Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bobby Conn, the 11th Plague

Chic-A-Go-GoThe Passover season is here. It seemed a bit chilly and snowy to be doing spring cleaning, but it's been a cold endless winter here on the North Coast. What can you do?

I thought I'd kick it off with probably the oddest Passover song & video I've seen in a while. The video is a segment of the TV show "Chic-A-Go-Go - Chicago's Dance Show for Kids of All Ages," a local access favorite produced and aired in Chicago. I can't tune it in but, if you're in Chicago, you can. It's available on cable channel 19 every Tuesday at 8:30 PM CST and Wednesday at 3:30 PM CST.

They describe the segment like this...
An excerpt from the puppet Sedar special CHIC-A-GO-GO PRESENTS PASSOVER IN PUPPETTOWN (1999). Features Bobby Conn's amazing performance "Passover" (alternate version from album) and features The Goblins, Ratso, plaques, Moses, K-Satt, a sock puppet Rabbi named Rabbi Sachman, and puppetry by Miss Pussycat, and Ralph Syverson
This brings us to Bobby Conn. Conn is an off kilter wild man. I've seen his music described as "glam rock," "progressive rock," and "avant-garde" and seen him compared to David Bowie. This performance of his song Passover is completely over the top. Conn in a kimono in front of a silver curtain with two female models air-guitaring poorly while he wails about the angel of death. Coming on the heels of a puppet show seder only makes it more surreal.

Bobby Conn in "Passover in Puppettown" (Chic-A-Go-Go)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Sportin' anti-swastika tattoos - NOFX's "We're the Brews"

Jewish punk doesn't get better than this.

NoFX - The Brews -Warped Tour

The full lyrics are available here.

And by the way, I ran across this song listening to my handy-dandy Live FM Jewish Music player (over there, to the left, the big red thing). I'd heard NoFX before, but hadn't heard this one.

Update: I just found an article on NOFX focusing on Fat Mike, the Jewish lead singer in the San Diego Jewish Journal.

Hat tip to YouTube user daapunisher for posting the video.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Jewish Girl Blues

Bradley Fish. Musician. Jersualem. Guitar. Likes Jewish Girls.

That's all that needs saying....

"Jewish Girl Blues" by Bradley Fish

Cirkestra - Jewish Circus Music

Ok, while it's true that I sometimes type "Jewish Music" into Google just to see what happens, I didn't know that this time. In fact, I actually know Peter Bufano the loon behind Cirkestra. I met Peter about 10 years ago when he and my wife were housemates in Boston. He's a talented musician with an unusual specialty...he composes circus music. And usually performs it at the circus. He and his group Cirkestra have gone on tour with Circus Smirkus, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (just Peter), and the Bindlestiff Cirkus, including a 70 show season with Binlestiff in 2007.
"The principal members of Cirkestra met in early 2004 in Jamaica Plain, MA. A few weeks later they ran away with the circus. They honed the sound throughout the three month big-top tour, playing for thousands of people in little towns day after day. A sort of “Eastern European meets jazz, meets Spike Jones, meets Klezmer” sound emerged. Their speciality is the creepy, minor-key circus waltz."
I have the first Cirkestra album and it goes into heavy rotation about two or three times a year. The fourth album, Swing, just came out and I thought I'd share with you one of the more klezmer tracks. My understanding is that the Hora Bucharest is a traditional tune, not a Bufano composition, but's a Hora.

Cirkestra Hora Bucharest

Friday, March 21, 2008

Shoshanas Yaakov by the Moshe Skier Band

Hi folks. Time for my Friday pre-Shabbat liturgical special.

On my way home from the Purim megillah reading with my little wigglers, I got inspired to find and share the hymn Shoshanas Yaakov. A little YouTubing later and here we are...the irrepressible Moshe Skier Band performing a rocking version.

Shoshanas Yaakov - Moshe Skier Band 2007

Shoshanas (or Shoshanat) Yaakov (The Rose of Jacob) is a standard hymn used at the close of the reading. You can find a more traditional recording, the words in English and Hebrew and some commentary at the Chabbad website.

