Wednesday, May 30, 2007

PayPlay - Download Jewish Music. Lots of it.

So, I think I'm in trouble. I already download a lot of Jewish music from eMusic. But that's a subscription service and I usually run out of my allotted tracks about mid-month. Which is fine, I tell myself. I've got to set myself some limits, right?

Right? doesn't think so. They're an indie music download site with (today) 351 albums labeled 'Judaica.' Many are one's I'm familiar with or have downloaded through eMusic. But there looks to be a lot of additional albums. Payplay got it's start selling indie music in the fairly useless Windows Media (WMA) format, but has just switched to selling iPod friendly MP3 files for .88 cents. They also promise a (relatively) high payment to the artists (compared to iTunes).

Now I know what to do after my monthly eMusic binge. I'll just have to keep my self to one album a month. Or two. sigh.

Here are some PayPlay 'Judaica' albums that caught my eye:

Sista Warrior and the Shakespear's 'Stop the Suicide Bombers' Album CoverSista Warrior and the Shakespear's "Stop the Suicied Bomber's" "Award winner Sista Warrior, presents the pristine fusion of the sounds of Deep Roots Reggae and Jewish Ghetto-Life lyrics. This mystical music started a totally original genre in the '80s. The beat is alluringly danceable, the words profoundly spiritual."

Amazing Songs for Amazing Jewish Kids Album Cover Judy Caplan Ginsburg's "Amazing Songs for Amazing Jewish Kids" "Amazing Songs For Amazing Jewish Kids by multi-award winning singer/songwriter, Judy Caplan Ginsburgh, features 16 terrific songs, mostly in English, that teach basic Hebrew, holidays and values. Featured are a number of sought-after songs that have never been released previously on a professional recording -- Dean Friedman's "In My Sukkah", Josh Miller's "Tree Song", Steve Dropkin's "Lulav Shake" and Judy's new "Shema Lullaby" to name a few."

Shlock Rock's 'Jewish Pride' Album Cover Shlock Rock's "Jewish Pride" "Lenny Solomon is the head of a Jewish Rock and Roll Band called Shlock Rock. He has released 25 CD's. Ten original, 10 parody and 5 Children's. The mission of Shlock Rock is to spread Jewish Pride, Identity and Awareness to the World Jewish Community. In 1993 Shlock Rock became the only Jewish Rock Group to get a question in the Trivial Pursuit game. Jewish Pride is the first original album of the ten that Lenny Solomon and Shlock Rock has recorded."

<Vocolot's 'Behold!' Album Cover Vocolot's 'Behold' "Vocolot brings a joyous fusion of folk, jazz and cantorial vocal traditions into the contemporary a cappella world. They sing in English, Hebrew, Ladino, Yiddish, and Arabic, blending lush harmonies, soaring melodies and global percussion in original works and new renderings of ancient songs and texts. Vocolot's music, rooted in universal heart, social conscience and Jewish soul, communicates a powerful vision of world peace and reconciliation."

Hat tip to BoingBoing for the pointer to

Monday, May 28, 2007

Tzadik leaves eMusic

Tzadik - Radical Jewish Culture
The alert went out on May 7, but I missed it.
“Tzadik alert! “Be sure to grab anything you've been meaning to get, looks like they are pulling out [of eMusic], sadly. Unless it's a coincidence, there is an article about them not being happy and their albums are not showing up in lists.”
When I logged in next, it was too late. Tzadik had pulled the plug. It seems that John Zorn’s record label (which includes the influential Radical Jewish Culture recordings) has decided that eMusic wasn’t a good business deal for them anymore. The blogs and eMusic message board were aflutter. Book of Normans, for example, has a good write-up. Should they have? Shouldn't they have? Were they smart or clueless? There are lots of opinions out there.

Personally, I'm disappointed. eMusic provides me a good value and I've bought far more Radical Jewish Culture recordings than I would have if I had buy them directly from Tzadik. This isn't speculation. I've about tripled my RJC collection since I signed up for eMusic. The thing is that I find that buying RJC recordings a risky proposition. That's to be expected with anything radical, right? Some are truely amazing, but I've a couple that didn't work for me at all. But that's ok. Because eMusic offered less product (no physical CD) but asked for less $$, I've always felt less risk adverse. So what if one album isn't so hot? I get a bunch more downloads next month to try again.

