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Idelsohn Society releases "Black Sabbath"

cd cover At the Ashkenaz Festival last month, one of the highlights for me was listening to a talk by Josh Kun about researching the way that Jews and Blacks; and most surprising to me in some ways, Jews and Hispanics, had mixed musically in previous decades. This goes beyond the "Yiddishe Mambo" or Nina Simone singing "Eretz Zavath Halav u'dvash" (which, I'll grant you, has been fun to rediscover on YouTube every few months).

Having said that, I need to mention that Kun is both a wonderful writer about Hispanic culture here in the US, and more rarely, Jewish culture. One of his many projects is something called the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation (once known as "Reboot"), which has been responsible for some amazing clearing out of the vaults, such as the Fred Katz classic, "Folk Songs for Far Out Folk."

So, the latest release of the Society is something they call "Black Sabbath," which ranges from the aforementioned Nina Simone cut, to Johnny Mathis singing "Kol Nidre." This is seriously beyond Cab Calloway or Slim Gaillard singing "Dunkin' Bagels" (covered wonderfully by the Australian band, Klezmania, on their debut album, or the jive spirit captured by the last two musicians (among others) brilliant captured on Paul Shapiro's "Essen" show.

I mention all of this because of the strange article in Tablet a couple of weeks ago in which the normally astute Alex Gelfand trashes the liner notes for going over territory that is "well-known." Except that (a) it isn't well-known outside of circles consisting of people like Paul Shapiro, Josh Kun, Alex, and me. And, at least in my case, there's a lot here, starting with Billie Holliday singing "My Yiddishe Momme" that I had never imagined, and which points to musical sharing far more intense than I had assumed.

To my extreme surprise, Gelfand then goes on to note what he claims is revelatory—the mixing between Jewish and Roma music communities a century ago. Except that to people like Zev Feldman, or Bob Cohen (whose lecture Gelfand applauds—like Kun, Cohen gives great lecture and even plays better violin), or, um, me, have known or suspected this since Feldman's seminal paper a decade ago about the "Bulgar." Those of us who have followed Alan Bern's "Other Europeans" project from its inception three years ago were thrilled to learn from Feldman's renewed research of how deep the communities mixed, to the point of intermarriage. But, no, this, too, is not news to those of us who have been lucky enough to be following it as it developed. To the rest of the world? It's as shocking as listening to the late German Goldenshteyn explain that "Avinu Malkenu" was an often-requested tune at non-Jewish weddings that his group played back in the former Soviet Union.

All of this is a very long-winded way of introducing Mike Regenstreif's review of "Black Sabbath," originally airing in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, which he has graciously allowed the KlezmerShack to put online: African American artists perform Jewish music. Enjoy!