Aaron Alexander / Midrash Mish Mosh

banal cover

Aaron Alexander
Midrash Mish Mosh

Tzadik Records, TZ7194, 2004

CD available from www.tzadik.com

This album opens with a crazed punk klezmer phrased bit of madness that is so much the realization—albeit, infinitely better than I ever imagined—of the sort of punked up klezmer that I could hear in my head years ago, that I am already prejudiced in the album's favor. Alexander, one of the most in-demand drummers in the downtown NYC avant jazz scene, and a regular in several klezmer bands as well, has pulled a host of musical ideas, primarily Jewish (klezmer, nusakh, Middle Eastern) and jazz, together into something new and whole and quite exceptional.

Where the album opens with the controlled cacophony of the "Kleyzmish Moshpit," it soon segues into the quieter, more introspective tone poem, "Kaddish for Carmen", and then that builds, slowly, into a still introspective, still forcefully slow, but increasingly loud tone poem. It isn't until "Peep nokh a mol" that I become aware of Alexander's (or Sarin's) drumming. The songs are so melodic, and the all-star band so exceptional, that it takes repeated listenings to beging to peel the onion. Like an onion, the more I listen to this album, the more I enjoy it, maybe more than I've enjoyed an avant-gardeish improvisational album since Koby Israelite's Dance of the Idiots last year.

Some pieces, such as the "Balagan Balaban" are interesting jazzy mish moshes, but others reflect deeper humor and intent, such as the Middle-Eastern dance influenced "Debkavanah" (The debka of mystical intent? Certainly, this is one of the pieces on this CD to which one could comfortably do a traditional dance.) or "Yiddishe Kop" which feels almost like a humorous Eastern-European counter to the preceding debka, which is, itself, followed by another great dance tune and commentary on modern Jewish life, "Khosidl for the Mixed Marriage"—"mixed" not only in the sense that in American culture Jews are as likely, or likelier, to marry non-Jews, but also in the sense that regardless of who we choose to spend our lives with, those lives will be quilts comprised of Jewish and Red Sox and America and our changing professional beings and so much more when compared to the more predictable, more strictly determined, even monotonal, in a sense, lives of our Eastern European ancestors. Chasidut returns in "Der Rumsisker Maggid/Shema". The end feels different if you remember singing the Shema as a meditation, one word per breath.

The album ends as it began, with a swift-moving, driving klez-tinged jazz improvisation. I think, though, that if you hear only klezmer and jazz you miss much of the modern Jewish mish mosh that juices around and informs the CD through and through. Alexander describes the album as reflecting his own struggle with Jewish identity. Judging from the album, his is a struggle richly informed not only by music, but also by more than usual knowledge of, and commitment to Jewish life (even while acknowledging that "Jewish" is only part, maybe even 3/4 part, of that life). What makes the album worth listening to is that the result reflects that depth of knowing united with a powerful sense of song and rhythm. The resulting midrash (teaching), while claiming to be a mish mosh (inchoate mixture), is new, interesting, Jewish, and kick-ass fun.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 10/4/04

Personnel this recording:
Merlin Shepherd: clarinet
Greg Wall: tenor, soprano sax, clarinet
Frank London: trumpet
Curtis Hasselbring: trombone, guitar
Brad Shepik: guitar
Fima Ephron: bass
Michael Sarin: drums
Aaron Alexander: drums

Special Guest
Randy Crafton: rik (track 5)


  1. Kleyzmish Moshpit 4:03
  2. Kaddish for Carmen 3:11
  3. Peep Nokh a Mol 5:24
  4. Balagan Balaban 7:16
  5. Debkavanah 6:20
  6. Yiddishe Kop 4:47
  7. Khosidl for the Mixed Marriage 5:10
  8. Der Rumsisker Maggid/Shema 6:37
  9. Khosn Kalleh Haskalah 4:04
All music composed by Aaron Alexander.

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