"Sing unto the Eternal a new song." Psalm 96
Jewish music is in a period of resurgence and renewal as a new generation of artists responds to the ancient challenge with fresh expressions in music and song. Jewish music of the past also is now available in reissued CD format, as recording companies open their sound vaults, introducing us again to the best Jewish artists of the 20th century.
These two factors combine to provide a wealth of new products for Jewish patrons of the arts and lovers of music.
Jewish music picks
The following Jewish music picks represent a small selection of recent releases reflecting this author's taste and preferences. Many noteworthy releases are not included, due to limited space. I suggest that you sample the albums when possible, or check your community library for loaner copies before you buy.
- Daniel Kempin / Krakow Ghetto Notebook (songs of Mordecai Gebirtig), Koch International Classics, 1994. CD 3-7295-2H-1.
- Daniel Kempin performs the songs of Mordecai Gebirtig with lev and nafesh (heart and soul). The musical settings are simple and powerful. Kempin's voice is unpretentious, his guitar playing is clean, and is sensitive to the expression of these sentimental Jewish folk classics.
- Leon Lishner / Out of the Ghetto: Songs of the Jews in America. Vanguard Classics. Reissued 1997 of 1959 recording. OVC 6012.
- "Out of the Ghetto" is a collection of Yiddish songs composed from the 1880s to the 1940s. Lishner's lush baritone voice is as comforting as a warm blanket in the coldest winter of our life. The material on this album is set as a song recital and includes some of the best Yiddish songs ever composed. Lishner mournfully intones songs inspired from another world and another time.
- Salmone Rossi / The Songs of Solomon Vols. I and II. New York Baroque, Eric Milnes, director. Pro Gloria Musicae, 1996, 1997.
- This is the definitive recording of Salmone Rossi's unique choral music. Rossi, an Italian Jewish composer from 17th-century Italy, set sacred Hebrew text in an early Baroque style. The performance on these CDs by the New York Baroque is extraordinary, and the sound engineering is exceptional.
- Yikhes. Early Klezmer Recordings 1907 - 1939, from the collection of Professor Martin Schwartz. Trikont: Our Own Voice. Munich, Germany. 1995. US-0179.
- "Yikhes," translated as "lineage," contains some of the earliest and finest performances of klezmer music. The CD is a wonderful visit back to our European roots; the album includes extensive background notes, maps, and photos. You may have to special-order "Yikhes," but it's worth the wait. [A good source is the US distributor, Hatikvah Music] Other noteworthy albums in this series include Doyres (Generations): Traditional Klezmer Recordings 1979 - 1994; and Shteygers (Ways), New Klezmer Music 1991 - 1994.
- Naftule Brandwein / King of the Klezmer Clarinet. Rounder 1997. CD 1127.
- Known as Nifty, Brandwein epitomizes klezmer. The album features recordings mostly from the 1920s, with a few releases from 1941. Brandwein, a descendant of the Strettener Chasids of Stratyn, played his instrument with intense devotion. This collection features his dazzling technique.
- Itzhak Perlman / Live in the Fiddler's House. Angel Records, 1997. Angel 0056209.
Itzhak Perlman / In The Fiddler's House. Angel Records, 1995.
- Itzhak Perlman has stated that "more than any other music I have recorded, this is my music." The "Fiddler's House" series includes a who's who of klezmerim. "Reb Itzik's Nign" is a touching example of Perlman's Jewish soul expressed in a simple tune.
- Klezmer Music: A Marriage of Heaven and Earth. Ellipsis Arts, 1996. CD-4090.
- "Klezmer Music: A Marriage of Heaven and Earth" helps us glimpse shamayim (heaven) while on earth. The tracks on "Marriage" are by today's premiere klezmer artists. Included are the Chicago Klezmer Ensemble, Andy Statman, the Klezmatics, Brave Old World, and many more. The CD comes with 65 pages of notes and pictures.
- The Andy Statman Quartet / Between Heaven and Earth: Music of the Jewish Mystics. Shanachie Entertainment Corp., 1997. CD 64079.
- Andy Statman, like the great klezmer clarinetists of the past, plays as if singing from his instrument. Statman introduces musical influences from jazz, bluegrass, and new age into his Old World klezmer soup. This is a tasty chicken broth with a variety of vegetables -- nourishment for the soul.
- Klezmatics / Possessed. Xenophile, 1997. CD XENO 4050.
- "Possessed" is a sheer joy. The opening tune, "Shprayz Ikh Mir" (I'm walking quickly) is the klezmer art raised to the second or perhaps third power. The album includes music set for the play A Dybbuk: Between Two Worlds. "Mipney Ma" (Why Did My Soul) embodies the sadness of unfulfilled love and spiritual longing.
