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September 28, 2014

New releases for the Days of Awe

I want to take time out for a few minutes to note the current season and mention a few recent releases that may help get you in the mood for t'shuvah.

CD coverI'll first mention a new instrumental release by Tzadik saxophonist Paul Shapiro / Shofarot Verses. His 2003 "Midnight Minyan" put the daven into jazz. Here he continues that tradition, with some of my favorite Tzadik musicians, including Captain Beefheart alum Marc Ribot on guitar, Brad Jones on bass, and Tony Lewis on drums. From the opening moments of the very season-appropriate "Hashivenu" through the closing "With Reed and Skins" Shapiro manages to combine jazz and a sense of nusach (Ashkenazic Jewish cantorial modes) in ways that seek out that still small voice within us. At the same time, as on "Daven Dance," he reminds us that joy can physically move us. The shofar-like soprano sax impulsion on "Halil," with Ribot's answering guitar is one standout, followed by an actual shofar on "Ashamnu," which takes the familiar Yom Kippur melody to a new place of grace. The album's ethos is perhaps best expressed in the description of "Search your soul," "Finding solace in the house of b-flat." More info at Paul's website. The music is available from Tzadik and the usual disk and MP3 vendors online.

CD coverComing from another place, entirely, (and perhaps exemplifying the difference between the gritty downtown New York scene vs. the spiritual secularism of California's Bay Area) singer/cantor Linda Hirschhorn's voice and words speak directly to those parts of us that aspire to heal and to help a world in need of healing. Her 2013 recording, "Amazed" is also an album with beautiful personal love songs. With an all-star cast, including Holly Near on the backing vocals of the opening hymn, "Amazed," this is just a wonderful album, balm for a "verbissener velt." Tunes range from the folkie to the blues, as on "Some Love," to the hum along inspirational and aspirational, as "Give it all you have." You can listen to samples and purchase the CD from Linda Hirschhorn's website and the usual online vendors.

cd coverSiach Hasadeh is a Montreal-based duo, clarinet and bass, exploring Jewish niggun. Since they also appeared at Ashkenaz 2014, I can also link this set of reviews to my continuing coverage of the standout artists at that festival. Although the music is sweet, the duo explores the rougher sides of harmony as well. There is a delightful tone poem/art song/modern classical dissonance that weaves in and out of these tunes, from the opening "R' Levi Yitzchak Berditchever's Niggun" to "Niggun firn di tsaddikim in gay eyden" or "Rabbeinu's Niggun" featuring Shtreiml masters Jason Rosenblatt on harmonica and Ismail Fencioğlu on oud. For those who enjoy digging deeper and letter ways of niggun wash over them, this is a rich recording. You can read more about the recording on the band's website or purchase it directly from CDBaby.com.

cd coverThe standout voice, the woman everyone wanted to hear at this year's Ashkenaz Festival was Polina Shepherd. Readers of these pages over the years will not be surprised—you have read reviews of her singing with choirs, with brass bands, with just her husband, Merlin Shepherd, and friends. She plays an amazing piano, but it is her voice that you notice. Amazing range. Beauty, and a force of nature. Born in the former Soviet Union, this recording is a tribute to both her Russian and Yiddish roots. She sings of love and longing, universal yearnings, whether, say, in the Russian "Silver Birch" or the more modern Yiddish of "Birch Tree;" from folk melodies, to Eastern European "scat," here a wordless prayer in "Ay Yay Yay;" whether the text comes from the Song of Songs, "Place me like a seal," her own poetry (most of these pieces), or evokes life, itself, in the Yom Kippur plea, "Avinu Malkeinu" (Our Father, Our King). Shepherd's voice is transformative. More information, and CD purchases from the artist's website.

