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July 26, 2010

Stempenyu's Neshome - new soul from Steven Greenman now available

cd coverWhile I am on the subject of New Jewish Music, with an emphasis on new music worth hearing, let me note that Steven Greenman's latest release, an amazing blend of klezmer, nign, and classical feeling is now available from CDbaby.com, with samples. It features several compositions by midwestern violin maestro Greenman, along with his playing, accompanied by the likes of Alan Bern (Brave Old World) and Pete Rushefsky. It's been on my current rotation for several weeks now and isn't going anywhere. There is some very deep music here. I don't think I'll get tired of it anytime soon. (Fair disclosure: I typeset the CD notes, so cannot be regarded as entirely unbiased unless you consider that I only work on projects that I am very much in love with and manage to hit during the very rare instances when I have time to work on them—the former criterion being the one that's relevant here.)

HBI issue on young Jewish women doing Jewish music

The Hadassah-Brandeis Institute (HBI) has an online magazine called "614" (extending the 613 commandments followed by traditional Jews....) This issue has some short interviews with several young Jewish women creating interesting music. There is also an interview with jDub founder Aaron Bisman, and a link to the grandmother of Jewish Music Festivals, the Berkeley Jewish Music Fest, currently celebrating it's 25th birthday.

Taking Jewish music mainstream

I think what I like best is that there are articles about several people doing interesting music, and that I could go on for several more without even thinking that coulda shoulda also been part of that issue, but for deadlines and limited resources. So, I'll praise the magazine for catching a few facets of the prism, and encourage them to continue to explore the subject over time.


July 18, 2010

The Klezmer Shul - davenning klezmer style

This past Thursday night this year's Paper Bridge festival was closed out by Veretski Pass performing the East Coast premiere of their new improvisational piece, "The KlezmerShul."

It wasn't klezmer. There was lots of classical, cantorial, jazz music. It was intense and wonderful. Here is the closing movement (I posted the two movements under 10 minutes, plus all of the QA sessions, on YouTube):

You can catch the entire concert from the Internet Archive at www.archive.org/details/VeretskiPasstheKlezmerShulAmherstMa15Jul2010


July 15, 2010

"Branches" bridges old and new at Paper Bridge fest

Those of us (and the house was pretty full, so it wasn't a small crowd filling out the National Yiddish Book Center's new auditorium--I'd give you the donors' names, but the new NYBC website seems particularly opaque on such details) who attended the Amherst debut of Hankus Netsky's new band, "Branches" on Monday night had a subversively pleasant evening.

"Branches," includes Hankus on piano (Klezmer Conservatory Band founder and, as Dr. Netsky, head of the NYBC's "Discovery" Project), KCB regulars Andy Blickenderfer on bass, cello, and banjo; and Yaeko Mirando Elmaleh on violin; along with Hankus' jazz ensemble, "Another Realm" co-conspirator Linda Jaye Chase on flute and bass clarinet; and Hebrew College cantorial student Jessica Kate Meyer on vocals, harmonium, and percussion. You couldn't ask for a much more professional, tighter sounder group of folks for a pleasant evening in Amherst. Augmenting everything was the core of NYBC interns (and audience members) who took advantage of the floor space to indulge in "Yiddish" (Eastern European Jewish) folk dancing. The group started off with some traditional klezmer, but it quickly became clear that this was traditional music, but not the old same repertoire. Instead, Hankus mixed in pieces that he had gathered as part of the Center's "Discovery" project, as well as less-well-known pieces by that generation of Second Avenue songsters who had drawn on traditional music and made it American. We got to hear wonderful music that sounded familiar, but was still new to most of us.

Once the audience was warmed up, Hankus moved farther afield, including pieces from "Another Realm," including two wonderful pieces by flautist Linda Chase, one inspired by a poem by Itzik Manger, read simultaneously in Yiddish and English by Netsky and Chase; and another inspired by an earlier poem by the Sufi mystic Rumi. Again from "Another Realm" (I think—I forgot to check) was a new middle eastern piece by Hankus. Closing out, the ensemble returned to the familiar-sounding Yiddish and klezmer. As they played, my audience companions would turn to each other and to me, smiling that "this is hot shit" smile.

What made the concert special wasn't just wonderful music wonderfully played—it was the way that Hankus continues to broaden the repertoire of traditional music, expanding ears, and in a way, legitimizing further the boundary-pushing music of a younger generation of musicians such as The Lithuanian Empire or Daniel Kahn & Painted Bird. It's not a static canon, nor does the music come from a tradition that is disappearing—at least, not disappearing yet, and if the musicians or Monday night's audience have anything to say about it, clearly not disappearing anytime soon.

Tonight, of course, is the East Coast premiere of the new Veretski Pass piece, "Klezmer Shul," as suitable to close the festival as "Branches" was to open the festival—the one to open by showing that the culture that the Center has preserved is alive and well; and tonight to seal a future is even more open-ended and exciting than we imagined a few days ago. חזק חזק ונתחדש!

July 11, 2010

Ezekiel's Wheels on YouTube

As I wrote last week, this performance of Ezekiel's Wheels last weekend at the LilyPad was the culmination of a week of great music. I taped the whole thing on a Flip camera, and the bandmembers edited it down and put segments up on YouTube. The band, playing to a full house, was joined by several friends onstage, and great fun was had by all:

National Yiddish Book Center's "Paper Bridge" fest opens today

NYBC Paper Bridge Festival logoOne of the most special New England events occurs not during the Fall leaf-gawking season, but in mid-July—starting today, in fact—when the National Yiddish Book Center opens its annual "Paper Bridge" festival, a week-long celebration of Yiddishkeit with lectures, workshops, film screenings, and of course, Jewish music new and old.