But, this is business. I respect Tzadik's right to make whatever business decisions they feel are in the best interest of their, and their artists, long term viability. This is also Internet business. I think we'll be seeing various business models and price points being experimented with over the next few years. I hope that Tzadik continues to be a leader in this experimentation as well.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Tim Barsky - Ashkenazi Storyteller and Beatbox Flute

Tim Barsky and the Bright River Writing about Adrianne Greenburg yesterday reminded of another interesting Jewish flutist, Tim Barsky. I first heard about Barsky and his show 'Bright River' through an interview he did with Nextbook.Org. Here's how Barsky describes himself (from his website):
"Tim Barsky is a traditional Ashkenazi storyteller and oral historian who has been getting increasing attention for his unique performance style, which blends hip-hop, street theatre, and Jewish folklore. He’s also the world’s first battle flutist. Using just a flute and a microphone, Tim can beatbox, “scratch”, manipulate beats, drop classics, and play up to 8 lines at the same time, without loops or sampling. Taking the aesthetic of the battle DJ and integrating it into the flute, Tim is pioneering the art form of woodwind percussion."

Barsky has a number of projects including Bright River and the Everyday Theater. I haven't seen either so have to rely on Barsky's descriptions:
"The Bright River is a hip-hop retelling of Dante’s Inferno by a traditional storyteller, Tim Barsky, with a live soundtrack performed by some of the best hip-hop and klezmer musicians in the Bay Area. A dizzying theatrical journey through a world spinning helplessly out of control, the show sends audiences in a mass-transit tour of the Afterlife. Guided by a fixer named Quick, and moving through an urban landscape that is at once both intensely real and fantastic,
the show is a deep-rooted love story, a profound meditation on mass transit, and a passionate indictment of the current war in Iraq.

You can hear Barsky tracks and purchase a recording of Bright River at Barsky's download page and through the Bright River website. Here's a YouTube video to give you an idea about his sound...

Tim Barsky Flute Beatbox Jan. 2001

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Adrianne Greenbaum - Klezmer Flute

I've run into the work of Adrianne Greenbaum, klezmer flutist, a few times. She's the founder of The Klezical Tradition and performs solo as well. I got reintroduced to her recently. Richard Kamins, of the N'Shoma Jewish radio show, came to town and we got to hang out a bit. What a great guy (and a great radio voice). In addition to a pleasent conversation, he gave me a few discs of his recent interviews with Jewish music folks and I've been working my way through them. I particularly enjoyed his conversation with Greenbaum. I hadn't realized what a prominent role that flute played in klezmer music. As Greenbaum describes on her website,
"The flute was often part of the small klezmer band; as one of the quieter instruments allowed in religious settings, it was an obvious partner with the violin and cimbalom. Early photos of larger bands show one or more flutes. ... Flutes played an important role taking the high melodic lines and fills in the early American bands of Art Shryer, Harry Kandel, and Abe Schwartz, to name but a few. Shloymke Kosch and Israel Chazin, employing exemplary tones and technical facility, are among the unfortunately all-too-few recorded flute soloists."
Greenbaum has new(ish) album, FleytMuzik, that highlights her klezmer flute playing and shows off her composition skills. I haven't heard the whole album yet, but I listened to the song clips on her website, and they're quite lovely. It's going onto my eMusic wishlist, but if you're not an eMusicer you can grab it from CDbaby.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Sorry, this time with music. Two John Zorn Masada Videos.

Sorry folks, I broke one of my personal rules for this blog yesterday. I posted about a musician (a lecture about John Zorn) without also linking to some of his music. Listening is the thing....right?

So to make amends, here are two YouTube video's of John Zorn's Masada combo.

John Zorn / MASADA - Karaim

The video features Joey Baron on drums, Dave Douglas on trumpet, Greg Cohen on bass, John Zorn on alto saxophone and was recorded live at the Warsaw Summer Jazz Days 1999 in Poland.