- The Klezmer Conservatory Band / Dancing in the Aisles. Rounder, 1997. CD 3155.
- KCB, with the release of "Dancing in the Aisles," brings us to our feet with simcha as frelekhs fling us about. A popular swing tune by Molly Picon, "Oy, S'iz Gut" (Oh, It's Good), is wonderfully sung by Judy Bressler. This is the band you want at a wedding or special occasion.
- Maxwell Street Klezmer Band / You Should be so Lucky! Shanachie Entertainment Corp, 1996. CD 67006.
- Maxwell is fast, exhilarating Chicago klezmer. Maxwell rejoices in the radiance of sound, and, like other klezmer bands, incorporates influences from folk to jazz, Yiddish to popular music, blending all these elements into their own individual style.
- Synagogue Chants. Various Cantors. Supraphon Records. Reissued 1996 from 1956, 1960 recordings. CD SU 3073-2 211.
- "Synagogue Chants" contains examples of cantorial chanting from Czech and Slovak regions. The flavor is Eastern, including a vocal drone accompaniment on some selections. The chazans on this outstanding album are relatively unknown to the West. Marcel Lorand and Alexander Kovacs are stellar examples. Their voices are electric as their prayers reverberate after 40-some years of silence. "Synagogue Chants" conveys the highest cantorial art of sincere prayer through song.
- Mysteries of the Sabbath. Classic Cantorial Recordings, 1907-1947. Yazoo. 1994. CD 7002.
- "Mysteries of the Sabbath" is one of the best collections of recordings from the golden age of cantors. The album includes such big names as Rosenblatt, Sirota, and Hershman, but also includes lesser-known voices such as Sophie Kurtzer. The record notes provide short biographies and recording information. The sound reproduction is excellent.
- Zamir Chorale of Boston. Seasons of Our Joy. Joshua Jacobson, conductor. 1995. CD HZ908.
Zamir Chorale of Boston. Lights: Music for Chanukah. BKM Associates. 1990. CD SK403.
Zamir Chorale of Boston. Hear Our Voices: Songs of the Ghetto and the Camps. HaZamir Recordings, Newton, Mass. 1994. CD HZ909.
- Zamir can be translated as pious music or song. Joshua Jacobson leads this distinguished choir with a musicality and simcha (joy) befitting its name. "Seasons of Our Joy," a holiday album, covers the Jewish calendar with song. "Aneynu," a traditional Ashkenazic melody, conveys the festive spirit of Succot and Simchat Torah. The Pesach selections include such favorites as "Adir Hu," "Dayeynu," and Moyshe Oysher's exciting version of "Chad Gadyaw."
Lights, an earlier release, contains all Chanukah material, including four versions of the ever-popular "Maoz Tsur." Excerpts from George Frederick Handel's masterpiece, "Judas Maccabaeus," also grace the album.
Hear Our Voices draws from the music of the Holocaust. Heard are voices of our slain musicians, composers, and patriots. Zamir, offering an unforgettable tribute, honors their memories through this performance.
- Atzilut / Souls on Fire: Music for the Kabbala. Jack Kessler, 1997.
- Atzilut is a nine-member ensemble that performs non-Western Hebrew spiritual music. Their influences are rooted in Middle Eastern music. Simon Shaheem playing oud is a featured guest artist on the album. Atzilut's music is pure energy. Chazan Jack Kessler, the group's founder, sees music as a connection to G-d, a filter through which to glimpse the Eternal. Also noteworthy is Atzilut's first release, titled "The Fourth World."
- La Rondinella / Songs of the Sephardim, Traditional Music of the Spanish Jews. Dorian Discovery, 1993. CD DIS 80105.
La Rondinella / A Song of David. Dorian Discovery, 1995. CD DIS-80130.
- La Rondinella brings to life the art of Sephardic song. Four Washington, D.C.-area musicians established the ensemble in 1987. Renaissance instruments such as lutes, recorders, and viols grace their settings. Alice Kosloski, an exceptional clarion alto, sings the vocal parts.
- Noa / Calling. Achinoam Nini, Gil Dor, et al. Geffen. Metheny Group Productions, 1996. CD GEFD-24965.
Achinoam Nini / (eponymous). NMC Music,1997. All songs in Hebrew.
