Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sephardic indie-rockers Deleon hit the North Coast

Whew. I got the babysitter back home and now I'm flopped down to write about the great Deleon show I just saw. I've got their album quietly cranked. C'mon. It's midnight, you know what I mean.

I'm marveling at how natural and inevitable it felt to see a young band picking up the 500 year old Sephardic musical tradition, without irony or kitsch, and letting it shimmer and shake. The Sephardic music tradition is deeply passionate, religious and romantic, a passion that never gets old. And it's passion that's as well suited to Deleon's brand of indie-rock; frantic and bustling, spinning with layered bass and drum-beats and writhing under the evocative (yeah, I mean sexy) voices of Dan Saks and Amy Crawford. It's also well suited the stripped down acoustic of a jangly banjo and tambourine.


And both versions of Deleon, electric and acoustic, were on stage tonight. You see, Deleon is normally a 5 piece. Opening for a large band like Os Mutantes on small stages like Detroit's Magic Stick, means that they were forced to strip down to the essentials and are traveling as a three piece: Saks on voice, electric guitar and banjo, Crawford on voice, tambourine, xylophone and melodica, and Kevin Snider on bass. That's the acoustic combo. For some of the songs, though, Snider kicked off a pre-recorded version of drummer Justin Riddle's complicated and off kilter drum tracks. Then the band, and the audience, jumped on board for a wild ride.

DeLeon - La Serena

Deleon is not the first contemporary band to take on Sephardic music. Bands including Galeet Dardashti's Divan, Basya Schechter's Pharaoh's Daughter and the Sarah Aroeste band, and Oren Bloedow and Jennifer Charles have all explored this space already. But Deleon's high-energy, high-passion, highly-intertwined pop mixed with their sly acoustic work are helping them carve out their own space. If you haven't seen 'em yet, get going.

You can check out their MySpace page for a tour schedule.

J.Viewz - Israeli freestyle chill

Just ran across J.Viewz, the brainchild of Brooklyn based, Israeli born, electronic musician Jonathan Dagan. Good stuff. Love Noa Lembersky's vocals and how they blend with Nina Simone's. The J.Viewz gang has a few upcoming shows in NYC (and one in WA) check 'em out if you're in the area.

According to the bio on the J.Viewz MySpace page, ...
"The J.Viewz project was established by Jonathan Dagan mid 2002. Whilst working with the band Violet Vision (see below) on their 2nd album, Jonathan used his spare time to record a solo project. Taking many diverse musicians into the studio, The J.Viewz project started to metamorphosize into 'freestyle chill' blending elements of soft breakbeat, trip-hop, 2 step, jazz and more, all in a mellow groove."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Teruah Teshuva - An Appology

Ok, folks. It's time for public teshuva (you don't get to see the private teshuva emails). One of the great things about writing this blog is getting to know a lot of the great musicians who are active in Jewish music. Sometimes I get a great CD in the mail. And while I've reviewed a lot of them, I haven't gotten to all of them.Which leads my my apology. I have a pile of CD's on my desk that have been sent to me for review. Some are brand new. Some are collecting dust. The challenge for me is that I take reviewing seriously and find it a bit intimidating. But that is my problem, not yours. If I accept your CD, I'm obligated to listen and review it.

So, to every musician who has sent me a CD for review and has been disappointed that I haven't made good on my promise. I'm sorry. I will try to get your review done soon and in the future will try to be more timely with the review.

Here's a list of the albums I've received that I haven't gotten reviewed yet. Every one is an interesting listen and well worth checking out.

PitomPitom. "PunkAssJewJazz" by the fantastic jazz guitarist Yoshie Fructer, on the Tzadik Radical Jewish Culture label. JazzReview.com review
Can CanAll Hell, by Can Can a great punk band led by Patrick Aleph, who also does the Punk Torah video blog. Forward review.
Saints & TzadiksYiddish meets Gaelic on Saints & Tzadiks, by Lorin Sklamberg of the Klezmatics and Irish vocalist Susan McKewon. BlogCritics.org review
Sam Glaser's Rockin' Chanukah RevueSam Glaser's Rockin' Chanukah Revue Upbeat Chanukah pop from one of the hardest working guys in contemporary Jewish music. Jewcy review
Hebrew SchoolHebrew School, by New York indie-pop musician and Six Points Fellowship grant winner, David Griffin. Featured on my second podcast. Review.
FleytMusic in Konsert!FleytMuzik in Kontsert! is Adrianne Greenbaum, world class Klezmer flutist, and her ensemble performing live. Absolutely wonderful. Rainlore's World of Music review
Little Shop of HorasBrian Bender and the Little Shop of Horas eclectic klezmer / world-beat album "Eny Velt" . Klezmershack review
Lech LechaMelech B'n Arieh's piano and electronica album "Lech Lecha" Interview on Jewish National Radio
KlezmafourPolish combo Klezmafour's heavy klezmer/jazz/rock debut should get snapped up by Radical Jewish Culture fans everywhere. Klezmershack review. Hit their website contact and album info. (The website is hard to navigate, I've got their contact info too.)
Nomi TeplowAmerican/Israeli pop singer Nomi Teplow's new album "Like a Rushing Spring". Big pop sound to deeply felt Jewish lyrics. Reviews
Zeda's Beat BoxSt. Louis Jewish rock project, Zeda's Beat Box's first full album "Seven".
ShereleWonderful Mexican klezmer jazz combo Sherele's Oy Mame Shein Pickles Chiles and Jrein Interview (in Spanish).
I'll do my best to review each and every one of these albums over the coming weeks. Just making this list has reminded me how wonderful many of these disks are. This should be great fun.