Electric Masada !!! - Kochot

This video features John Zorn on Alto Sax, Marc Ribot on Guitar, Jamie Saft on Organ, Trevor Dunn on Bass, Kenny Wollesen on Drums, and Cyro Baptista on Percussion and was filmed live in Nancy, France, Oct.2003.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Judaica Sound Archives at FAU Libraries to host Lecture on Composer John Zorn at Hillel

I got a nice email last week from about an upcoming lecture on John Zorn. I wish I could attend but it is, as most interesting things are, MMFH (many miles from here.) I asked Daniel if it would be recorded and made available via the internet and he didn't know but would look into it. We can hope.

Here's the press release:

Jewish American Composer and Musician John ZornWHAT: Daniel Scheide, a librarian at Florida Atlantic University Libraries, will present a lecture titled “John Zorn and the Future of Jewish Music.” Scheide will discuss how Zorn, a composer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist who has been influenced by free jazz, avant-garde, classical and hardcore punk, is challenging the perception of Jewish music.
WHEN: Tuesday, May 29, 2007, from 7 to 8 p.m.
WHERE: Paul C. Wimbish Wing of the S.E. Wimberly Library
Mildred & Abner Levine and Ruth & Saul Weinberger Jewish Life Center
Hillel Golden Pavilion
Florida Atlantic University
777 Glades Road
Boca Raton, FL 33431
COST: Free and open to the public
CONTACT: Judaica Sound Archives at FAU Libraries at 561-297-0080
The Judaica Sound Archives at Florida Atlantic University’s S.E. Wimberly Library on the Boca Raton campus, invites you to join librarian Daniel Scheide, who will present a lecture titled “John Zorn and the Future of Jewish Music,” on Tuesday, May 29, 2007 from 7 to 8 p.m. Scheide is passionate about new and interesting music and has followed Zorn’s career for 20 years. His bachelor’s degree in composition is from Berklee College of Music and his master’s degree is from the University of Illinois.


It's grant proposal writing season again at work and I've been pretty busy. I had a few minutes during lunch today to clear my head and wandered around YouTube a bit. I ran into a couple of fun videos that have been out a while, but that I hadn't seen. My favorite was seeing Noa, a popular Israeli vocalist, singing the Alan Parson's Project song "Eye in the Sky." I didn't love her version (it felt like an American Idol moment) but figured I'd share it and a couple other Noa video's that caught my eye.

Noa - Eye In The Sky

Noa - Yuma

Noa - Manhattan Tel Aviv

You can find lots more Noa vidoes on YouTube and a bio here and an interview here. And, if you need (and I certainly needed) to go back to the source, here's a recent video of the real Alan Parsons Project performing "Eye in the Sky." And, yeah, it doesn't quite have edge I remembered either.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Visiting a Judaica store

There isn't a decent Judaica store near where I live, and while I'm sure there must be one in the Detroit suburbs I haven't found it yet. (I've only been to one and wasn't impressed enough to go back). The end result is I tend to go to one in upstate New York when I visit my in-laws. It's not fabulous, but it's friendly and decently stocked.

Mandy Patinkin's MamaloshenSo, there I was in the New York store today and I struck up a conversation with a nice lady who was listening to the Mandy Patinkin's Mamalosehn album. My wife was quick to (proudly) point out to the lady and the store clerks that I wrote a Jewish music blog. I was a bit embarrassed and changed the subject pretty quickly. The lady and my wife and I spent the next few minutes happily trying to remember whether the Mandy Patinkin of the album was also the Mandy Patinkin who starred in Elmo in Grouchland.

Mandy Patinkin in 'Elmo in Grouchland'

We couldn't figure it out at the time but now, with the resources of the internet at hand, I can confirm that it is true. In addition to singing Yiddish classics like "Rabbi Elimeylekh" and "Rasins and Almonds,"Patinkin will always be known in our house as the greedy fink who sings "Make It Mine" (a disturbingly authentic take on 2 year olds) and argues with Elmo about whether Elmo's blanket should be called a "wubby." Unfortunately, the Elmo in Grouchland soundtrack doesn't include Patinkin's masterpiece, so we'll have to settle for "Rabbi Elimeylekh."

