD derived from Woody's Jewish material—"Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah" about which I will be writing soon! You needn't wait on the review. Pick up the pair and have a happy, joyous, Hanukkah (or help create one for someone you love).
A Chanukah Feast Volume II, Hungry For Music, 2006
Last year the "hungry for music" folks in DC (they raise money to purchase musical instruments for local schools) released a lovely Chanukah compilation. This year they've released a second volume. There are some real gems, starting with the title track from the new Klezmatics' "Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukah" (although surely you'd rather have the whole CD), a rather wonderful, parent-friendly song about the dreidl song ("the Dreidel Song Song") from Klezmos (last heard recorded on the "Celtic Klezmer Concert), some great instrumentals by Alan Oresky (a Fabrangen Fiddler), and then by Phil Mathieu and Bruno Nasta, and a rather nice, if also unduly short "East(ern) Village Hanuka" from Metropolitan Klezmer, one of the few bands for which I'd drive to New York City for the evening. For my Bostonian homies, there's even someone named "Dr. Louie," recording in Vancouver, BC, Canada, with "Hanukah in Boston," and my favorite Texas klezmer, beneficent boss of the bass and terror of the tuba, the ubiquitious Mark Rubin inflicts "The Dreydl Song, Texas style," (you can find more like this on his "Hill Country Hannukah" collection) on my more than willing ears.
More info, and further variants of the English spelling of the work "Hanukkah" may be found at www.hungryformusic.org
Klezmatics / Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah. JMG Records, JMG 18050-02, 2006. CD available everywhere. Start at the Klezmatics website, www.klezmatics.com.
I can't take the chance that Hanukkah will arrive before people have time to order the one new essential Hanukkah album of the year. Some of these songs were part of the Klezmatics' Woody Guthrie show of a couple of years ago, and were first released on a limited edition CD at the time. On this full-length CD the band switches back and forth between klezmer and Americana to great effect. This is the most fun Hanukkah CD since Sruli and Lisa's "Oy Vey, Chanukah."
As with the previous Woody Guthrie project, each band member set a couple of poems to music, and most also contributed instrumentals, ranging from Lorin's more traditional "Gilad and Ziv's Sirba" to Frank London's lounge klezmer "(Do the) Latke Flip Flop," to Lisa Gutkin's humorous clog-happy "Spin Dreydl Spin," ensuring a latke-licious variety of tunes. In a couple of cases, "The Many and the Few"—as good a retelling of the story as you'll find on a children's record, and wistfully melancholy of the closing "Hanuka Dance" (the major disagreement between the band and Guthrie appears to be over the English spelling of "Hanukkah") they have Woody's music as well as his words. But then, as Lorin sings "Hanuka Gelt," one of a couple of counting songs on the CD, it's not hard imagining that Woody would have set it to the same music. The a capella intro to London's setting of "Hanuka's Flame" is equally rooted.
These are children's songs. They are also a trove of Woody Guthrie's Jewish works (with Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt as a mother-in-law, and settled in immigrant Coney Island, there should be no surprise that Guthrie's imagination found fertile ground). Nor should it be a surprise that the Klezmatics, with imaginations ranging as wide as Woody's, should be the perfect ensemble to set these to music and perform them. It's a Happy Joyous Hanukkah, indeed.