Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Lori Cahan-Simon, folklorist, vocalist, and guest DJ

I've enjoyed having a Last.FM radio widget tacked on to my blog lately. Dialed to the 'Jewish' tag, it's spun a delightfully random stream of clips ranging from Matisyahu to European heavy metal band Rootwater's Hava Nagila to a Noam Chomsky lecture. But I thought I'd share the fun. I've invited critically acclaimed singer/folklorist Lori Cahan-Simon to guest DJ the Teruah radio for a while. Lori's Last.FM radio station will stream vintage and post-revival klezmer including Dave Tarras, Les Yeux Noirs, Naftule's Dream, Den Flygande Bokrullen, and the Klezmer Conservatory Band. Give it a listen and let us know what you think.

Lori's got a series of excellent albums that are well worth checking out including "Vessel of Song: The Music of Mikhl Gelbart," "Songs My Bubbe Should Have Taught Me; Volume One: Passover," and "Chanukah is Freylekh! A Yiddish Chanukah Celebration. Songs My Bubbe Should Have Taught Me: Volume Two"
Vessel of Song: The Music of Mikhl GelbartReleased in late 2003, Lori Cahan-Simon's "Vessel Of Song" is another fine collection of Yiddish songs by this outstanding Yiddish singer. Sub-titled "The Music Of Mikhl Gelbart", the album presents fifteen songs (two of which are medleys) by one of Yiddish song's greatest composers. Born near Lodz, Poland in 1889, the son of a poor khazn (cantor), Gelbart started writing music for a theatre group he toured with between 1909 and 1911 before immigrating to the United States in 1912. There he continued his theatrical and compositional activities, eventually also teaching singing, first at the Workmen's Circle in New York. Mikhl Gelbart died of bone cancer in 1962 and is still remembered by many of his students with great affection. He left a huge body of work that includes six oratorios, fifteen operettas, eight orchestral pieces, and settings of the works of some one hundred and twenty poets. He also published some twenty books of Yiddish songs. Gelbart's music is of a deeply folk-rooted nature and thus was often assumed to be traditional folk music of anonymous origin. The Lori Cahan-Simon Ensemble's "Vessel Of Song" presents a superb if necessarily tiny cross-section of Gelbart's vast body of Yiddish songs.

Songs My Bubbe Should Have Taught Me; Volume One: PassoverIn the desire to cast off the ways of the old world and in the ashes of the Nazi death camps, most of the songs included here have been lost or forgotten by the majority of Yiddish performers. But in the first of what will presumably be a series of recordings documenting Yiddish songs for all occasions, singer/folklorist Lori Cahan-Simon collects fourteen Yiddish Passover songs and performs them with her top-notch ensemble of local and national Yiddish vocal and klezmer talent. On half the numbers, Cahan-Simon shares vocal duties with Michael Alpert, best known for his work with klezmer group Brave Old World. The instrumentalists include Steven Greenman, violinist for the group Khevrisa, cymbalomist Alezandr Fedoriouk, who has worked with jazz artist Herbie Mann and John Cale of the Velvet Underground, and Walt Mahovlich, who currently leads the East European folk group Harmonia.

A work of incalculable folkloric value, as well as an entertaining and educational tool, Cahan-Simon's CD is well-annotated with extensive background notes and complete lyrics, transliterated and translated into English. The musicianship is on a very high level, and Cahan-Simon is a compelling, theatrical vocalist, whether she is tackling the cantorial-style, rubato phrases of "Avodim Hoyinu (We Were Slaves)" or the intimate cabaret-pop of "In dem land fun piramidn (In the Land of Pyramids)" by "sweatshop poet" Dovid Edelshtadt. "Shvimt dos kestl afn nil (The Little Basket Floats on the Nile)", laced with flute by Mahovlich, has an appropriately Middle Eastern feel to it, and "Dayeynu" is rendered in an upbeat, klezmer-to-jazz arrangement. The highlight of the recording is the swinging, imaginative duet between Cahan-Simon and Alpert on "Der Bekher (Tayere Malke)". Henry Shapiro's acoustic bass keeps the tune moving at a speedy pace, and the musicans interpolate eight rollicking, traditional klezmer tunes in between the verses." -- Seth Rogovoy (Author of The Essential Klezmer), Sing Out! Magazine

Chanukah is Freylekh! A Yiddish Chanukah Celebration. Songs My Bubbe Should Have Taught Me: Volume Two Most people, if you ask them to name a Chanukah song, will tell you “I Have a Little Dreidel”, and not be able to go any further. Some will tell you the Hebrew songs “Mi Yemalel” or “Maoz Tsur”. On this recording you will find the finest Yiddish Chanukah songs I could find, including one from the earliest Yidish songbook published with melodies, from 1727, up to those written through the end of the 20th century. Also present are the original Yiddish versions of the above mentioned dreydl song and “Oh Chanukah, Oh Chanukah”. These may be the only tunes that are familiar to you, but don’t let that stop you listening. Some of you may remember these songs from when you went to Yiddish school, but I think most of you won’t know them at all. These are marvelous songs which deserve to be heard and not forgotten in a dusty book, moldering on a neglected shelf somewhere.


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Anonymous said...

This is fascinating narrative and apparently why Gelbart's music is so evocative