David and the High Spirit's The Real Complete Jewish Wedding PartyThe other entertaining conversation I had at the store was about the artist David Yakobian, aka "David and The High Spirit." I had run into Yakobian's prodigious output on eMusic last week but, other than being stunned, hadn't gotten my head around it. Why stunned? According to Marisa Brown of the All Music Guide (as quoted by eMusic),

"Led by David Yakobian, David & the High Spirit have released over 40 albums -- ranging from instrumental pop to Latin to big band to religious -- since their debut, To Life-Le Chaim! Authentic Jewish Party Music, came out in 1992. As evidenced by their name, the main focus of the band is on traditional and contemporary Jewish music, including 1997's The Real Complete Passover, which has Rabbi Cantor Baruch Colon narrating 35 songs and blessings of the Haggadah over David & the High Spirit's music."
David Yakobian's 'Joy of Coffeebreak'What Brown doesn't mention is that Yakobian's output, in addition to "The Real Complete Jewish Wedding Party," "The Real Complete Bar/Bat Mitzvah Party," and "The Real Complete Shabbat" also includes "A Tribute to Cat Lovers," "The Joy of the CoffeeBreak," and "Eurotica Nonstop instrumental sensuous european mega love songs. All you need for an intimate party."

Now, I want to apologize right away to Yakobian and to anyone who thinks I'm about to violate Lashon Ha-Ra. I really don't mean to be critical. There are albums that I've loved that were probably loved by about 10 other people on the planet and I'm sure that each of Yakobian's recordings have found devoted fans. But seeing "A Tribute to Cat Lovers" and "The Complete Shabbat" put out by the same musician just made me say, "huh?"

Anyway, back to the Judaica shop. It turns out that the shop I visited had a number of Yakobian's recordings and said that they were relatively popular (they only carried the Jewish ones). The "Wedding Party" and "Bar/Bat Mitzvah Party" sold well to folks that were planning such parties and wanted to supply their DJ with some uptempo Jewish music to add to the mix. They also said that Yakobian was a nice and courteous guy who called them regularly to make sure that they didn't run short on his albums and that he even had a nice fax form for them to fill out. They appreciated that and said that they often listen to the dics in the store.

I've now listened to a couple dozen song clips from a variety of Yakobian's albums and have to say, they are what they promise to be: a party on a disc. While I'd always recommend hiring a real Jewish band over handing a DJ a CD, if someone wanted to hire the DJ then these poppy, synthy, and complete upbeat recordings might be the right choice. I've been to a lot of simcha's that would have been improved by them.

And, at least three upstate New York Judica store clerks agree.

One more for the Jewish Fringe: The Silver Jews

I've been trying for the last couple of posts to get my head around the idea of musicians on the fringe of mainstream music publicly identifying their bands with Judaism. (Check out my posts on The Jewish Legend and A Silver Mount Zion) If there really is a category here, then the third band that fits it is the Silver Jews.

The Silver Jews are a Nashville, Tennessee based indie-rock group led by David Berman. I've read a few different versions of how Berman, raised a secular Jew, came up with the band name. One (on Berman's Wikipedia page) claims that the band was named "in part after the '60s group Silver Apples and slang for blonde-haired Jewish people." The other (source lost or imagined) claims that Berman once misread a sign advertising 'Silver Jewelry." Either way, Berman's early music had no particular Jewish connection. After suffering through drug addiction and rehab, however, he emerged with a strong religions connection to Judaism. In an interview in the LA Jewish Journal Berman explains:
"That's part of the irony of the whole experience of turning to Judaism for me was that the name had always helped us ensure our obscurity in the music industry, and sometimes I'd thought the name was a burden, because it seemed so serious," Berman adds. "But now it's become an incredible blessing that I accidentally gave myself, something that became fruitful to me."
I find it pretty interesting to compare this story to the other two. In each, there is a mainstream (relative to the Jewish music scene) musician that has or develops a personally important connection with Judaism, a connection important enough to anchor the public identity of the band. But not a connection that brings with it the musical or thematic conventions that I associate with Jewish music. At least, not in an obvious or explicit way.

