Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Just Plain Folks

Ari from KlezmerShack sent a note around today that Just Plain Folks had posted their 2008/2009 Album Award nominees. And, drumroll, it include a section of klezmer albums and a separate section of Jewish albums. JPF self-describes as "a community of over 51,500 Songwriters, Recording Artists and Music Industry Professionals — and host to the world's largest independent music awards." Ok. Not exactly plain you and me folks, more like "just plain music industry folk." This made me doubly interested. Who have the fine folk of the JPF annointed this year in these categories that I love. Would I recognize them? Have I written about them? (Do I even like them?) Adventure!

So here are the lists, in the order presented on the website. I've inserted links to the respective artists web-pages and links to my blog posts, when appropriate.

Jewish Album Nominees

1. Todd Herzog "Bridging the Gap" -(Teruah Post, CD Baby) I'm happy to see Todd Herzog on the list. I don't typically enjoy sappy Reform post-songleaders (sorry to fans of the genre) but somehow he turns it into something gripping. His album was in heavy rotation for a while.

2. Rebecca Teplow. "Kaveh-Hope" - (Teruah Post, CD Baby) Yay Rebecca. Another album that was in heavy rotation for a while. Teplow's got a fantastic voice and her alterna-rock-cabaret arrangements are both genre-defying and intensely satisfying.

3. Lisa Miriam Silver "Mosaic" -(CD Baby) I wasn't familiar with Silver, though evidently she's been around a long time doing Nashville session work and scoring a Grammy nomination. Her album, Mosiac, showcases her work as Music Director/Cantorial Soloist of Congregation Micah in Brentwood (Nashville), Tennessee. Honestly, on my quick listen it didn't grab me. Nicely executed but pretty standard pop-liturgical fare.

4. Rebecca "P'tach Libi - Open My Heart" (CD Baby) Another new one for me and another fairly straightforward influenced pop-liturgical album. Rebecca's got a better voice and better execution than many but the arrangements are straight out of the 70's with not much distinguish them. I think this one might grow on me, though. I'll have to give it another listen later.

5. Jacob Balshan "Queen of the City" (CD Baby) Another new one. Balshan's album is a set of gravely-voiced Israeli Hebrew folk-pop ballads. I found it engaging and may have to pick a copy.

6. Yaakov Chesed "Rise Above" (CD Baby) Here's a surprise. After a string of 1970's veterans, comes a young Orthodox rock band. Not my favorite (which would be Blue Fringe) but not bad.

7. Sam Glaser "Sam Glaser's Rockin' Chanukah Revue" (Teruah Post 1 and 2, CD Baby) Sam Glaser is one of the hardest-working guys in Jewish music these days. I've got a stack of albums on my desk and have I've included his videos a number of times. I don't love his music (hmm, I'm detecting a theme here), it runs a bit to much to parody and big, easy, feel-good rock chords and sing-along lyrics for me. But no doubt he's got a big fan base out there. His Chanukah album is fine, though it doesn't (ahem) hold a candle to the recent and more spirited Shiralala Chanukah.

8. The Shirettes "Sunny Days with the Shirettes" (CD Baby) Here's another new one for me. This is a fun kids album. Without my junior reviewers (ages 4 and 6) to give it a listen, I'm not sure how it compares with their favorite Shiralala Chanukah or Craig Taubman's Newish Jewish Discovery, but it sounds good enough to give it a try.

9. JEWMONGOUS "Taller Than Jesus" (CD Baby) This is "Jewish Hipster" comedy by Sean Altman of Rockapella and the GrooveBenders. It includes one of my all time favorite songs "They Tried To Kill Us (We Survived, Let’s Eat)" (Though I like version by ex-Altman collaborator Rob Tannabaum better) and the satirical faux-Irish drinking song "Christian Baby Blood."

10. Trio Helene Engel "Voyage" (CD Baby) I was sure I'd writen about Helene Engel at some point, but I can't find the post. Regardless, I've known Engel's work for a while. She's a well known Canadian vocalist who sings Jewish folklore songs in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Judeo-Spanish, English, and French. I love this album am delighted it made the list.

It's been fun going through this list. I'm not sold that this represents the best of Jewish music from the last two years, not by a mile. But there are some solid albums on the list, with Rebecca Teplow and Trio Helene Engel leading the way. Given that artists need to be aware of the contest and submit their music, it's not surprising that Orthodox / Chassidic groups are poorly represented and that the urban labels (JDub and Shemspeed) didn't participate. I felt bad being underwhelmed by the pop-liturgical recordings. I really love good liturgical work, it was just this crop that didn't grab me.

Anyway, it's midnight. I'll have to tackle the klezmer albums tomorrow.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cantors Barry Braun & Ezra Sher Sing Shehecheyanu

Hi Folks, Shabbat Shalom.

For my weekly "get in the Shabbat groove" video, I'm pilfering a great find from the new Chazzunes blog. It's Cantors Barry Braun & Ezra Sher performing for South Africa's Port Elizabeth Hebrew Congregation. The concert was in 2008 but the vocal styles have as much to do with turn of the last century British popular vocal music as it does with traditional nusach.

Ok. I'm not sure the phrase "turn of the last century British popular vocal music" actually means anything, but listen and I'm sure you'll hear what I mean. For a New England kid, it's pretty unique. I wonder if it's considered standard cantorial repertoire in South America?

