Monday, November 30, 2009

Afro Semitic Experience at the Michigan Festival of Sacred Music

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Afro Semitic ExperienceTwo weeks ago I saw the Afro-Semitic Experience play in Kalamazoo as part of the bi-annual Michigan Festival of Sacred Music. I've been a fan of ASE for years but this was my first time getting to see them live and I wasn't disappointed. They put on a wonderful show of American jazz music influenced by both African and Jewish ideas and musical forms. This concert was a special treat because it was the debut of their newly completed work (and new album) "The Road That Heals the Splintered Soul"

Now, I'm not a jazz critic and I completely lack the vocabulary to properly review a jazz concert. But I can say that sitting in Kalmazoo's gorgeous old First Baptist Church, listening to ASE was both a thoughtful and joyful experience. ASE's plays a straight-ahead jazz that's not overtly avante-garde but feels adventurous all the same. Pianist Warren Byrd plays like Felix the Cat, with an unpredictable humor and delicacy. Bassist David Chevan is more the beat poet, understated and economical. Together with their bandmates, their music shifted from Nigerian percussion into delicate piano jazz to be picked up by African chants that then shift gears into Hebrew prayer. But none of it was forced or overblown. It swayed and bumped, soared and knelt.

Afro Semitic Experience"Road" is fine album and was a memorable concert but, to be honest, from a Jewish music perspective "Road" is a less engaging piece than bassist David Chevan's albums "Yizkor: Music of Memory" and "Days of Awe: Meditations for Selichot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur." These albums aren't really solo albums, the same ASE musicians are playing and the influence of Chevan's ASE songwriting partner Warren Byrd is still very much present. But these albums let Chevan explore his interest in Jewish music and themes in a way that is more focused than on any of the ASE albums. While Chevan has significant contributions to "Road," Byrd's African influences and a wide range of American jazz styles take the forefront. Musically, little separated Jewish themed/titled pieces such as "Adon Olam" and "A Torah Afloat in a Leaky Boat Lands in Congo Square" from the rest of "Road." Which, of course, is fine, but, for me a little disappointing and will send me back to my copies of Yizkor and Days of Awe more often then "Road."

As far as I'm aware there aren't any online samples of "Road" for you to check out, but you can order the album through Amazon. In case you've never heard the Afro Semitic Experience, here's a video of them from a few years ago...

The Afro-Semitic Experience (from 2007, not music from "Road")

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Symphonic klezmer, big music in a minor key.

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Timing is everything. Writing my latest "Jewish Music on the North Coast" blog post got me thinking about symphonic klezmer. At the same time, an email thread on the same topic popped up on the KlezmerShack mailing list. I love it when that happens. I was familiar with most of the pieces mentioned, and will list them in a moment. What I wanted to share first is a wonderful radio show on symphonic klezmer that was suggested by Rochelle Zucker of the Winnipeg Jewish Radio Hour. The show is hosted by Fred Flaxman and is part of his Compact Discoveries radio program. Compact Discoveries is an offbeat introduction to classical music that includes such shows as Music for Insomniacs, Favorite Funeral Music, One-Hit American Composers and, of course, Symphonic Klezmer.

In the hour long program, Flaxman presents compositions by Canadian composers -- the Suite for Klezmer Band and Orchestra by Sid Robinovitch and The Old Toronto Klezmer Suite by Srul Irving Glick -- and "Klezmers" from the Vaudeville suite by the American composer Paul Schoenfield. You can read a transcript of his show on the Compact Discoveries website and listen to the full show on the PRX.org website. Sadly, while the show is free it requires you to create a PRX account and can only be listened online. No podcast / download. Sorry, PRX. No biscuit for you.

In addition to the pieces presented by Flaxman, here are a few more pieces discussed on Klezmershack.

Kol Simcha's Shabbes

  • Ofer Ben-Amots lovely Klezmer Concerto, which also involved David Krakauer and premiered in Portland Oregon in 2007. Here is a video of the first of it's three movements, performed by The Herzilya Chamber Orchestra in Herzilya Israel last month (October 2009). Movements 2 and 3 are also available.
The Klezmer Concerto, I. Pastoral Doyna

  • The Milken Archive has a wonderful disc titled "Klezmer Concerto's and Encore's" which features, of course, David Krakuer. The disc includes Robert Starer's "K'li Zemer", Paul Schoenfield's "Klezmer Rondos", Jacob Weinberg's "The Maypole" and "Canzonetta", Abraham Ellstein's "Hassidic Dance", and Osvaldo Golijov's "Rocketekya".
  • Osvaldo Golijov has also composed "The Dreams and Prayers of Issac the Blind", a piece for klezmer clarinet and string quartet. Here is a section of it performed by members of Brooklyn Rider, with Max Treitler and Keith Lipson.
Osvaldo Golijov's "Isaac the Blind" at Angel Orensanz

This is only a start. There's a lot more out there and I'll present more soon.

Hat tip to YouTube user's johnnyg2703 for posting the Osvaldo Golijov video and to the Herzliya Chamber Orchestra for posting the Ofer Ben-Amots video.

Friday, November 13, 2009

2010 Winter Olympics, Matisyahu, and Geoff Berner

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Matisyahu, everyone's favorite Hasidic reggae / hip hop superstar just got a major publicity boost. His song "One Day" has been featured in a NBC commercial for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. There's speculation that it will be used as the official theme song of the games. "One Day" is from Matisyahu's new album, Light. Go buy it. Now.