Hallelujah - American Idol does Leonard Cohen

Album Jacket for The Essential Leonard CohenLeonard Cohen is one of the great late 20th century pop songwriters, and was notable for how often he let his Jewish background overtly influence his songs. I've posted previously about how Cohen's "Who By Fire" was inspired by the Roshashana piyut Unetanah Tokef, and his performance of the (French) Nazi resistance song "The Partisan". My all time favorite Cohen song, though is Hallelujah. Some how, in a 3 minute pop song, Cohen manages to intertwine an image of King David with an image of a contemporary love affair, both echoing the erotic imagery of David's Psalms and using using the power (and desolation) of the human love for the divine to reinforce the failings of human love.

"David played a secret chord, he played it well and it pleased the Lord. But you never cared for music, did you..."

Hallelujah has been covered more times than I feel like counting. John Cale, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainright, and K.D. Lang both have prominent covers. Cale's appeared, years after it's recording, in the animated film Shrek, though Wainright's appeard on the soundtrack due to licensing issues. Personally, my favorite is Cale's. To my taste his rather stiff and mannered recording highlights the feeling of a "broken Hallelujah" more than Buckley's more popular but more romantic version.

There's been a resurgence of interest in Hallelujah ever since it's inclusion in Shrek. The resurgence surfaced in an unlikely place a few weeks ago. Jason Castro, one of the hopeful contestants on American Idol, sang a tender and vulnerable version to the delight of the audience and judges. I was pretty impressed with the song choice. American Idol is known more for tapping into banal and easily packaged pop than for presenting edgy or deep material. Castro's performance wasn't perfect (his vocals tanked in the last moments) but respectable and his shortened version avoided some of the more challenging lyrics. But it highlighted the power of the songs images to resonate with a new generation who never heard the original or most of the covers when they were originally released.

Here are videos of Castro's performance and a live recording of Cale's. Follow the links for video's of Cohen, Buckley, Lang, and Wainright.

Jason Castro -- Hallelujah - Top 8 Guys

John Cale - Hallelujah

You can pickup the original Cohen version on the Essential Leonard Cohen, which I highly recommend. Thanks to YouTube users casezille108 and thecatkeaton for posting the videos.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Chag Purim - Israeli Political Satire Style

I was looking for a couple of good Purim videos to get me warmed up for tonights megillah reading. In my rambles I found this amusing political satire version of Chag Purim. I wish I could identify all the people and issues being poked, but I'm not an Israeli politics junkie and my Hebrew is terrible. The first scene looks like Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Osama Bin Ladin makes an appearance later on. If anyone can identify the rest or knows anything about the origin of the video, please let me know.

Purim holiday חג פורים שמח 0072

Hat tip to YouTube user MUTSNIK for posting the video

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Klezmer America: Jewishness, Ethnicity, Modernity

Book Jacket for Klezmer AmericaI just got an email from Columbia University Press that I thought I'd pass along.
"Columbia University Press is pleased to announce the publication of Klezmer America: Jewishness, Ethnicity, Modernity, by Jonathan Freedman. We've just posted an interview with Freedman on the Columbia University Press Blog. We hope the interview and the book will be of interest to you and your readers."
Here's the first paragraph of the book jacket notes:
Klezmer is a continually evolving musical tradition that grows out of Eastern European Jewish culture, and its changes reflect Jews' interaction with other groups as well as their shifting relations to their own history. But what happens when, in the klezmer spirit, the performances that go into the making of Jewishness come into contact with those that build different forms of cultural identity? Jonathan Freedman argues that key terms central to the Jewish experience in America, notions like "the immigrant," the "ethnic," and even the "model minority," have worked and continue to intertwine the Jewish-American with the experiences, histories, and imaginative productions of other groups: Latinos, Asians, African Americans, and gays and lesbians, among others.
I've actually been waiting for this book, literately, since I started this blog. I got provoked to start Teruah after hearing Dr. Freedman give a talk on Jewish Music at my synagogue. While Dr. Freedman was a knowledgeable and engaging speaker, I got annoyed at his persistent conflation of all forms of Jewish music in America as "Klezmer" and with his insistence on using Jewish music as a foil for Jewish culture in general. A bunch of Dr. Freedman's audience didn't know there was any Jewish music other than Klezmer, so I went and started a blog to show it.