And good for Berman and Reichmann and Menuck. I'm excited to see any musician stand in the public eye proudly identifying themselves as Jewish, even if they are not a Matisyahu. Maybe especially if they are not. Matisyahu may be getting extra press because of his (to the music community) novelty value, but the Silver Jews, the Jewish Legend, and A Silver Mt. Zion won't (at least not much.) They could easily have kept quiet about their identity. It's exciting to see that they didn't.

Silver Jews - I'm Getting Back Into Getting Back Into You

Silver Jews - There Is A Place

Acoustic Niggun (and other music videos for Lag Ba'Omer)

I was catching up on some of my favorite j-music blogs and ran across a bunch of music videos posted on "Life of Rubin" for Lag Ba'Omer. They're all worth watching, but I particularly enjoyed this one:

Niggun - Acoustic style
A new band aiming to play niggunim (Jewish songs) in a way that captures the energy and beauty of the songs but keeps the overall sound as "raw" and "stripped-down."

I'm not sure who this "new band" is, hopefully I'll be able to track them down. There are a couple of other videos on YouTube from the same video session, but no more clues to who/where these folks are.

If I'm not mistaken, this is the same niggun that Dave Grisman and Andy Stateman recorded on "Songs of Our Fathers" (another heavy rotation disc for me). You can see Ari Davidow's review of SoOF at KlezmerShack.

Friday, May 11, 2007

More on Jewish Fringe: A Silver Mt. Zion

Earlier this week I wrote about the Canadian band 'The Jewish Legend' and commented about how I found their direct public connection, but elusive artistic connection, to Judaism both puzzling and exciting. I want to follow up on that by writing a bit about another Canadian band, 'A Silver Mt. Zion.' Described as a 'post-rock' band, 'A Silver Mt. Zion' plays an arty but emotionally-charged music that I find pretty compelling (remember me waxing poetic about Ambarchi/Aveniam). It's easy for me to get lost in tracks like 'God Bless Our Dead Marines' (I've watched video below about 10 times).

And there's the Jewish connection. Honestly, I read their wikipedia page a while ago and saw the note about band leader Efrim Menuck's being Jewish and didn't think a lot of it. Here's the Wikipedia entry:

"The name A Silver Mt. Zion would seem to refer to Temple Mount, the highest point in Jerusalem. However, Efrim later noted in an interview with David Garland, host of Spinning on Air from WNYC radio, that the name hailed from a misheard song lyric. Efrim himself is Jewish, and motifs relating to Judaism are occasionally present in the band's music (he described the band's recording of their first album as a 'Jewish experience.') He is a diasporist, promoting a non-territorial form of Jewish identity that is conducive to pluralism and intercultural interaction."

I only came back to it after running into the The Jewish Legend album. Like I said in my last post, I'm just not used to secular bands in the mainstream music scence being so up-front about their Jewish roots without making more explicit reference to Jewish musical or cutural themes in the music. It makes me wonder if something is happening in our culture that is freeing us (though I'm not sure who 'us' is) up to be more explicit about our Jewishness. Even when playing to audiences who are just there for the music.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Jewish Legend - on fringe of both mainstream and Jewish music

It's pretty well understood that there is a growing and diversifying Jewish music scene. These bands draw on a mix of Jewish musical forms, cultural history and religious sentiment as well as various forms of pop music and culture. I'm thinking about Matisyahu, Y-Love, Golem, Emunah, Sway Machinery, Balkan Beat Box, DJ Socalled, The Sarah Aroeste Band, Pharoh's Daughter, Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird, Ta Shma, and numerous others. There are now record labels (JDub, Modular Moods) and events (the JDub/Heeb Magazine SXSW showcase) that showcase these groups. And this is a wonderful thing.

But there's a strange thing happening. And it's wonderful, too. On the fringe edge of mainstream popular music there is a small but growing number of bands that have identified a meaningful connection between their music and some aspect of the Jewish experience. To the listener (to me at least), the connection is be elusive. There are no minor key wailings, no niggun melodies, no cantorial soaring, no Hebrew, Yiddish, Aramaic or Ladino and no references to Torah, Talmud, their favorite Rebbe, shtetl, or holiday. But, and this is what fascinates me, despite this ephemeral connection, the bands have chosen to make this connection part of their public identity.

