Monday, August 31, 2009

Abby Gostein's "Each Blessing"

Abby GosteinI'm listening to Abby Gostein's "Each Blessing" right now. I've got a lot to say, but am not sure where to start. How do you review an album that is as much an advertisement for sheet music as a recording to be listened to? How about this....

This past Shabbat I went to Kabbalat Shabbat services at the local Reform synagogue. Not as a guest, but as a member. Yep. I'm a life-long Conservative Jew who recently became a member of a Reform synagogue. I'm not going to get into why I switched membership from the local Conservatie synagogue, it was just time for a change. (For the record, I also will be davening regularly at the local Chabbad house too). I was pretty impressed by how much traditional (by my standards) Hebrew liturgy was part of the service. I also enjoyed the contemporary English readings in the new Mishkan Tefillah. They're direct and meaningful, if a bit vague about God and Torah. Sitting there I felt recharged and happy.

When I sit back in my chair, Gostein's "Each Blessings" playing through my headphones, I'm right back there. Her gentle vocals and piano* playing pick up the quiet warmth of the service and her more driving pieces are invigorating and make me want to sing along. Just right for a contemporary Reform service.
Each Blessing album cover
And that's the point of the album, right? Gostein describes it as ....

"Contemporary Jewish music, moving and accessible, with memorable melodies and riveting harmonies; prayer and blessing settings intended to be flexible in nature and easily usable by cantor or soloist, congregation and/or choir"

This isn't music for a concert, for listening to a car, or even for listening to over headphones in a comfy chair (though I've happily done the latter two already and would go to a Gostein concert if given a chance). It's for singing in a group. At synagogue. That's what the albums for. If you go to her website she's got lyric sheets ready, and if you want sheet music, she's got it ready to go.

As long time readers might remember, I've always had mixed feelings about Reform style songleader recordings. Part of it, I'm realizing, is that since I'd never been to a service that included them it was hard to understand their natural home. Part of it, though, is that I've often found them to be underwhelming rehashes of 1970's folk-pop with shallow feel good lyrics. Gostein's album, though, manages to avoid those traps. While some nod back to the 1970's, others pick up much more current musical influences and rhythms. There's drive and passion, but it never overwhelms. It creates a sound that is timeless, not dated.

Good stuff. Really.

And an album that I'll hand off to my choir director next Friday.

Here are samples of two of my favorite tracks...

Mi Chamocha


For more info on Abby Gostein's "Each Blessings" check out her webpage and CD Baby. For her sheet music see OySongs and Transcontinental Music Publications.

* Update: Sigh. Another fact-checking goof. Abby just emailed me to let me know that while she loves the piano playing too, she can't take credit for it. Scott Leader, Jewish musician and proprietor of Southwest Studios, played piano on most of the album (including the two tracks above). Martha Mortensen Dudgeon took over the keys for the last two tracks. Dudgeon is an Austin pianist and artistic director of the Austin Chamber Ensemble. Thanks for the update Abby.

Eprhyme's "Punklezmerap"

There's been a lot of activity in Jewish hip-hop lately, with new talent popping up regularly. The most recent album to drop is Ephrymes "WayWordWonderWill" on Modular Moods / Shemspeed (also available through iTunes). I'm passing this video along to help announce the album, but honestly I don't care for it much. Eprhyme's got a good patter, but the song is pretty flat and uninteresting. And the production is truly weird. It makes a big show of layering in some klezmer samples, but Ephryme's vocals don't connect with it at all. I feels like I'm listening to two unrelated songs at the same time. Weird.

What do you think? Go check out Ephryme's MySpace page to hear a few of his other tracks. I like Shomer Saalam a bit better, but I'm not blown away.

EPRHYME - "PUNKLEZMERAP" (Official Music Video)

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Event Video

Some of you may remember all the hub-bub last year about the canceling of the Orthodox community's"The Big Event" concert at Madison Square Garden. Well, the follow up concert "The Event" went off smoothly in March. I didn't get to go (I never make it NYC shows. sigh) even though it featured Lipa Schmeltzer who would have been worth a road trip to go see. In addition to Lipa, the concert included MBD, Dedi, Abie Rotenberg, Pirchei Chior by Eli Gerstner and Yossi Newman, Srully Wulliger, Acheinu-Shapiro Brothers and Rabbi Boruch Chait, and Shloimy Gertner. Anyway, as expected, the concert was videotaped and rapidly packaged up on a DVD for sale by Mostly Music.

Check it out.

The Event - The Trailer

A special Video Clip from The Event Concert 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Di Nigunim

Di NigunimI'm in San Diego again. I seem to end up here pretty regularly for work. I was just flipping through the local arts & events rag. You know the kind I mean. Cheap paper. Ink coming off on your fingers. Sections titled "Roam O Rama" and "Club Crawler." Advertisements for bars, babes, and botox. Personal classifieds that would completely creep you out if you actually understood what was being requested/offered. My kind of rag. It's the first thing I grab in any town I visit. Sort of like sniffing a friendly dog's ass.

