Samuel Thomas / Asefa

Album cover: a rug with ITC American Typewriter. Not notable. Samuel Thomas / Asefa
SRT Productions, 2005
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Every so often CDs get placed on the changer and played over and over and over while I try to find time to actually listen. Who even remembers what CDs they are? But there has been this one CD, opening with an insistently lilting soprano sax or something that keeps attracting my attention. Finally I pulled it out of the changer and matched it up with an actual cover. Asefa? Some sort of world fusion? It sounds too good to be just another world fusion CD.

Still, the music is great. Ranging across the Mediterranean, Africa, and even including some post-Ottoman klezmer ("Alter Shir") this is one of the nicer versions of such bands as I have heard lately. Intriguingly, it also features Shanir Blumenkranz, the bassist with Rashanim on bass and oud.

Part of what makes this band some intriguing is that they have done something that is rarely done, and rarely done well, which is to fuse klezmer with Hebrew/Ladino ballads ("Ki Eshmera Shabbat" and "Yom Enamore") with North African and Middle Eastern music. Piyut meets sher. As Zev Feldman pointed out last summer at KlezKanada, both klezmer and the hasidic movement come from that part of Europe that was once controlled by the Ottomans and which rubbed up against Austro-Hungary for a few centuries. It is probably no accident that we hear Arabic music in klezmer or see a touch of the Sufi in Hasidism. Bringing the traditions together for a fresh look is a great idea!

I regret that the klezmer is the weakest part of the CD. The clarinet and band play "Der Gasn Nign" and "Alter Shir" with unexpected stiffness. Even when the clarinet wails, it feels as though it wails stiffly, imprisoned by the beat instead of following the dancers. It isn't until the closing bars on "Alter Shir" that the clarinet seems to break down those walls. On the other hand, the shofar sounds with which "Al Ula" begins, and their subsequent distorition, are great, as is the entire percussion piece. Likewise, the album closing "Du Kiyum", the "binational" piece, opening with oudish explorations, feels alive. It's a good way to end such an enjoyable album.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 4 Jun 2006

Personnel this recording:
Samuel Thomas: soprano sax, clarinet, bendir, ghaita
Shanir Blumenkranz: oud, bass
Eric Platz: drums, percussion
Elie Massias: guitar, vocals (tracks 4, 6)


  1. Aliz (Sam Thomas) 5:02
  2. Largo (Riad al-Sonbati; arr. Sam Thomas) 4:42
  3. Marrakesh Rumble (Sam Thomas) 5:07
  4. Ki Eshmera Shabbat (trad., arr. Sam Thomas) 4:37
  5. Der Gasn Nign (trad., arr. Sam Thomas) 3:28
  6. Yom Enamore (trad., arr. comp. Sam Thomas) 3:40
  7. Al Ula (Sam Thomas) 4:38
  8. Alter Shir (comp. Dave Tarras, arr. Sam Thomas) 4:32
  9. Du Kiyum (comp. Asefa) 3:34

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