Basya Schechter / Songs of Wonder

Unusually beautiful Tzadik cover

Basya Schechter
Songs of Wonder, 2011
Tzadik Records, TZ 8165

CD and MP3s available from Tzadik Records

I first encountered these poems at an event in honor of the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in NYC. Familiar with Schechter's work with the Middle Eastern-sounding Pharaoh's Daughter, I was surprised to see her fronting a small chamber music ensemble and singing in Yiddish. The words were love poems written by Heschel in Europe as a young man. Some seem direct expressions of his love of God ("I am a trace of You in the world / and everything is like a door / Let us all trace that trace of You / and through all things go to you"). Others are clearly more worldly ("The wind saws in the cloud-forest / The gentle snow falls like sawdust. …"). Schechter's music and performance was joyous and sublime. My first question on the rare occasions when we encountered each other became, "when will you release this work on CD."

The CD was released two years ago. The power of the songs only grows over time. Musically, the songs are small jewels. Schechter has crafted settings for each that enhance the words and her voice. Many of the settings, such as the intro to "To a Lady in a dream" reflect the Middle Eastern sounds for which she is best known. But mostly the settings are much more classically Western, from the somber opening strings of "At Dusk: D" to the Spanish inflections of "My song" to the '60s folk earnestness of "Youngest desire."

Part of the wonder of the recording, of course, is Heschel's poetry. We are used to him as an occasionally ecstatic existential philosopher; a graduate of European Hasidic royalty and among those who marked with Martin Luther King, Jr. To read poetry such as "Your eyes are greetings from God. / Your body—an oasis in the world, …" adds a depth to our understanding of the Rabbi.

This CD is a gem. Harmonious, gentle, intricately set harmonies match the depths of the poetry. To say more would merely be clumsy reiteration. The poet has already written, "Bless me, my spirit / with tenderness instead of might! / To own smiles instead of worlds, / always bring lights to the world," and Basya Schechter has set the words to music perfectly matched.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 30 July 2013

Personnel this recording:
Basya Schechter: oud, saz, vocals, background vocals
Uri Sharlin: piano, accordion, glockenspiel
Megan Gould: violin, viola
Yoed Nir: cello
Rich Stein: percussion
Frank London: trumpet
Kyle Sanna: acoustic and electric guitars, dobro

Special Guests Avi Avital: mandolin (9)
Tamer Pinarbasi: kanun (4)
Albert Leusink: flugelhorn (1, 10)
Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz: bass (1, 4, 10)
Miles Arntzen: drums (10)
Dan Loomis: bass (3, 7, 9)
Avi Fox Rosen: guitar (6)
Mathias Kunzli: drums, percussion (3, 7)
Brian Marsalla: keys (4), boubil (1)

Song Titles

  1. At disk: D 4:12
  2. Palaces in time 2:10
  3. I and you 4:09
  4. To a lady in a dream 4:52
  5. Snow on the fields 4:15
  6. From your hands 3:42
  7. My seal 4:36
  8. Tshuvah 3:55
  9. My song 3:25
  10. Youngest desire 2:41

Yiddish poetry from The Ineffable Name of G-d: Man, Abraham Joshua Heschel. Music: Basya Schechter.

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