cd coverThere has been an evolution as Basya Schechter has gone from writing Middle Eastern-inflected folksongs, to someone more involved with rethinking religious poetry. He most recent CD was a recording of her settings of love poems, both to women, and to God (and sometimes, like "Song of Songs," as easily to read as expressing love for both) written in Yiddish by Rabbi A. J. Heschel. This latest recording by Pharaoh's Daughter consists entirely of settings of traditional prayer and piyyut. The music, though, comes from around the world. The opening "Adon Olam" conveys echoes of electronica. The familiar "Maoz Tzur" is rethought with celesta-like keyboard pinpoints, as though to highlight falling snow; in the simplicity of the melody you can hear echoes of a family lighting Hanukkah candles. Likewise, "Ha-nerot Halaluh" contains elements of electronica and metallic percussion and a lively sing-along melody. The title song, for instance, "Dumiya," echoes all of the above, with hints of African rhythm and Middle Eastern flow. The closing "Shebishlifleynu" has a driving, somewhat psychedelic beat. The current season is evoked with light glissando's of sound setting "Zikaron," a poem conveying the awe of standing in front of G-d on Yom Kippur, with a quieter new melody for "P'tach lanu sha'ar" (open a gate for us). If the music of Shlomo Carlebach and Debbie Friedman simplified melodies and invited congregational participation in davenning in new ways, the music of Basya Schechter and Pharaoh's Daughter fuses Sephardic, Ashkenazic, and indeed, world music traditions for a new generation of prayers. It is good to hear such eloquent settings for songs of renewal in this season of awe. Liner notes and more info available on the Pharaoh's Daughter website. You can purchase a copy from Amazon.com.

September 27, 2014

More from Ashkenaz 2014: Forshpil, Geoff Berner

Before memories of this year's Ashkenaz Festival totally dissipate, I wanted to continue my mentions of several notable bands and musicians encountered there.

cd coverFirst up is Forshpil, from Riga, Latvia. Although they performed a couple of traditional klezmer/yiddish sets at the obligatory "Bella Did ya eat?" brunch at the FreeTimes Cafe, the band is much more "rock-klezmer" fusion. In fact, the opening "Volekhl" on their eponymous 2012 CD immediately attracts the ears, sounding like an improbably successful marriage between Hawkwind and traditional klezmer. From there, it's on to a funk-infused "Priv Trink Oys." Despite the quite, gentle rendition of "Di sapozkelekh" or the closing "Dobranotsh," and although there are reggae and jazz influences, the dominant sound is that opening "heavy metal progrock" feel, along with a certain Dick Dale-inspired speed guitar picking, as on "Meyld in di yorn." In this, the band reminds me not a little of "Yiddish Princess." The diversity continues to good effect. Like so much good klezmer-and-more recordings these days, you can get your copy at CDBaby.com, where you can also listen to samples of each of the songs.

cd coverGeoff Berner's 2011 "Victory Party" is a different kettle of fish. A long-time stalwart of the Canadian folkie scene, this is his sixth recording. Berner is often compared to Daniel Katz for the social commentary and (in Berner's case, relatively rare) Yiddish or klezmer inflections in his music. You can hear their similarities in songs such as "Laughing Jackie the Pimp" and in a very nicely contextualized "Daloy Polizei," also covered by Kahn (especially timely this year--and now that I think about it, all too often). At the same time, where Kahn both incites to action and expresses an ennui (this, too, will not ultimately change the world), Berner more often seems a bit more of a commentator, distant. His "Mayn rue platz" is less a call to action, than an evocation of sadness. But, we speak of relativity. "I am going to jail / to get a new pair of shoes" ("Jail") pulls few punches, despite its jaunty tune. "Oh my golem" is likewise fairly direct commentary. "Did you really think a perfect god / wants you to burn a goat / or nail the Messiah in place" from "Rabbi Berner finally reveals his true religion" may be gentle, but it's a call to action, nonetheless (smirk included).

In addition to performing at Ashkenaz, Berner was interviewed by DJ SoCalled (who also produced "Victory Party") at the Festival about his relatively recent short novel, Festival Man. Advertised as a hard-hitting satire about the Canadian Folk Festival scene, the book is actually a bit of a fond love poem to same—satire included, and a pleasure to read.

September 21, 2014

David Buchbinder's Odessa/Havana, "Walk to the Sea"

another faux deep tzadik coverOne of the highlights of the Saturday evening concerts at this year's Ashkenaz Festival in Toronto was the appearance of David Buchbinder's Odessa/Havana. Showcasing their 2013 release on Tzadik, "Walk to the sea," the music was exhilarating. The fusion of Cuban, klezmer, and jazz, and much more was seamless. Buchbinder and his bands are always excellent, but watching pianist Hilario Durán was magic. Listening to vocalist Maryem Hassan Tollar live was a revelation. I have a short review of the CD now on the KlezmerShack. Enjoy. You can get your own copy via the band's website.