Fair's fair, though. Dr. Freedman focused on Jewish music as a foil for culture because that was the focus of his research. The fact that it wasn't what I wanted to hear that night is my problem, not his. So I promised myself that when his book came out I'd go buy a copy. And I did. I just ordered mine from Amazon.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Visualizing Jewish Musich

My boss told me recently that I'm an 'infovore.' According to a scientist quoted in a recent Wall Street Journal article, our brains are wired information scarcity. When we find information "[we] get an opioid hit, and we are junkies for those." In the era of the internet we're in trouble. "We are programmed for scarcity and can't dial back when something is abundant." According to the article, we're just like cat's chasing laser pointers. Yeah tell me about it.

Lately I've been playing with 'network graph' search tools. These tools take an artist, do a 'find related things' search, and then output the results to a visual display. The best one by far, though with the most annoying interface, is the one provided by YouTube. It pops up videos related to the currently playing video. I've found a lot of interesting stuff that way. Considering YouTube by default provides a text list of related videos, I'm not sure the visualization adds much. But it's interesting eye candy. To get this display, click on the video's 'full size' button (bottom right) and then on the full screen displays network button (bottom left). Email me if you can't find it. It took me a couple of trys to find.

YouTube videos related to LEO FULD - The king of yiddish songs
YouTube videos related to "LEO FULD - The king of yiddish songs"

While the YouTube visualizer focus on videos, other tools focus on the artists themselves. The tool LivePlasma , below, shows a cluster of artists related to the Klezmatics. The goal of these tools is to help you discover new music by pointing you to artists you might like but might not have known about. The biggest limitation with the tools are the search engines underneath them don't know much about Jewish music. I had to punch in a half a dozen or so popular Jewish music artists before LivePlasma got any hits. The similar programs MusicMap and TuneGlue do a bit better, not enough to get me to come back.

LivePlasma display of artists related to the Klezmatics

So bottom line: these tools are perfect infovore-chow. They feel like they're providing lots of great information, but it's not clear that actually do. If any readers have played with these tools or other related tools, please drop me a line or leave a comment. I'd love to get your impressions.

Friday, March 14, 2008

More Betzalel Edwards

About a month ago I posted a video by Chassidic musician and scholar Betzalel Edwards. In the weeks since he's posted a few more videos. This recording of Yedid Nefish came out yesterday, and I thought it was just the thing to help us all get ready for the Shabbat.

Yedid Nefesh - Rav Ashlag, Zts"l

According to Reb Edwards video notes the music being performed is...

"A niggun (Jewish melody) composed by one of the great Kabbalists of the 20th century, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Ashlag, ZTS"L, set to a piyut (liturgical poem) written by one of the Tsfat Kabbalists 400 years ago."

Shabbat shalom, everyone.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Mishna Project

I just read an interesting Curious Jew blogpost about "The Mishna Project." According to the article a couple of guys decided to write pop tunes around verbatim recitations of the sections of the Mishna, one of the major early codifications of the Jewish Oral tradition. The Mishna is standard study material for traditional Jews, and on the face of it the idea sounds a bit like a Jewish 'Schoolhouse Rock.' But there's no kitsch here. I've listened to a number of tracks on the Mishna Project website, and these are solid, well-crafted, pop tunes. And they guys don't cheat. This is word-for-word Mishna, no colorful kid-friendly lyrics. I can't follow the Hebrew, but wish I could. I'd learn a lot, I'm sure.

If you're interested, check out their website or order the disc from Judaica Lamehadrin.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Shalom Obama!

Speaking of the Hip Hop Hoodios...


What else needs to be said, really?

Hat tip to YouTube user Kansas City Joe for posting the video. The Hoodios have put the .mp3 file of Shalom Obama up for free download on their myspace page.

Yidcore - They Tried to Kill Us, They Failed, Let's Eat!

Maybe it's the zeitgeist. First I document 'Good for the Jew's' fabulous "They Tried to Kill Us, We Survived, Let's Eat," arguably the funniest Jewish song since Adam Sandler's Channukah song. (Ok, the Hip Hop Hoodios "Kike on the Mike" and "Dicks and Noses" rank up there too.) And now, Australian punk pranksters YidCore come out with "They Tried to Kill Us, They Failed, Let's Eat!" There's no relation between the songs, as far as I'm aware. Just a fine Jewish sensibility, instead of crying in our beer....we whoop it up at brunch.

