For more information:
Note that the latest stuff may not yet be indexed.
The Klezmer Shack directory of articles
Remembering Mauthausen - Theodorakis and more
The flow of amazing new music never stops. This time out, we start with an amazing testament to humanity by Mikis Theodorakis.
Mikis Theodorakis / Mauthausen Trilogy, 2000 (Verlag pläne 88840; www.plaene-records.de, available in the US from Hatikvah, www.hatikvah.com. E-mail: Hatikvah Music">Hatikvah Music).
Well, that's the bones--the where and when. The power of the music amazes. The versions are mixed so that the album opens with Hebrew, then Greek. When the English version of "Song of Songs" makes the lyrics comes on, reprising the Hebrew that opened the album, the familiarity of the music makes the words all the more powerful, "Beyond the bleak and frozen square / Above the yellow linen star / No heart will ever beat again / Because the beautiful have lost their way to paradise...." But this is not a sad album, despite the words. It is an affirmation that life is strong, and continues, and that humanity's spirit is unquenchable. Indeed, the yearning, the loss of god, are grounded in the more immediate, as the military march sounds of "When the war is over" chime in Hebrew, one last time, as the album concludes with the English version of the poem: "Oh girl with fearful eyes come listen to me / Oh girl with frozen hands please hear my yearning / Forget me not when this cruel war is truly over."
I am unbearably moved and strengthened by this album. The lithe, almost carefree flute of "The Fugitive", The shock of the opening "Song of Songs," first in Hebrew, is followed by the more forceful Greek version, and the singer's reprise of words first sung 30 years earlier, as the audience makes the connection and claps in recognition. The gentle arrangements of the English, contrasting the more forceful Greek and the span of art song--as if of folk songs set for stage--in the Hebrew arrangement. The different arrangements, voices, the different languages, all strengthen the core poetry and give the music even more power. The translations are superb. The closing "When the war is over in Hebrew, "Simkhat olam bo'i la-sha'ar" (Joy of the world come to the gateway) is perfect (even better than the English, I think--it makes me wonder if the English, somewhat less evocative, is translated from the Greek or from the Hebrew). The song first is song as more of a gentle love song, and then acquires power and near-operatic weight, countered, suddenly, by the words, in German, by Simon Wiesenthal. The words are translated in the liner notes:
... If we were ever to forget, repress or falsify what happened, our past would return to us over and again, unvanquished, and would prevent us and our descendants from building our future, in a way that is right and worthy of man.
This is a vital album. A "must have". [GRADE: A+]
Zakarya / (eponymous), 2001 (Tzadik 7148), www.tzadik.com. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
In a funny way, the urgency of much of this album also reminds me of David Krakauer's most recent ensemble work ("A New Hot One"), although this is not connected to klezmer, per se. On the one piece in which the ensemble claims to stray towards familiar Yiddish music, "Du goudron et des plumes" (tar and feather), the result has more of a general swing feel, than the memory of the specific songs listed in the notes, with the guitar occasionally flashing through a Django-like scale (not that Django was likely to have so much fun with feedback, subsequently). Similarly, one can sense a deconstructed simkha in "Wolf's Gang," or almost comically improvised folk melody in "Paul K." even if the music, again, moves onward and elsewhere. It is the deconstruction, or rather, the construction of space that one senses in "La chêre" (The goat), echoed on "La Dette," with the space created in part by the silence between the slowly searing guitar. And then, following the happy folky sounds of "Paul K," one is confronted by the slowly intensifying rhythm and pounding of "Couvre-feu" (curfew), a song memoralizing the bell which rang every night for centuries in Strasburg Cathedral signalling to Jews that it was time to return to the ghetto. In its fusion of Jewish themes and the avant garde, and in the consideration of Jewish text and history as theme, this ensemble ends up cooking one of the most interesting and vital stews of new music I have heard in a long time. I'm a latecomer here--this album has been out for a year. If you haven't heard it yet, it's time.[GRADE: A]
Naftule's Dream / Job, 2001 (Tzadik, TZ7153), www.tzadik.com.