Save the date!

Adrienne Cooper Fund for Dreaming in Yiddish SAVE THE DATE!! December 30 honoring genius, writer, Yiddishist, and brave buddy of Adrienne, (drum roll) Michael Wex! More on Facebook: www.facebook.com/AdrienneCooperFundForDreamingInYiddish

September 20, 2014

Marin Bunea video

Posted to Facebook by Pete Rushefsky

These musicians are from Republic of Moldova, Chisinau. Marin Bunea - violin, Mihai Sorocan - accordeon, Valeriu Cascaval - cimbalom, Ion Croitoru - double bass.

September 17, 2014

KlezKanada - 2014 student concert - Dave Tarras Ensemble

"Talk Dirty," the Yiddish version

Postmodern Jukebox presents "Talk Dirty"—Vintage Klezmer Jason Derulo Cover (with 2 Chainz Rap in Yiddish)

September 9, 2014

Klezmatics in studio, interview, on Voice of Israel

From Eitan of the "Voice of Israel." The Klezmatics are in town for a sacred music festival:

Musicians Frank London and David Licht of the Grammy award-winning band The Klezmatics perform live in-studio on VOI's Yishai Fleisher Show. Tune in for a fun conversation about culture, sacred music, and 'Jewy' pride.


September 8, 2014

Join campaign for Litvakus CD @ Indiegogo

Litvakus: The Lost Jewish Music of Belarus CD Help release our first full-length album Dear Friends, Litvakus is recording its first full-length album, Raysn (a Yiddish name for Belarus) that includes incredibly beautiful and endangered Belarusian Jewish music discovered and revived after 70 years of oblivion, as well original songs to the poetry of Moyshe Kulbak and Zisl Slepovitch. We are asking our friends for support that would make this project happen. Please check out the Litvakus' Raysn Indiegogo page for the full story of this record and consider supporting us through that page.

September 1, 2014

A few special things seen at the Ashkenaz Festival

The problem with writing about a festival whilst attending, is that one feels some obligation to hear music every waking minutes. So, this will be a brief list.

We drove in from the States late and missed Geoff Berner's set on Saturday, which had been one of our goals. I did get a chance to catch him at an interview about his just-released book (which sounds good, but has nothing to do with Jewish Culture, new or otherwise) with SoCalled, and that was fun, if not musical. On his recordings, Berner has a political and somewhat satiric bent that reminds me of Daniel Kahn, except that Berner sings in English. You can catch him on his most recent recording, Victory Party.

David Buchbinder's Odessa/Havana show was a highlight. It isn't just that the band was tight, or that the singer, Maryem Hassan Tollar is exceptional, but pianist Hilario Duran is a treasure. If you saw the performance, you already have the new CD. If you weren't there, let me assure you that the CD is exceptional.

We were exhausted, but stayed for the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, a delightful street band that has been on tour for the last couple of months. Extraordinary energy and much fun in a sort of Eastern European mix. Huge orchestra! I hope they come to my neighborhood's "Honk!" festival this year and soon. David Buchbinder came out to join the band in one number, as did members of Forshpil, and the incomparable Polina Shepherd. Readers of these pages already know that Shepherd is an extraordinary singer. Here at Ashkenaz, she and husband Merlin Shepherd blew audiences away. If there were justice, they would have been booked for several more shows here. Several of her recordings have been reviewed in raves on these pages. Live, she is even better.

One special moment at the festival so far was the appearance of Steve Greenman with Chinese pipa player Gao Hong. They were right. The two musical traditions, as well as fiddle and pipa, were made to play together.

Michael Winograd's new project, "Sandaraa" was billed as a fusion. In truth, it is Pakistani music, mostly from Baluchistan, and I love it. (Yes, it is a Jewish music festival, but ...) Played by Winograd's ensemble, and featuring the voice of Zebunnisa (Zeb) Bangash, with a touch of "jam band" feel, this was just plain fun. Of special note, along with Winograd's clarinet, was Richie Barshay's amazingly fluent drumming and percussion.