And there it is. Page 89. Klezmer Gypsy Punk. A full page spread on San Diego's very own Di Nigunim. Other than noting that the band is kicking off a tour and that the band's worst fears include "capitalism," "subliminal democracy," and that "Jesus is real" the write up was pretty pointless. My buddy Heeb'n'Vegan did a much better job back in July. I'll now plagiarize quote him shamelessly respectfully...
"Di Nigunim seems to have found a magical middle ground between klezmer and punk. They definitely have a punk foundation and punk instruments, unlike some punk-edged contemporary klezmer acts. And unlike some kitschy Jewish punk bands, their klezmer slant isn't mere shtick.

Is Di Nigunim a punk band with a klezmer slant or the other way around?

Di Nigunim is definitely a punk band with a klezmer slant and not the other way around. We try to make up in furious dance energy what we lose in musicianship. Our band has some amateurs, like myself, but also some superb true talent, like our singer/guitarist, Ben, and our trumpet player, Sean."
I haven't heard their whole album, but I love the tracks on their MySpace page. Go check 'em out. While they don't have the musicianship or songwriting chops of klez-punk pioneers Golem!, their DIY edge-of-chaos esthetic is more authentic punk and makes me want to hora in a mosh pit. This is clearly a band to see live and I hope I get the chance soon. (Di Nigunim's MySpace page hints that they might be playing somewhere around here tonight, but isn't specific. MySpace has decided (probably correctly) that my emails are all spam so it's not letting me get a hold of them. Grr.)

Sadly, none of their YouTube videos are worth much, losing sound quality, band energy or both. Ah well. With that warning, here's the best of the bunch.

Di Nigunim...Shalom Aleichem

Hat tip to YouTube user Titastuff

Oh yeah, the band says...
Buy Our Record

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Klezmer! Tales of the Wild East

Klezmer: Tales of the Wild EastGun wielding Chassidim & a gypsy on the lam, a pair of cast-out yeshiva boy thieves, and a young woman running from village life all learning Yiddish songs that wouldn't be written for another 50 years from an ex-Polish army band musician. Klezmer!

Folks it just doesn't get better than this.

I know this old news for some (Ari wrote about this years ago), but I just ran across "Klezmer! Tales of the Wild East" by Joaan Sfar. Sfar, a French Sefardi (one side) and Ashkenazi (on the other) Jewish comics artist, writer, and film director, has written a number of wonderful Jewish themed graphic novels including "Klezmer," "The Rabbi's Cat," and "The Rabbi's Cat 2" along with almost 100 other comic books and graphic novels. The are all wild romps that are filled with a wicked sense of humor and a rich appreciation for humanity.

As Ari notes in his Klezmershack review "Sfar's post-modern klezmer musicians are weirdly real, despite the fact that it is clear that this is not a novel to be consulted for historical accuracy. In fact, there were times when I could see and read echoes of other graphic novels of the last ten or twenty years. But reading Sfar, I get a sense less of ignorance, than of re-imagining. Which, given the klezmer revival and the "post-vernacular" popularity of klezmer all over the place, is entirely appropriate."

I think that "re-imaging" is right. Klezmer's vision of the Pale of Settlement draws adventure out of uncertainty and opportunity out of brutality. In a world where your village may be destroyed tomorrow by pogrom and you may be drafted into the army or married off, why not take up violin or clarinet and hit the road? Klezmer is as historically accurate as a Western movie, e.g. not very, and just as mythic. The life of the Eastern European Jew was not high adventure, but an adventure can illustrate the precariousness of Eastern European life.

And the book is intensely musical. Few pages go by where Sfar's characters aren't practicing a tune, fishing a clarinet from burned wagon, or jumping up on a tavern stage. Makes me want to sing along and jump up on stage with them. I wish I could.

By the way, this book is just part 1. According to Sfar's Wikipedia page, he's already published parts 2 and 3 in France. Hopefully they'll get translated and and a US publisher soon. Rabbi's Cat 2 is currently in print, and also wonderful. Rabbi's Cat is out of print, but easily available.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sound the Alarm: Jewish hip-hop producer Prodezra releases solo album

Prodezra's Until Whendroning organ, slowly slowing rising and falling, anticiapting the... break. Hear Rabbi Akiva talking. static over xylophone. Bass beat, or is that tuba. We saw. we prayed. bump bump. what we witnessed on that day....

Hip-hop is a funny thing. Producers make beats, orchestrating samples, drums, and synths to create a track that is then brought to life by an MC rapping. The three things that make a producer are the cleverness of the beats and the range of the samples, and the space for the rhymes. Prodezra, a Jewish producer from Georgia, is quickly making a name for himself on all three counts. His track "Change", produced for rappers Describe and Y-Love, is fabulous and garnered a lot of attention (the YouTube video has had over 100,000 views).