Cantors Barry Braun & Ezra Sher Sing "Shehecheyanu"

Hat tip to YouTube user DanielShira for posting the video and to the Chazzunes blog for finding it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Charlette Shulamit Ottolenghi: Italia Ebraica

I recently got an email from Italian-Israeli vocalist Charlette Shulamit Ottolenghi, and I'm very glad I did. Ottolenghi is a proud heir of the Italian Jewish musical tradition and recorded a lovely album called "Hebraica Italia" that
"... reproduces melodies drawn from her early childhood religious experience and her study of the magnificent and rare Jewish Italian Liturgy.Traditional Jewish prayers in Hebrew, with the particular melodies that developed during the two thousand years of continuous presence of Jews in Italy."
It's a bit of a romantic conceit to suggest she's singing two thousand year old melodies (texts maybe, melodies no), but that's ok. It's a common one for this kind of album and it doesn't diminish her achievement. Ottolenghi's voice is stately and nuanced, even when it floats over driving mid-eastern drums or electronic burbles. Here's a great example*, where she bounces between Hebrew and Italian on the Passover classic "Who Knows One" ("Chi Sapeva" in Italian, "Echod Mi Yodea" in Hebrew.)

Chi sapeva (Who Knows One)

You can check out other samples from Hebraica on her web page.

(*Personally, while I really enjoyed Ottolenghi's album there were moments I wanted to put a cork in the soprano sax. JUST STOP PLAYING FOR A MINUTE. yesh).

Update: Ottolenghi let me know that while she has the many recorded tracks on the website, she has not released a full album yet. She's working on it and will let us know when she does.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Some Old Time Chazzunes

I'm in a hotel in DC. It's late and I should be sleeping. But I'm not...I'm wandering the interwebs and guess what I found, a new Jewish music blog called Chazzunes dedicated to the classic Jewish chazzan / cantor. And while Chazzunes is brand new, it's off to a fast start. In two months it's racked up over 200 posts, all YouTube videos of classic and contemporary cantors. I'm going to have a blast working my way through the lot of 'em.

Here's quick sampler...

Oid yossef chai 2

' ''l'elisir d'amore' דוד קריבושי-ליאור אלמליח ושמעון סיבוני

Hat tip to YouTube user dkrivo for posting the second video.

Some serious happy-clappy from Steve Cohen

I got an note on Facebook recently from a fellow named Steve Cohen....
"I'm a classically trained composer, and I attend a Reform congregation in Larchmont, NY. The former cantor there, Lori Corrsin, now sings at Temple Emanu-El in New York City. I sang bass in the Zamir Chorale, under the direction of Matthew Lazar for about 7 seasons, and I've had my choral pieces performed at the North American Jewish Choral Festival, by zamir and also by the Kol Zimrah choir of Chicago, IL. I'm about to release a CD of solo vocal music, psalm settings and liturgical pieces...."
While the CD isn't out yet, here's a tasted of what Steve's got in store for us. There's some serious happy clappy going on here...

Kol Ha-amim Tiku Kaf

According to Steve, Kol Ha-amim Tiku Kaf is
"A piece for children's choir, based on Psalm 47, Verses 2-3. Music by Steve Cohen. Performed at the SAR Academy, in Riverdale, NY, by the SAR Combined Choirs, Naomi Katz Cohen, music director."
By the way, "happy clappy" is actually a technical term. Seriously.

Frannie Sheridan - The Jewish Blonde Song

Frannie Sheridan's got quite a story. She's the Jewish daughter of Holocaust survivors who escaped Europe before converting to Catholocism to avoid anti-semitism in Canada. She did stand-up comedy before taking on her families story in a highly regarded show called "The Waltonsteins / Dancing on Hitler's Grave" Her show caused an uproar in her family but eventually led to reconciliation and her father's re-acknowledgment of his Jewish identify.

And on top of all that...she's blonde.

The Jewish Blonde Song...ode to the overlooked victim:)

Check out her website for the full story and a couple of interviews.

Yay -I'm back

Hi folks. Ever try writing 6 research grant proposals at the same time? No? Well, I don't recommend it. They're all done and I've got a huge backlog of great music to share. So lets get at it....

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Oi Va Voi - Klezmer Electronica Refugees

Oi va Voi at Paradiso, AmsterdamHow embarrassing. I was chatting online last night with a fine fellow who was looking for klezmer electronica music. I made a few suggestions including my blog posts on Zohar, GhettoPlotz, Jewdyssee, Anakronic Electro Orkestra, Socalled, and Oi Va Voi. So where's the Oi Va Voi link?

No where. I've never blogged about Oi Va Voi. sigh. I've mentioned them a few times, but no link of their own.

So let's get to it.

According to their Wikipedia bio...
"Oi Va Voi is a British band that takes its name from a Yiddish-derived exclamation popular in modern Hebrew meaning, approximately "Oh, dear!" It is an experimental band from London, England, which formed in the late 1990s. Their sound draws on Jewish music from both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic traditions, including both klezmer and Ladino music, as well as Eastern European, especially Hungarian folk music, as well as contemporary electronic music."
Any wonder I love these guys? They've got four albums out, including the brand new "Travelling The Face of the Globe." I actually don't own any yet, mostly because they're not available on eMusic. Writing this post reminds me I going to need pickup them up soon.

Here's great video for Everytime, from their new album. The only disappointing thing about it is that it's two minutes shorter than the same track on their MySpace page. What's been trimmed out? Primarily a lovely klezmer influenced clarinet solo. Bah. The contrast of the pop vocals with the clarinet was part of what made the song for me. But it's still a good pop tune. Enjoy.


Also very much worth checking out are their songs Ladino Song, Yuri, and Yesterday's Mistakes. Each has it's own take on including Jewish music elements. Great stuff.

For more info, check out their MySpace page, their Wikipedia page, and short video interview with them on Sarajevo TV. As a promo for their new album, their offering a track from the new album for the price of your email address.

Hat tip to funborn for posting the video.