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The publisher's support page for this album.
Also reviewed on these pages: the first album
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About 30 minutes of a Davka performance at the Ashkenaz '97 festival is available in RealAudio 3.0 format.
There is an interesting disconnect here. We have a group of musicians playing music that they acknowledge is a mix of jazz, Middle Eastern rhythms, and classical music. They're damn good. But then, sort of as an aside, they claim to be "redefining klezmer music." This is a nifty trick, as they don't incorporate any specifically klezmer motifs or rhythms or instrumentation into their work. Redefining klezmer on these terms recalls the wry old humor: "So, if it is decided that all things that are black are to be called 'cats' what color is the night sky?" "Cat?" "No, it's still black. Deciding that 'black' is 'cat' doesn't make it so."
The amusing thing here, of course, is that no one means to imply that this is klezmer. Instead, we are seeing what happens when one has no Jewish musical roots, and comes to Jewish music and is searching for a name. What is meant is that Davka, the group, is redefining Jewish music. But, since there are no overtly Jewish roots to this music but for the names of songs and some words in the liner notes, not only is this not klezmer, it is not a "redefinition" of anything Jewish, musical or otherwise. You cannot redefine something of whose definition you are unaware. Whew. Doubly damned. Not klez, not even Jewish.
What makes this especially fascinating is the sociological odyssey that these descriptions appear to signify. For many people of my generation and younger, Zionism was to be the replacement for Judaism. Israeli culture the replacement for Jewish culture. For many of us, Israeli, and especially Middle-Eastern sounds were far more familiar than those of the klezmorim, or Yiddish Theatre, or even Sephardic folk traditions. Yet, Israel is also clearly the hope of future past. For all that it matters to Jews, Israel is its own country, and to define one's Jewish self requires a search for other, deeper and more contiguous roots, a re-search into Jewish history and music and culture. In the case of Davka that has led to Jewish mysticism of the Middle Ages; in the case of this album, pieces influenced by their reading of and about the MaHaRal, a famous wonder-rebbe of Prague, the creator, so legend has it, of the Golem, one of the most powerful Jewish symbols of direct power against oppression.
This isn't just sophistry. Davka is creating interesting music. Along with Israeli bands such as Buston Avraham or East-West Ensemble, or the truly vital sounds of Yair Dalal or Ha-Breira Ha-Tiv'it (The Natural Gathering), this music is an exciting fusion of Middle Eastern and Western classical and jazz forms, and that is exciting. unlike the aforementioned bands, Davka is instead following a path similar to that of John Zorn in exploring the mysticism and history of their roots.
Listening to the violin wail on "Xan" one cannot help but be moved. One also cannot help but notice that not only was that wail not a doina, as it might be in klez, but that it is very much in the classical tradition. Not Jewish. Not klez. (And, yes, I am picking on a piece that is specifically described as a "North Indian folk melody" ... "augmented with a bit of Yiddishkeit".) In real life, this is music strong enough to stand with an honest description. (So, yeah, I'd love it if the next album the group just moves on, talking about the influences that are real, rather than symbolic, so I can spend my review time talking about the music, okay?)
Will this music one day define something Jewish? It is entirely possible that such a connection will become more real as the group grows, should they choose to explore Jewish music. In the meantime, consider the opening wail of "The Golem" or the mournful "Yizkor for Rabin" and ask why that would be so important? The case this music makes is that for exploration of another set of world musics by talented, impassioned musicians. Surely those terms are sufficient to listen further.
Reviewed by Ari Davidow 7/20/97
Personnel this recording:
[back] to "Virtual Ashkenaz"--web-based discussion of all things Yiddish and klezmer
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