Prodezra just released his first album "Until When." The album includes Change, but also has him stepping in front of the mic. At it's most successful, on Change, Liora, Sound the Alarm, and Stood at Sinai, Prodezra's draws on a pop orchestral soundscape that is as comfortable with bells, acoustic guitar and, what sounds like, a marching band tuba, as with more common urban static and brass. I swear I even hear a Blue Oyster Cult riff in there. Prodezra's lyrics are sharply written and heartfelt but aren't the equal of Describe and Y-love. He's more willing, though, to let the music breath. The instrumentals, including title track, Ein Od Milvado, and Masa L'Geulah are lovely lookbacks to an earlier generation of electronica (think Mannheim Steamroller, Jean Michel Jarre & Mike Oldfield).

Bottom line: Other than Change, Until When isn't quite the next Jewish hip-hop breakout, but it's a solid and satisfying effort by a guy with a rich musical imagination.

In case you missed it, here's the Change video...
DeScribe & Y-Love "Change" (official music video)

Here's a compilation of samples from Until When.

For more info check out Prodezra's MySpace & CD Baby pages.

Friday, August 7, 2009

What does Jewish look like to you? Vanessa Hidary, The Hebrew Mamita

If you caught my preceding post on the Limmud Fest, you might have seen that Vanessa Hidary ‘The Hebrew Mamita'. I hadn't heard of her before and am a big fan of performance poetry so I thought I'd check her out. Wow. Pretty fabulous. Here's her performing her signature poem. Her whole show was videotaped and put up on YouTube. Watch 'em all. You'll be glad you did. She's one smart, funny, and very very self-aware lady.

"The Hebrew Mamita" by The Hebrew Mamita herself

UPDATE: so I've been watching a bunch of Hidary's other videos and wanted to point out this other version of her "Hebrew Mamita" poem performed back in 2003 on the Def Poetry show. The version above is really good, but I think she nails it in this one.

Limmud Fest: Bring your Midrash and your walking shoes!

Ok. I'm a complete sucker for this video. It's a relentlessly goofy advertisement for Limmud Fest, "the UK's Jewish summer festival of learning, culture, music and entertainment (27-31 August 2009)." It's such great fun I've listened to it about a dozen times.

I won't make it to the Fest, but maybe someday. It sounds like a blast. Musical guests this year will include Sharon Alexander, teaching Jewish gospel singing styles, Funk'n'stein, an Israeli funk band, Vanessa Hidary, the Hebrew Mamita, a hip hop performance poet, Jewdysee, a German group that 'fuses club culture and yiddishkeit, (my note: I love Jewdysee), Shira Kline, "a popular American musician for children and families" (note: I also love Shira Kline), and Jeremiah Lockwood, cantorial blues singer & guitarist Sway Machinery (note: I also.. you get the idea).

Oh, and there are some great non-musical guest lecturers there too. Just sayin'.

Limmud Fest Song

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Klezmer Podcast goes Video - Keith interviews the Watcha Clan

Keith Wolzinger, host of the long running Klezmer Podcast, has put out his first video show. Congrats! According to Keith, his "guests are the members of Watcha Clan, who performed in Los Angeles on 17 July, 2009 on their North America tour." (See their MySpace Page for their tour schedule.)

As a bonus, here's a quick bio on Watcha Clan (classic band-written puffery) and a video. Check it out..

"It’s been ten years since the music of Watcha Clan started moving to the rhythm of the waters of the Mediterranean. The ten year watershed has marked a new start for the band : Diaspora Hi-Fi, their new project. The party continues…

This fluid scene’s distinctive electro sound powers the clan into new territory. Speeding forward through frenetic rhythms or rendering homage to their roots, the clan, a real family embodied in the voice of Sista K, never forget their destiny or their mission, their search for space and freedom. Above all, they are true nomads in the world of music....

Always on the move, Sista K’s family history is intimately entwined with her music. She’s Ashkenazi through her mother and Sephardic and Berber through her father, an Algerian independence fighter who was French before he was born (an 1870 decree gave French nationality to the Jewish population of Algeria). She could have been born in the land of Israel, where her parents met, but saw the light of day in the shadow of Marseille’s Bonne Mère. La Belle de Mai, La Busserine, Le Merlan are all inextricably part of her personal geography; her own Bermuda Triangle in which she could never loose herself and which helped forge the consummate woman she is today. “Back then,” she says, “in the northern quarters of Marseille, no-one cared who was Jewish and who was Muslim. We all lived together, and life was always stimulating.”

Watcha Clan - Eli Eli

For more info on the Clan check their website and their MySpace page, which includes an active tour schedule. Also check out these articles by NPR and the BBC.