So far I've run across three bands that seem to fit this model. I'll bet there are others out there, too. The ones I've found recently are The Jewish Legend, The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La band, and The Silver Jews.

Jewish Legend
Take the Montreal avante-pop combo, The Jewish Legend. Led by Dan Reichmann, TJL has a spacey joyfulness that immediately reminds me of British New Wave and post-punk musicians such as David Bowie, XTC, and Robyn Hitchcock. I ran into their album, "Telepathy Now!" on Emusic recently and have been listening to it non-stop since. This stuff is crazy and joyful, a great combo.
The Jewish Legend
In an interview with Toronto Now, Reichmann describes TJL like this:

"One of my goals was to put the fun back into the whole music-making process. I felt the best way to do that was by re-engaging with my own musical language and experimenting with different instruments and constructs. There was always a lot of thinking going on with Tangiers, [his former band, - jack] and I wanted to get away from that for a while. "

Although it may not be obvious the first time through the jaunty jumble of tunes on Telepathy Now, which at times recalls some of Marc Bolan's loopy exchanges with Steve Took in the pre-glam Tyrranosaurus Rex years, there is actually a message that ties everything together... apparently.

"The album's lyrical themes have to do with my heritage as the grandson of Holocaust survivors. The whole notion of who I am and where I'm from wound up being the album's dominant theme which connects all the songs, although admittedly it's done in a cryptic way. There's a narrative that moves from Germany to North America in the 20th century with some vague references to the Middle East, but
I'm not dealing literally with any of the issues involved."

I followed up with Dan via Myspace and asked him if he could comment a bit more on his Jewish connection. Here's his reply...
"I am Jewish, and certainly theres a lot of transmigrational pan everywhere mutli-spirit language informing that goes on on the record. Really im inspired by progressive Jewish spiritual energy and intention, as well as the diaspora condition etc."
I think this public, but non-literal, connection with Judaism is just as important as the more literal Jewish music scene. I can't remember a time when musicians like Dan so publicly identified themselves with Judaism without following a more literally Jewish musical path. My impression is that this happens much more often in the fine art world, but I don't really know.

I'm going to write more about the Silver Jews and Silver Mt. Zion soon, but please go check out The Jewish Legend and let me know what you think.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Share The City: Shaanan Streett with Dana Adini - שאנן סטריט

Here's the latest video from Sha'anan Streett, the frontman of the Israeli Hip-Hop group Hadag Nachash.

If you like this track, you can learn more about Hadag Nachash at their wikipedia page, their myspace page, their Israeli home page (in Hebrew), and an interview at Israel21c. You can also hear an interview with Streett on Oy Mendele!, the now defunct Berkeley radio show.

(Hat tip to Mobius of Jew School)

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Sefira and Jewish A Cappella Pt 2

Until I found out about the Sefira / a cappella music connection, I didn't realize that that Jewish a cappella music was such popular genre. And a genre that is enjoyed all year, not just on Sefira. I haven't been able to find a good history of the genre but Jewish a cappella seems to have taken off as performance music (as opposed to a liturgical music) in the early 1990's. It seems to have been sparked by the popularity of the Columbia University and Jewish Theological Socieity singing group Pizmon and quickly spread across college campuses and from there to Jewish professional musicians (such as Beat'achon). (If anyone can correct this history I'd appreciate it.)

Syracuse University's Oy Cappella

Barnard College's Smadar

Kol Ish Aids Benefit

A.K.A.Pella Riot - A Velt Premier

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Sefira and Jewish A Cappella Music Pt 1

On the Jewish calendar, we're currently in the period of the Counting of Omer (Sefirat HaOmer), which starts on the second night of Passover and ends 49 days later on Shavout. (Today happens to be day 30.) The Counting is a Torah mandated ritual (Leviticus 23:15-16) for counting priestly grain offerings. Over it's history it has acquired a range of traditions. One of the most interesting, to me at least, is it's being characterized as a period of mourning with a subsequent ban on instrumental music and dancing. This ban has led to the development a significant contemporary genre of a cappella Jewish music, sometimes referred to as Sefira music. You can listen to Sefira a cappella online until Lag Ba'Omer on OU Radio or check out one of these albums:

