Black Ox Orkestar / Ver Tanzt?
Black Ox Orkestar
Ver Tanzt? (Who dances)
Constellation Records, CST029-2, 2004
Montreal, home of the delightfully retro Shtreiml is also the source of this new band, Black Ox Orkestra. It seems appropriate that the city that gave us Mordechai Richler and which was home to Chava Rosenfarb should continue to be the source of new, interesting Yiddish music. Although most of the songs on this album are traditional, they are played in a brooding, nusakh-influenced style that owes as much to Middle Eastern music and modern discordances as to traditional folk music. As much as I enjoyed the opening instrumental, and their version of "Papir iz dokh vays" (Paper is white), listening to "Fishelakh in Vaser", as it slowly grows more forceful and discordant was absolutely wonderful - a modern, Yiddish street bolero. And yet, contrast this with the quiet guitar "Nign" or the rather well-played tsimbl on the "Skochne". This is a band with a range of moods and strengths.
The words to the title song are incendiary in their meaning, questioning what is happening in Israel and the question of oppressed turning oppressor. That the author finds Yiddish the correct language in which to write these words, and the way the words directly reference Kol Nidre, is especially strong. (The song, itself, is weaker than I expected from the words, but perhaps is is better to listen to meaning rather than to be distracted by the music.) The band also sets words by Itzik Fefer to music in "Toyte Goyes in Shineln".
All-in-all, this is an auspicious recording by an interesting ensemble. I have been biting my tongue, but in many ways I think that this is the music that bands such as Kroke or the Cracow Klezmer Band would play were the members Jewishly informed. The instrumental pieces are nicely done, if dark. The vocals are well-chosen, although the singers do not always make up in feeling for what is lacking in training. Still, when a band plays this well and engages the politics of today's world in Yiddish much positive should be said. When the results are this satisfying, I hope that my few hesitations do not keep myriads from listening to and enjoying this recording.
Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 5/1/04
Personnel this recording:
Thierry Amar: contrabass
Gabe Levine: clarinet, guitar, bass clarinet
Scott Levine Gilmore: vocals, guitar, mandolin, cymbalom, drums, violin, harmonium
Jessica Moss: violin, bass clarinet
Jesse Levine: piano (track 5), accordion (track 9)
Nadia Moss: piano (track 12)
- Shvartze flamen, vayser fayer (Scott Levine Gilmore) 2:34
- Papir iz dokh vays (trad., arr. BOA) 4:13
- Fishelakh in vaser (trad., arr. BOA) 3:29
- Cretan song (trad., arr. BOA) 2:28
- Ver tanzt? (words, music: Scott Levine Gilmore) 3:17
- Stav ya pitu (trad., arr. BOA) 3:51
- Nign (trad., arr. BOA) 2:42
- Toyte goyes in shineln (words: Itzik Fefer; music: Scott Levine Gilmore) 3:42
- Kalarash (trad., arr. BOA) 3:04
- Forn forstu (trad., arr. BOA) 2:26
- Skochne (trad., arr. BOA) 2:21
- Moscowitz Terkisher (trad., arr. BOA) 3:10
- Di khasene (trad., arr. BOA) 5:42