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June 22, 2004

A weekend with the Klezmatics in London

band photoThis weekend has been little short of a Fantasy Klezmer league for Kleznerds. Who would you most love to jam with? Who is your dream backing band for your version of "Vu bistu geven"? To whose process would you most love to be privy? And, lastly, with whom would you most love to chat Klezmer - style, material and interpretation - over sandwiches and coffee? For today's Klezmorim the answer would be every time The Klezmatics, New York's best loved Klezmer band.

Thus begins Rachel Lasserson's account of a weekend workshop with the Klezmatics in London, first posted to the Jewish-Music mailing list on May 23, 2004. There's more

Workmen's Circle Chorus still singing out for social justice

My synagogue is active in an interfaith social justice group called the "Greater Boston Interfaith Organization" (GBIO). I recently attended an event involving dozen's of faith communities around the Boston area in support of a couple of causes important to all of us.

To my surprise and pleasure, the chorus singing organizing songs and Yiddish folksongs on the stage was none other than Boston's own Workmen's Circle Chorus. Of course, they were doing nothing other than what they have done since the first socialist secularists founded the Arbeiter Ring (Workmen's Circle) 100? 200? years ago: celebrating Yiddish culture and singing, as expected, for social justice. I was temporarily taken aback by the notion of them joined together with explicitly faith organizations, but realized that faith has many meanings, not all of them tied to ritual spiritual practice.

It was not a profound event, or a profound moment; rather a pleasant reminder that our sense of faith has grown, as has our ability to work together for social justice and for social change. Absent was polarizing insistence of "under god" (consider the recent Supreme Court case on the subject) or fear of "godless Communists aka socialists". Instead, the Workmen's Circle Chorus was reminding us, as did the gospel trio that followed them, of all that unites us, instead.

For more information on GBIO (nothing on Jewish Music, alas—not even klezmer), visit their website. For Yiddishkayt, you'll have to visit the Workmen's Circle website.

June 21, 2004

Lots of great new music

album coverIn the last couple of weeks I have been better at writing and gathering reviews than actually posting them. For instance, last Fall I wrote a review of the rookie "Sukke" album. Now the album is out and available to all: "Introducing Sukke" and I like it a lot. The band consists of a trio of some of Europe's best klezmorim, and it shows. The album also includes a couple of lyric efforts by Michael Wex. Need I say more? Okay, then read the whole review!

album coverThere has been tremendous buzz about Pearl Gluck's film, Divan. The movie may deserve the buzz, but Frank London's soundtrack for the film is worth listening to on its own terms as a remarkable fusion of chasidishe nign and other music pushing the edges—makes sense, because in many ways, that's what chasidishe nign does. A wonderful, album, too, for lovers of women's voices.

album coverGoing back a couple of years, already, is an album by Sanda Weigl, "Gypsy Killer". It isn't klezmer, it's traditional Romanian and Rom music filtered through the New York downtown scene. So, other music kept getting reviewed first, even while I couldn't stop listening. Now you can read the review and catch the fever, yourself. It is a killer album.

album coverSpeaking of filtering great music through the New York downtown scene, another album that has been on the CD changer for over a year is this incredible, insanely wonderful tribute to Israel's amazing songwriter, Sasha Argov: Great Jewish Music. They really get it, and Argov, well, Argov got it big time. He's like the Kurt Weill and Irving Berlin all rolled together, and all in Hebrew.

album coverA couple of bands have been fusing Jewish music with 20s jazz and pop. In this hemisphere, we have Portland, Oregon's Klezmocracy, with their debut CD. And then, down where it's winter while we swelter in summer, is album coverAustralia's Monsieur Camembert, with a lovely sophomore outing, Absynthe.

album coverFinally, there is a newer Israeli pop artists, channeling the Sixties and Israeli music, Ben-Canar and Shvil HeHalav. Definitely interesting. Not Sasha Argov, but not Mashina, either. Read more!

Yiddishe Cup Channels Mickey Katz

album coverI have been sitting here most of the night waiting for my printer drivers to finish installing. If HP made printer drivers the way they make printers, this would be working hours ago. But such is not my fortune.

On the other hand, it has given me lots of time to really, really listen to the new Yiddishe Cup CD,"Meshugeneh Mambo." in which they successfully channel the late Mickey Katz. Oy, what a metziye! This is the most outrageous combination of fifties Borscht Belt shtick and postmodern Jewish deconstruction I've heard in years and boy did we need it. I'm going to review this 'real soon now,' but don't wait. You can order copies now from CD Baby. Why wait for me to get my act together. Mickey Katz is kvelling in a flying shisl somewhere out there and he's urging us all to "essn, essn." But not even Mickey would have dreamed up "I am a Man of Constant Blessings", and unless his son went to Tufts or Brandeis (like, say, the son of a certain bandmember of my acquaintance), we'd miss out on a very straight, delightfully a capella "Oseh Shalom." But what the heck. If uncontrollable laughter is what you need, just hang in there—the "Knish Doctor" will be up shortly.

Piamenta aims for Orthodox heavy metal fans; Hendrix he's not

album coverIt was about 30 years ago when I first heard Yossi Piamenta in Israel. He was an outstanding guitarist doing amazing jazz-rock fusion music. Then he found God, and his music seemed less interesting. The years passed and I occasionally talked about this extraordinary concert 30 years ago. I began to realize that I was seeing similarly laudatory praise in the Orthodox music press, so I picked up his brand new "Live: New York City Performance" album to listen to on a car drive down to the big apple.

This is not the music I remember. It is mediocre heavy metal accompanied by flat (if religiously derived) vocals and a mundane backup band. The faux Hendrix album closer—a reworked "Red House" doesn't do it for me, although here the guitar is skillfully imitative—wish the vocals were up to snuff. This CD contains music for a particular type of hormonally-overwhelmed New York City Jewish male teenager, which is fine. But I think I'll give it a rest. If someone knows and loves this music and can speak to what makes it attractive to them, I'll appreciate the comment.