AKA Pella 28th Day - Tracht GutBOJAC: Best of Jewish A CappellaBeat'achon: Jewish A Cappella
Sefira Music - Jewish A Cappella

The restriction on music is associated with the first 33 days of the Sefira (the period from Passover to Lag Ba'Omer). This period has traditionally been considered a period of mourning and while specific observances vary by local custom, typical prohibitions include bans on weddings, dancing, haircuts and instrumental music. Rabbi Eliezer Melamed of the Yeshiva.Org.Il website offers an overview of the period of mourning and details of the customs.
"Because the custom during counting of the Omer period is to refrain from joyous celebration as much as possible, later halakhic authorities write that dancing, unless it is for the sake of a mitzvah, is customarily prohibited (Magen Avraham 493:1). Included in this abstention is the prohibition against performing and listening to music instruments. ... According to Ashkenazi custom, the prohibitions continue until the nightfall of Lag BaOmer."
There's a transcript of a great interview over at the Sameach Music Podcast site between Podcast DJ Sruly Meyer and Jewish a cappella singer and producer Jordon Gorfinkel. They discuss the connection of contemporary Jewish Sefira music with traditional Shabbat zemirot, the development of current genre's sound and touch on the argument about Sefira music going in the frum community.

The argument is one of those personal taste and local tradition things. The questions being argued are, roughly, 'to what degree can up-tempo music, even if a cappella, be considered appropriate for mourning' and 'to what degree can a recording where human voice has been intentionally made to sound like musical instruments be considered a cappella and appropriate for mourning." To hear a great example of this debate, listen to the JM in the AM host Nachum Segal interview (beat up on) members of the group AKA Pella. AKA Pella's new recording uses both clever vocal tricks and lots of computer mixing to get electric guitar solo's and a horn section into an a cappella album.

If want to know more abou the counting of the Omer Wikipedia, Torah.Org, JewFaq.Org, and Chabad.Org all offer good introductions. If you want to know more about Jewish A Cappella music, wait for Part 2 of this post. Hopefully tomorrow.

(hat tip to Life of Rubin for the link to Nachum Segal interview with AKA Pella)

Yizkor--Memorial Music on YouTube

David Chevan, with Cantor Martin Levson and the Afro-Semetic Experience, debuted "Yizkor: Music of Memory and Mourning, a memorial concert for cantor and jazz ensemble" at Southern Connecticut State University on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. In an email to Ari Davidow's Jewish Music mailing list Chevan explains his musical goals for the piece:

"The lyrics for the pieces all come from the Yizkor service (the Jewish memorial service) and the music that I composed is a mixture of jazz-inflected melodies and rhythms and chazzanut-the often highly melismatic and distinctive traditional singing style used by cantors-a style that dominated their singing more in the late 19th and first half of the 20th century. One of my compositional goals was to reinvigorate this now less commonly used singing style by putting it into a new context. The other was to create a modern Jewish memorial work."
The concert was videotaped and Chevan has graciously uploaded a couple of the videos to YouTube.

Psalm 23

Yizkor for Martyrs
I'm a fan of attempts to place cantorial vocals in other contexts. I've mentioned in the past how much I love Uri Caine and Aaron Bensoussan's "Zohar: Keter" and Jeremiah Lockwood's Sway Machinery. These videos hit me in the same spot. I'm not sure when a recording of this material is due, but I'll keep my eyes open.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

JVibe's Petition for a Jewish Grammy

Join JVibe's Campaign for a Jewish Grammy"To: The Recording Academy

Currently, there are 107 different Grammy award categories. And of those 107 awards, at least six are handed out each year for Christian-themed music. We think it's great that those who record inspirational Christian music are recognized by the Recording Academy. However, we feel its time for the Jewish voice to be heard! ..."

JVibe, the Jewish teen magazine, has launched a petition to help convince the Recording Academy to add a Jewish Music category to the Grammys. I'm signature number 1153. Go add your signature!