- Noa (Achinoam Nini) is an Israeli-born pop singer. Her family, of Yemenite origin, emigrated to the United States when Noa was an infant. She attended New York's High School of the Performing Arts, but returned to Israel at the age of 17. Nini has produced five albums since her debut release in 1991. Mixing folk and rock elements, she sings original material in both Hebrew and English. "Callings" expresses anger, dismay, and a longing for peace. Her newest album, "Achinoam Nini," is gentle and inspiring.
- Debbie Friedman / The Journey Continues. Debbie Friedman. Sounds Write Productions, 1997. SWP 614.
Debbie Friedman / Debbie Friedman at Carnegie Hall. Sounds Write Productions, 1996. SWP 612.
- Friedman celebrates Jewish song as influenced by camp, folk, rock, and traditional Jewish music. The Carnegie Hall release is a double CD set containing many of her best songs. Friedman hails from the Midwest and often appears in the Chicago area.
- Neshama Carlebach / Soul. Estate of Shlomo Carlbach. Zimrani Publishers, 1996. NDN 183655.
- Neshama is the daughter of the legendary rebbe and singer Shlomo Carlebach. Neshama captures the sweetness and love of her father's songs in her own mature voice. "Hu Elokenu" and "Esah Ainai" are powerful settings that echo in your mind long after the final cadence.
- Michel Twerski / The Music of Michel Twerski: Vol. I, 1997.
- Michel Twerski is a Chasidic rebbe and composer living in Milwaukee. His voice uplifts our souls as it resonates with his impassioned love of G-d. Twerski's original material includes niggunim and Shabbos zmirot.
- Chasidic Classics / Various Soloists. Suki and Ding Productions, 1994. CD BH54. Info: (212) 724-9351.
- "Chasidic Classics" is a medley of Chasidic masterpieces from a variety of Chasidic groups. The album includes a radiant niggun (wordless song) drawn from the Hallel service. Mendy Werdyger is heard on "Koh Echsof," based on the Karlin melody.
- Avraham Fried / Hupp Cossack. Arranged by Moshe Laufer. Musical Teasures Inc., 1996.
- Expressing joy in the worship of the Creator is a cornerstone of the Chasidim. Avraham Fried is an enthusiastic proponent. The niggunim on "Hupp Cossack" are stirring. Fried is a soul full of energy and love of his Creator as expressed through his music.
Chicago sources for Jewish music
Several Chicago-area stores sell Jewish music merchandise. Expect to pay $15 - $25 per CD and $10 - $14 for cassette tapes.
- Chicago Hebrew Bookstore, 2942 W. Devon, Chicago, Ill. Phone: (773) 973-6636.
- Chicago Hebrew Bookstore has a modest section of CDs and cassette tapes highlighting Orthodox artists, although other music traditions are represented. The staff is very friendly and helpful.
- Rosenblum's World of Judaica, 2906 W. Devon, Chicago, Ill.
Phone: (773) 261-1700.
- Rosenblum's stocks a wide variety of Jewish music on CDs and tapes, and in sheet music and books, featuring Israeli, klezmer, Yiddish, cantorial, Sephardic, holiday, and contemporary artists. Tapes of Torah and Haftorah trope are also available.
- The Jukebox, 2957 W. Devon, Chicago, Ill. Phone: (773) 274-1269.
- The Jukebox is a new shop supplying mainly Orthodox and Chasidic music. They also feature contemporary Israeli artists, and cantorial and Jewish holiday albums. The Jukebox stocks CDs, cassette tapes, and videos. The shop is well organized, with a knowledgeable staff, and you can listen to CDs before you buy them.
- Hamakor Gallery, 4150 W. Dempster, Skokie, Ill. Phone: (847) 677-4150.
- Hamakor stocks a comprehensive variety of Jewish CDs and cassette tapes, including some classical artists and an excellent section of recordings by historical cantors. Yiddish and klezmer music are also well represented.
- Tower Records,
2301 N. Clark, Chicago, Ill. Phone: (773) 477-5994.
214 S. Wabash, Chicago, Ill. Phone: (312) 663-0660.
- Tower Records sells a wide variety of Jewish music in its world music section, including klezmer, folk, cantorial, and Yiddish and Israeli artists. Tower's classical department has an extensive inventory of Jewish composers, conductors, and performing artists. The staff is top-notch in knowledge of recordings and artists.
- Borders Books and Music,
49 S. Lake Cook Road, Deerfield, Ill. Phone: (847) 559-8599.
1629 Orrington, Evanston, Ill. Phone: (847) 733-8852.
Various other locations in Chicago and suburbs.
- Borders carries an interesting variety of Jewish music, including publishers not found in other shops. The staff's knowledge of music as well as the overall selection varies from store to store. There is an abundance of klezmer, cantorial, and general collections.