NBC Winter Olympics Spot featuring Matisyahu's "One Day"


It should be noted that Matisyahu's song was NOT written for the game. Canadian Jewish singer-songwriter Geoff Berner, on the other hand, took on the project of a 2010 Winter Games theme song in his own inimitable style. Here's Berner and the Squeezebox Circle Accordion Orchestra playing "The Dead Children Were Worth It."

Geoff Berner & the Squeezebox Circle Accordion Orchestra


Hat tip to YouTube user azisman for posting Berner's video.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hey North Coast .... More Upcoming Jewish Music Events

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No Jewish music in Michigan? Ha! Here are four shows coming up. Go see them all. You know you want to.

- Yasmin Levy, Saturday, November 14th, at the University of Michigan's Hill Auditorium.

Yasmin LevyLondon’s Guardian proclaims, “Here surely is the next world music superstar.” Yasmin Levy was born in Jerusalem in 1975 and was introduced to Ladino singing and culture from a very young age. Her father, who passed away when she was only a year old, was the leading figure in the world of research into and preservation of the Judeo-Spanish culture, dating back to 15th-century Spain. Today, Ladino remains one of the most moving and romantic traditions of all time. In her deep, spiritual, and moving style of singing, Levy preserves and revives the beautiful songs from the Ladino/Judeo-Spanish heritage, mixing it with Andalucian Flamenco. This US debut tour follows her highly acclaimed appearances at the international World Music Expo (WOMEX) and World of Music, Arts, and Dance (WOMAD)festivals. “[Yasmin Levy’s CD] Mano Suave blends her mixture of flamenco, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Sephardic Jewish Ladino traditions to somewhere near perfection. If you’re looking to plunge into a deep pool of exquisite yearning and heartbreak, then just dust off your trunks and dive right in.” fRootsmag.com

- The Afro-Semitic Experience, Monday, November 16, 8:00pm at the Michigan Festival of Sacred Music in Kalamzoo.

Afro-Semitic ExperienceThe Afro-Semitic Experience is a cross-cultural band that delivers a positive and meaningful musical message in jazz about Black-Jewish relations. The group is dedicated to preserving, promoting and expanding the rich cultural and musical heritage of the Jewish and African diaspora. Through their concerts, recordings and workshops, they are actively creating an artistic response to anti-Semitism and Racism of all forms. Premiere of a new work commissioned by Chamber Music America.

Matisyahu - December 7, at St. Andrews

MatisyahuFew artists make an impact as complete as the one Matisyahu made with his Top 40 hit “King Without a Crown”: Here was a true original, the song announced-a Hasidic Jewish musician from New York City singing reggae songs about his religious devotion. Fans responded to this one-of-a-kind voice, too, driving Youth, Matisyahu’s Grammy-nominated 2006 studio disc, to the top spot on Billboard’s reggae albums chart. That album, as well as Matisahu’s previous recording Live at Stubb’s, went Gold.


David Krakaur playing with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for the world premier of Wlad Marhulets "Concerto for Klezmer Clarinet" December 10th through 13th.

"The concerto, in three movements, alternates two main influences that are deeply rooted in David Krakauer's discography: funk, and electronics (electronic effects are simulated by acoustic means). While the initial theme of the first movement introduces a wild musical idea, accompanied by an ostinato in the orchestra and funky rhythms, the second one brings a quite traditional-sounding Klezmer tune. "

I'm sure this list is incomplete and I'll update it as I hear more. If you know of Jewish music show of any kind happening in Michigan, please let me know. Klezmer? Cantorial? Classical chamber? Choral? Hello, you know you're out there?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ignite Ann Arbor Playlist

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Whew. Ann Arbor Ignite is over. Back to real life. I've spent pretty much the last three weeks prepping for a 5 minute talk, but what a blast. We had a great turn out and I got lots of good feedback on my talk. If all goes well I'll be able to post a YouTube video soon. But until then, here are two photos of me talking and a playlist of the song clips I shared. The photo's were taken by local photographer / freelance webguy Monte Fowler. Thanks Monte!

Jack looking growly in front of Yiddish Folk

Jack in front of Y-Love and DeLeon album covers
I've had a couple of folks ask me about the music I played during the talk. I didn't have time to name check the bands then. Heck, I only had 7 seconds each for the audio clips. But now I've got lots of time.... Here they are in the order they got played.

1. Punk/Experimental: Kletka Red, from the album Hijacking on Tzadik / Radical Jewish Culture.

2. Frum Pop: Lipa Schmeltzer, from the album Poshiter Yid on Adaret Music.

3. Jazz: The Afro-Semitic Experience, from the album "This is The Afro-Semitic Experience" on Reckless DC Music.

4. Reggae: Matisyahu, from the album "Live at Stubbs" on Sony.

5. Electronica: Zohar, from the album Onethreeseven, on Ark 21.

6. Chamber Music: Davka, from the album Judith on on Tzadik / Radical Jewish Culture.

7. Hip Hop: Y-Love, from non-album track. Check out his new album "This is Babylon" on ShemSpeed.

8. Sephardic: DeLeon, from the album "DeLeon" on JDub Records.