This year features two special exhibits, Mayer Kirshenblatt's paintings in a traveling exhibit titled: "They Call Me Mayer July" (so what more appropriate month!??). I am a major fan of the exhibit, and of his pictures, which capture life in pre-Holocaust Poland in a way that is both sweet and yet eschews the shmalzification of the period. Kirshenblatt's exhibit is balanced by a look at "Esn! Jews and Food in America. It's a hard combo to beat. [Off-topic, I note that the Jewish Women's Archive, where I work, has recently begun featuring regular guest blogs—is that an oxymoron?—on food and new kosher recipes. Yummy!

What matters most to KlezmerShack readers, of course, is that there will be music. Amazing music. New music. Tomorrow night I expect to trek out for Hankus Netsky's new ensemble, Branches, "… that uses Jewish musical tradition as a point of departure for creative exploration, performing repertoire drawn from klezmer, Yiddish theater, and cantorial traditions, along with new compositions and improvisations based on Yiddish poetry and other sources."

Tuesday night is a re-interpretation "The Firebird." Double Edge Theatre's interpretation of the classic Russian tale draws from the work of Mark Chagall and uses both the indoor and outdoor spaces of the Book Center to transport the audience into the imagination of the famous painter. This is followed on Wednesday night by two documentaries, "The Peretzniks" and "Paint what you remember," the latter featuring Mayer Kirshenblatt talking about his work and pre-war Poland.

The finale, and another absolutely-must-see evening is the East Coast premiere of Veretski Pass's new piece, "The Klezmer Shul." "Inspired by the synagogues of pre-war Eastern Europe, The Klezmer Shul is rooted in Jewish liturgical melodic principles and emotionals intonations. This four-movement instrumental suite transmits the emotional power of synagogue singing without the use of words, incorporating elements of jazz, avant-garde, classical, klezmer, and folk music." If you are familiar with the ways in which Veretski Pass has revitalized early European klezmer music, you wouldn't dream of missing this. As for me, having heard bits and pieces of the piece in formation, I have my tickets at the ready.

The Paper Bridge festival includes more than just evening concerts. There are workshops, film-screenings, and tours during the day. If, like much of New England, you are spending some time in the Berkshires (or nearby) to escape the current heat wave, this is the week to spend a bit to the East in Amherst. The rest of us, still at work during the day, will simply face a longer commute than usual ;-).

National Yiddish Book Center logoNational Yiddish Book Center
1021 West Street
Amherst, MA

July 1, 2010

From Cooper and Lerner to Ezekiel's Wheel - a week of good music and not done yet

This past Sunday I found myself in New York City. I did the obvious and caught Adrienne Cooper and Marilyn Lerner at the City Winery brunch, way off on the West Side of town where I hadn't been since visiting a college friend at her father's print shop--Varick Street was once the center of printing in Manhattan.

Not only did I run into several friends, but the music was superb. The repertoire was a varied as one would hope for—older, less-well-known Yiddish songs, new ones, and a taste of Cooper and Lerner's settings of the poetry of Anna Margolin. I could listen to Adrienne Cooper sing for hours and days. I have to say likewise for listening to the improvisational piano playing of Marilyn Lerner, here extending from the instrumental music recorded on her most recent Jewish music CD, Roumanian Fantasy, to her incredible interplay with Cooper. Watching them both was a treat.

Brunch at City Winery is a major step up from the tiny old Tonic (which wasn't even offering food in the last years of its Sunday brunch series). The space is huge, and clean, and the waitstaff are attentive. But, I gotta say that Sunday brunch needs to feature food that is better than "okay." It is not painful to eat there, and the coffee is good, but I can't imagine anyone waking up and saying, "I can't wait to eat at the City Winery again, and boy, wouldn't it be great to take the family out and listen to XXX." For the music, you can't do better. But for the food, you'll always be thinking, "couldn't I be eating someplace else?"

I was sorely tempted to stay in NYC to catch Mycale that night, and really, really wanted to hear Greg Wall's Ain Sof Arkestra Monday night. Too bad on my part, as Greg writes:

The Ayn Sof Arkestra and Bigger Band played Monday night to a packed house and kicked hard! The Jewish Week wrote a nice preview and that helped. Interesting mix of folks in the audience—young, older, secular, frummies, and a bunch of musicians as well.

My consolation? I was back here in time to attend the first gig by the KlezWoods at Johnny D's. I've written about this band a few times—usually I see them at Atwoods Tavern in Cambridge at one of their Sunday night gigs. Dana Westover, who has a great Sunday afternoon world folk show on WUMB interviewed them last week, and got them this gig. It was smoking. If ever there was a band ready to be playing to people who are actually paying attention and are ready to dance, it's KlezWoods.

There were 10 people on stage, including Grant Smith, drummer for the Klezmer Conservatory Band and a wide range of projects including balkan and other world music; and Michael McLaughlin—Dr. McLaughlin to most of us—who plays accordion and keyboards for Shirim, Naftule's Dream, and some wonderful avant garde-ish bands. Joe Kessler, the band instigator was there hopping around and playing his battered electric teal violin. There was electric guitar and stand-up bass and trombone and trumpet and Becky Wexler on clarinet, Alex Spiegelman (sp?) on sax, all playing this wonderful soup of klezmer/balkan/funk/jam band music that was so perfect for dancing that you had people bopping around in usual north american style on stage while others were carefully weaving a line of Balkan steps.

'Nuff said. The band has a CD out in a couple of months. It may or may not be great. They appear around town. Time to catch them live.

And finally, the week not being over yet, I expect to see the same faces at the Lily Pad, in Inman Square, on Saturday night at 10pm when Ezekiel's Wheels hold forth. Big fun expected.