We ended last night with Zion80, a relatively new project by Tzadik recording artist Jon Madof. The band has just released a new CD of Zorn's music, following their initial release of Carlebach tunes. The fusion of Jewish avant garde jazz and Fela Kuti's African beat is phenomenal. We danced our way home. In a few minutes, the Ashkenaz parade will come by, then I'll go listen to Shtreiml, see the new Veretski Pass theatrical piece, "Lilith" (Likely to write more about that later), and then, sadly, but with great fun, the Festival Finale.

Lenka Lichtenberg, "Breathing Walls," new CD review for the Ashkenaz Fest

Note: Lenka and Yair Dalal actually premiered their new children's CD, Lullabies from Exile at this year's Ashkenaz. Review of that recording, pending.

CD coverCzeck-born Lenka Lichtenberg has been exploring Jewish, Israeli, Eastern European, and Middle Eastern music since before I met her back at one of the first Ashkenaz Festivals. Her voice is exquisite. The recordings keep getting better. Her imagination is even bigger. At the same time, with musical interests around the world, she has remained uncategorizable. That's probably a good thing. This latest recording, Breathing Walls is an excellent example, and an exquisite take on Jewish sacred music.

Breathing Walls came about after a concert series back in her native Czech Republic. After listening to the sound of performing in synagogues in Plzen and Liberec in 2009, she returned a year later to record Jewish liturgical poems in twelve synagogues. The melodies range from traditional Eastern European, to newer settings by contemporary composers such as Shlomo Carlebach and Shirona. Working with musicians as diverse as Israeli's Yair Dalal ("Maoz Tsur" and "Adon Olam," for instance) and klezmer clarinetist Christian Dawid ("Esa Eyney"), and an array of musicians from around the world, Lichtenberg fuses all of these influences and melodies into a new, tender world Jewish music.

This is a very special recording. Unlike her earlier CDs, where she focuses on Jewish folk music, often re-imagined with Middle-Eastern-sounding settings (partly influenced, I imagine, by the side of her family that hails from Iraq, and partly influenced by her friendship and musical partnership with Iraqi-Israeli musician Yair Dalal), these are sacred tunes. Again, they are often re-imagined and reset, but the result, with a beautiful accompanying CD case and booklet, is an explicitly spiritual journey. Our blessing is that she has chosen to record these pieces and present them. You can get your copy of "Breathing Walls" directly from Lichtenberg's website.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, sitting in the delicious sunshine of the Ashkenaz Festival in Toronto, ahead of a performance by the artist later this afternoon, 1 Sep 2014.

new CD review, just in time for Ashkenaz Fest, Shtreiml's "Eastern Hora"

CD coverWhen you need a pick-me-up, sometimes nothing but a festive Shtreiml will do. On their latest outing, Eastern Hora, the band continues its celebration with Turkish musician Ismail Fenicoglu, blending klezmer seamlessly with Turkish music and coming up with a result that makes the klezmer sound fresh, with energy and life. The result is something not just Jewish or Turkish, but also, as in the case of "A Saturday Evening Blues," as Jason's plaintive harmonica melds with Ismail's soulful our and with the band, the result is something unique.

What is surprising to me is that fewer klezmer bands have made the Turkish connection. After all, klezmer itself grew up in the borderlands between the Ottomans and Europe. To take a full-on North American klezmer sound, with Thierry Arsenault's progressive drumming, Jason Rosenblatt's harmonica and keyboards, nth-generation Philly klezmer Rachel Lemisch's trombone (take a good listen to her riffs on "Rayrus Spielt" and throughout the CD), and the dance-friendly bass-lines of Joel Kerr, and then re-merge it with Fenicoglu's fluent oud and you have a match made in heaven. From the opening, full-steam "Grand Theft Stutinki" and onward into "Chassidl pour les batards" on through the closing, gentle "Lullaby for Halleli" the band is a cure for a world in need of healing dance and soothing music. It is not only clear why this is one of the best wedding bands around, but, here, in concert mode, we get the band exploring a broader dimension of joy and music than would normally come through at a simkhe, with the bonus lightning oud strikes.

Like 2006's "Fenci's Blues," this CD exemplifies what is most exciting about modern klezmer. The playing of traditional music is fluid and celebratory, but the renewal that comes from the encounter with new Turkish music creates a magic that will please not only klezmer fanatics, but fans of Turkish music as well. You can get your own copy, as well as copies for your friends via iTunes or CDBaby.com

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 1 Sep 2014, from the Ashkenaz Festival where Shtreiml are featured performers.