And YidCore's song is pretty funny too, but in a much darker way. Check it out. L'Chaim!

They Tried To Kill Us. They Failed. Let's Eat!

Oh, and by the way, two animated Jewish music videos in one week. First the Marc Chagall documentary video and now Yidcore. Hmm... I love the smell of zeitgeist.

Israeli 'Hot Hits' Songbooks and Poster from 1969 and 1971

51 Hot Hits Book JacketSo, I'm not sure why I'm posting about the Israeli '50 Hot Hits' 2 book and poster set instead of just plunking down my credit card and gloating. I guess the pictures are just too good not to share.

Anyway, if you scoot over to eBay really quick you might score yourself the following:

1. 2 Jewish Hebrew Song books + poster 1969 ( 101 songs) by Nurit Hirsh and Ehud Manor

Nurit Hirsh is one of Israel's leading composers. A graduate of the Music academy in Tel Aviv. Ms Hirsh composed hundreds of songs that have become standards in Israel music including the Eurovision winner Abanibi.

Ehud Manor composed many well-known songs including Ein Li Eretz Acheret (I Have No Other Country), Brit Olam (World Covenant), BaShanah HaBaah (In The Next Year), Zo Yalduti HaShniya (This Is My Second Childhood), and Achi HaTza'ir Yehuda (My Younger Brother Yehuda). He wrote over 1,250 Hebrew compositions and translated more than 600 works into Hebrew including such Broadway hits as Cabaret and Les Misérables.

2. Hot Hits - 51 songs Edited by Ran Kedar / 1971
Here are some of the more interesting photos...

51 Hot Hits Book Jacket

If any Teruah reader wins the eBay auction, please send me a note. I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Marc Сhagall Passion / Strasty po Shagalu

As I've noted before, I'm a big fan of animation and love the chance to showcase it here. I don't speak Russian, so I can't comment on the narration, but the visuals are quite good. This appears to be a nice mix of stop motion animation (my favorite) with some computer generated effects. The music is described as being "Folk Jewish Music" by the Kristall-Balalayka Folk Band. I went to their English language website, but couldn't find any more information.

Marc Сhagall Passion / Strasty po Shagalu (Part 1)

If you like this, check out "Strasty po Shagalu / Marc Сhagall Passion - 2007 - (Part 2)".

Thursday, March 6, 2008

B'nai Or sings Lecha Dodi

Hi folks. It's not quite Friday yet but I won't be near a computer tomorrow and wanted to get my pre-Shabbat liturgical song posted. I know I've posted video's of Lecha Dodi before, but I keep running across interesting ones. This one comes from B'nai Or in Pueblo, Co.

I'm pretty taken withit. First, I've never heard this melody before and I thought I'd heard 'em all. Second, there's this almost Adam's Family baritone lurch to the first section of the melody that makes me both chuckle and want to join right in. The musical accompaniment won't fly at my synagogue, but I bet I can get folks to try out the melody. This should be fun...

Lecha Dodi

According to Gershon ben Yochanan v'Franja, the poster of the video, the B'nai Or community is currently recording a 14 song CD. Gershon wants everyone to know that "Although the CD is good and expresses tremendous musical talent, it's much better in person as the Kavannah is always very high. The walls literally sing and the siddurs literally dance in our hands. Streaming tears are common for newcomers, so bring the tissues. But our real goal is tremendous simchah for everyone. Soul ascents are common for those on that level."

If you're in the area, it is best to contact them at 719-250-3126 to get the service times. Generally they are Saturday at 9:00, but one week a month they do Kabbalat Shabbat at 5:30 on Friday night.

Jewish Music on Last.FM

Last.FMTeruah's got a new toy, a Last.FM radio. Last.FM is a free online music service that creates playlists for you based on previous music you've listened to and music that people with similar taste have listened to. Like most similar services, it's really hard to get it to consistently play Jewish music. That's mostly because Jewish music cuts across music genre's in a way that's hard for a software algorithm to get it's electrons around.

