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HaZamir uninspiring in "Jews and Blues"

After reporting on so many excellent concerts over the last month or so, it seems appropriate to mention one that didn't work well for me—this afternoon's concert by HaZamir Chorale and a local Boston soul/funk band, Earthkwake.

Titled "Jews and Blues", the concert followed a theme similar to last year's combination of the Workman's Circle Chorus and a Black Gospel group. This year, the chorus was the often-excellent Hazamir.

The concert started on a problematic note for me as HaZamir took the first shift and went nicely through some mildly interesting, mostly Israel-of-the-Fifties-and-Sixties-inspired numbers. One number, which featured chanting the names of some Israeli cities and things to do in them/how to arrive, in Hebrew, could have been interesting, but never overcame the limitations of good, but not great singers. It was a "pop-ish" set, which shouldn't be a bad thing, and wasn't. But neither was it memorable.

Earthkwake was even less memorable. The program listed the lead singer, Nathaniel Stringfield, as drummer. In concert, there were a series of other drummers sitting in, and he did a fair job as vocalist. Had he sung more, instead of spending most of the time working the audience, I might have been more excited. Instead, despite Stringfield's high energy, I felt mildly manipulated and pretty bored.

A final set with both groups together did click somewhat. They covered a nice range of gospel and Jewish religious pieces tightly, and still with the energy that was the main feature of the earlier sets. Notable were nice renditions of the Jimmy Cliff "By the rivers of Babylon" as well as "Oh, Rachel don't you weep."

I admit that the Sunday afternoon Jewish Community Center audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy itself. I heard one person, on leaving, say that if HaZamir had recorded today's show, he would love to buy the CD. But, to me, it felt like surburban strip mall entertainment—and while the Newton, MA JCC's demographic certainly includes suburbanites, they tend to book more interesting shows (hey, they booked the KlezmerShack's 10th Anniversary party last year!).

I should mention by way of example, that Brave Old World will be presenting its "Songs of the Lodz Ghetto" on March 17-18, as one obvious example of "more interesting shows," so let me close on that more positive note. I've seen BOW perform this piece several times over the years. It has evolved over time, but it has never been less than powerful and thoroughly absorbing. Stay tuned.