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More Hanukkah presents - what I saw/heard at Ashkenaz

Every two years on Labor Day weekend we fill up the car with friends and make a pilgrimage to Toronto to see old friends and enjoy one of the best Jewish music festivals around. This year Ashkenaz continued a trend away from "Ashkenaz" and continued its quest to represent new Jewish music from around the world. Klezmer was featured primarily around the central dancing/listening area, with Avia Moore acting as the primary dance teacher. There was non-stop great dance music, a bit of which I took home on CD. Otherwise, the festival was diverse. I'm not sure it was always successful in presenting music that was relevant and/or new in a Jewish context, but I'd rather attend a festival that takes chances than one in which I only hear the same old stuff. I do wish there was more experimental music, but I managed to be so busy that I really didn't get enough time to catch up with friends. That says something about how much we were listening. Here are the CDs that I took home with me and some quick thoughts

CD coverThis second outing from the Toronto Middle Eastern-sounding jamband seems more coherent than the first release a couple of years ago. Singer Aviva Chernick's voice, melds with an eclectic, talented band. They remind me a bit of Pharaoh's Daughter, but more ethereal. Jaffa Road / Where the Light Gets In is available for download or purchase on bandcamp.com. Note that singer Aviva Chernick also has a solo album that will release on Dec. 5. More on that, anon.

CD coverLegendary pianist Pete Sokolow has taught a couple of generations of young klezmorim since the revival began in the 1980s. Lately he has teamed up with some of the hottest young (or not so young) revivalist in a band appropriately called Tarras Band. Members include youngsters like Michael Winograd (who also has a new CD just out) and Ben Holmes, and revival masters David Licht (Klezmatics) and Jim Guttmann (KCB). As a dance band, these guys rock. The CD captures that intensity and includes a couple of short clips of Pete talking. You can get your own copy at cdbaby.com

CD coverClarinetist Christian Dawid was everywhere at Ashkenaz, most prominently with an elegant setting of singer Arkady Gendler's songs (which I have yet to receive). But in the souvenir stand I was able to snag the latest recording by him, Sanne Möricke (accordion), and Guy Schalom (percussion), Yas Trio / Live. This is easily the most energetic and fun of the klezmer recordings I picked up, and the most-played since. You can check out the band and get your copy on Mr. Dawid's website

CD coverI have no idea who this band is—I didn't see them on the program, although the website says that they are related to an earlier Toronto all-women's band, The Pomegranates. Be that as it may, I loved the cover and the name, The Horables / No Shirts No Shoes No Tsuris, and I'm glad I picked this up. It seems only appropriate that I spread the word. This EP features several klezmer and yiddish tunes, well-played, entirely enjoyable, typified by a raucously-enjoyable version of "The Money Song." Check them out at their website www.thehorables.com/.

CD coverThis wonderful goodie helped compensate for the lack of avant garde or experimental music that I encountered at Ashkenaz this year. Ellie Shapiro, the same person who introduced me to Balkan village music and the Red Star Singers, Queen Ida, and so much more 30 or 40 years ago is now Director of the Jewish Music Festival in Berkeley. Back in 2008 she got together some of the most amazing musicians around, starting with Frank London who directed the whole thing, but including percussionist Aaron Alexander, singer Jewlia Eisenberg, bassist Stuart Brotman, etc.—all people at the top of my "whatever they're playing, I want to listen" list, and in this case, from all over the world. Funded by a Jewish Music Festival grant they created an amazing piece of music which is finally available, Art Ensemble / Might Be. This reminds me a bit of "Accordion Tribe" in the way that it mixes Jewish and Eastern European folksong and melody with a no-holds-barred sense of 21st century experimentation. You don't have to believe me—you can check it out and get your own copy on CDBaby.com. Along with the Trio Yas recording, mentioned above, this is my favorite recording of the festival.

CD coverKlezmerson was one of several "guy bands" that I saw at the festival—heavy on loud and often interesting sounds which seemed to interest none of the women in our party. On the other hand, we also saw them in a quieter setting, at the amazing Free Times Cafe Sunday Brunch where they focused on the Jewish side of their sound. Their flute player was most amazing. The band does mix an exotic (to us) mix of Mexican son and other musical traditions with Jewish and other sounds which makes them worth listening to. Taking a chance on one of several recordings at the festival, I picked up their Tzadik release, Klezmerson / Siete which features the loud and interesting, despite a gentle and more traditional recording, sung by Cantor Moshe Mendelson, "Zuntik." Find out more on the Tzadik website.