One of the things that becomes very clear to me as I listen, is that this is improvisation on the music, itself, not a cultural statement. At times, as I listen, I feel that for Naftule's Dream, exploring music and finding the doina within is the cultural statement. Happily, there is much more. Glenn Dickson's reworking of "Naftule's Dream," from Shirim's second album, opens with both a delightfully gentle clarinet improvisation, and then reworks the themes and manic energy that typify the band overall, the tuba-powered, over-the-top wailing of dance in the 21st century, grounded by gentle melody. Years later, the music reminds me of the very laid back explorations of that album, but this reworking also serves notice of how far the band has moved since. It's like hearing "The Other One" in a context decades later than "Live Dead". (Indeed, at the time, the intricacy and interlocking way that the band improvised reminded me very much of the Grateful Dead, however far their music was from the Dead then, and is even further now. The flash of connection comes, I think, in the ability to improvise in so many directions that fit together so intricately, at once). This outing ends with a lovely, improvised "Prayer for No One," and then "To Life," an wailing new version of a piece first released on the JAM compilation, "Knitting on the Roof" [GRADE: A]
Chava Alberstein / Foreign Letters, 2001 (Rounder 11661-3195-2), www.rounder.com.
Musically, this album also continues a trend that I first noted in "The Well"--the music is less and less specifically anything. Rather, with producer Ben Mink she seems to have found an international pop folk sound that is extremely pleasing, but will often not sound particularly Jewish nor Israeli. Musically, the album works. The arrangements and the underlying music are graceful accompaniments to Alberstein's voice. But, for people unfamiliar with Yiddish or Hebrew, this could conceivably be an album in French or Swedish. I overstate the case, of course, but it is true that friends unfamiliar with Jewish cultures or the language sung here could not place the album. What I can't tell you is whether or not this matters--only that it doesn't prevent this from being a most listenable album.
Having said that, I have to say that I would be more excited if the album did hark more strongly to location or to culture. Instead, as much as I enjoy this (and as much as I suspect that it will be heard as accessible by far more people than a more musically-specific album would be), the album feels less compelling to me, less grounded. I can't find any songs that I don't like, but neither do I find myself humming any of them afterwards. Having said that about the music, I must note that the words to the songs do stay with me. Post 9/11, the words to "Passport Control" resonate to all travelers: "He keeps turning my passport / He is asking me something, but I don't understand...." The near-panic and urgency of the music work well. The blend of Alberstein's voice with incredibly evocative and beautiful poetry is wonderful. In many ways, the journey, and the sense of "international" are brought together most obviously, and most accessibly in the title song: "[Foreign letters] I hope they mean well / I hope they're not against me / ... / How do you say 'love' in your language?" Alberstein's world is subversive. It is a world in which the unfamiliar can threaten, but it also opens one up to new experience, new joy. In the post-9/11 world, it is an affirmation. The haunting depth of the words here, and throughout the album, cause this album to stay with me, in my mind, and bring peace. [GRADE: A]
Monsieur Camembert / live on stage, 2001 (CAM002), www.monsieurcamembert.com.
* Those interested in knowing more about this fascinating subject, and those who didn't realize how interesting a subject it is, will be richly rewarded by Benjamin Harshav's Language in time of Revolution, Berkeley: UC Press, 1993. [return]
** Of the problems I have with this piece, one that doesn't exist is the idea of putting it on an entertainment album. Singing this particular song in concert seems to have a long tradition. In an interview at KlezKanada in 1999, German Goldenshtayn, a Bessarabian klezmer then recently moved to the United States, talked about having just that song requested by non-Jews at non-Jewish weddings. The interviewer and audience were quite astounded--did the audience know it was a Jewish liturgical piece of great importance to Jews? Goldenshtayn seemed to be saying that they liked the sound of it. It is soulful music. Which it is, but not when sung by someone who has not mastered the nusakh--the appropriate scale and melody with which it is sung, as here. [return]