But Last.FM has added a clever feature that allows the determined to game the system. The feature is the ability to generate a randomly selected playlist based on user applied tags. What this means to us, is that the shiny new Teruah Last.FM radio will play a never-ending stream of songs that some Last.FM user has tagged as Jewish.

Will it match your definition of Jewish music? Will it be a musical style you like? You spin the wheel you'll take your chances. What I will say is that I love it enough to feature it on the blog. In an hour of listening I heard rock, heavy metal, reggae, hip-hop, jazz, classical, klezmer, yiddish and folk. I didn't love every song, or even understand why every song had been tagged 'Jewish,' but I loved a lot of the songs and even when out and bought an album on the spot after hear one of the tracks.

So take it for a spin and let me know what you think.

If you're a band or a label, go to the Last.FM 'Promote Your Music' page for instructions on how to upload your music. Then tag it Jewish and join the fun.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Werewolf Bar Mitzvah!

Boys becoming men! Men becoming wolves!

Back before Halloween last year, the NBC comedy 30 Rock had an episode which featured the character played by actor Tracy Morgan, reminiscing about the gold record he received for his novelty hit "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah." Here's the clip.

Werewolf Bar Mitzvah

NBC, hoping to whip up a bit of fan excitement, released the full song and requested fans to create their own music videos. As far as I'm aware, it was a bust. I don't see any videos actually posted to the NBC website and only one (rather fun) attempt posted to YouTube.

You can download the full song from NBC.

Here's the official NBC video

If anyone decides to take a shot at your own Werewolf Bar Mitzvah video, let me know and I'll post it.

Full moon on Shabbat! Spooky! Scary!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Discovering the cantorial source of a contemporary sample

Everyone who sees a magician perform wants to know how the tricks are done. Half the fun of the shows are the arguments after about whether the truck was counter-balanced & had soft tires or whether the assistant was secretly replaced with a crash-test dummy moments before the 18-wheeler rolled over him*.

The same thing happens with the (over?)use of sound samples in contemporary pop music. There's something magical when it's done right. In the right hands, musical moments decades or even a century old, can sound fresh and alive. In the Jewish music community, for example, Socalled has developed a magicians flair with chopping up turn of the century Yiddish theater recordings into the backbeats for contemporary hip-hop songs. (See my post on Socalled's "You are never alone" for a good example). But then there's the inevitable after song debate..where did those samples come from? And just like a magicians show, when you sneak behind the curtain and find out it's a real high followed by a bit of a let down. mean that it? Just truck tires? Just an Aaron Lebedev recording?

Erran Baron CohenAnyway, sorry for the long preamble but I had an unexpected "peeking behind the curtain" moment on Friday morning. I was at work, clickity-clacking on my computer keyboard and random shuffling through music as I often do. I was pretty engrossed in my work and only half paying attention to what I was listening to. All of a sudden I heard that signature swooping cantorial "Echod" from the Erran Baron Cohen's worldbeat group Zohar's track of that name. (See my post on Zohar). Great. I love this track. But it wasn't. It was the same swoop, but followed by more cantorial swoopiness. I was listening to the original recording that got sampled by Cohen.

Pierre PintchickI don't have may cantorial recordings in my collection (a whole in collection), but it turns out that track 4 of "Mysteries of the Sabbath: Classic Cantorial Recordings 1907-47", Pierre Pintchick's "Rozo D’Shabbos" is Cohen's sound source. And I was excited to make the discovery. And then I was sad that a bit of magic had gone out of the Zohar track. And then I realized I was being an idiot about the whole thing and went back to work. (But it was rather fun.)

It's easy to go hear Pintchick's "Echod" in the Zohar track, just go to the Zohar website. They use their "Ehad" track as background music. Hearing the original Pinchick is harder. Both Amazon and a Pintchick bio page have Rozo D'Shabbos, but not the bit that Zohar sampled. I'm not quite handy enough to make my own clip to put up for comparison purposes. Maybe someday I'll try it.

*This was a Penn & Teller stunt. The answer is the truck was counter-balanced. I know this because Penn & Teller like to tell how they did it.