Oh, and if you've sent me an album and it's not on this list...double apologies. Email me and give a smack on the head.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Yair Rosenblum's Unetaneh Tokef

There is no doubt that the Unetaneh Tokef is one of the pivotal moments of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, resonating with a deep awe for God. It's about as cataclysmic a piyyut as there is.

You open the book of remembrance

Which proclaims itself,

And the seal of each person is there.

The great shofar is sounded,

A still small voice is heard.

And that's only the warm up. By the time we get to the end, we're knee deep in

Who shall live and who shall die,

Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not,

Who shall perish by water and who by fire,

Who by sword and who by wild beast,


Like many Jews I very much look forward to the Unetaneh Tokef. For me, being confronted by something so much larger than myself help me re-examine myself. Am I living up to my own expectations? To Gods? To other Jew's, the core of the Unetaneh Tokef is its profound reminder of humility, that so much in this world is not in our control.

Either way, and probably a dozen more ways, the Unetaneh Tokef has inspired generations of musicians to pick up it's challenge. Last year I wrote about Leonard Cohen's "Who By Fire", which picks up the latter theme.

This year I want to showcase Yair Rosenblum's version. Like Cohen's, it's undeniably a pop song but it manages to carry the weight of prayer. According to one source, the origin of Rosenblum's version goes like this...
"In the 1973 Yom Kippur war, kibbutz Beit Hashita lost eleven of its sons. For the 60th anniversary of the Kibbutz, Yair Rosenblum composed a tune for "U'Netaneh Tokef. The tune is very powerful and stirring and makes the connection between the ultimate sacrifice of Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, the author of the prayer, and the 2,656 Israeli soldiers who fell in the Yom Kippur War. "
Here's Gevatron, the Israeli Kibbutz Singers, performing Yair Rosenblum's "Unetaneh Tokef"

Update: I just got a comment pointing out that "yair rosenbloom's unetane tokef is available as sung by avraham fried mp3 - at http://www.shlager.net/?articleID=1913" Love it. Thanks mjyeres!

Hat tip to YouTube user JoshuaJacobson for uploading the video. If I'm correct, this Dr. Joshua Jacobson, artistic director of the amazing Zamir Chorale of Boston. Also, hat tip to Cantorial Soloist Barbara Linn Powell of Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City, CA, who recently reminded me of the Rosenblum's version. Linn's also a fine jazz singer. Just sayin'.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Upcoming Michigan Jewish Music Events - Fall 2009

The fall is a great time for Jewish music on the North Coast. With colleges back in session, there cultural engine of Michigan chugs to life again. Here's a list of upcoming Jewish music events that I'm aware of. If you know of others, please let me know.

- DeLeon (opening for Os Mutantes) Tuesday September 29, at 8pm, at the Magic Stick, Detroit.

DeLeonDeLeon plays 15th Century Spanish indie rock infused with the deeply mysterious and entrancing cadences of the ancient Sephardic tradition. Their music, birthed in Spain before the Inquisition and raised in pre-WWII Italy, has finally reached maturity in modern-day Brooklyn. The band, named for 12th Century Kabalistic philosopher Moses DeLeon and front man Daniel Saks’ great-grandfather Giorgio DeLeon, reconciles Saks’ cultural journey with modern influences. By re-imagining these ancient melodies as contemporary pieces, DeLeon has given the world at large a unique chance to experience the rich musical history of Sephardic Judaism.

- Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird, Sunday, October 18, 2009, 8:00pm, Temple Israel, West Bloomfield Township, MI

Daniel KahnThe Painted Bird’s "Yiddish Punk Cabaret" concocts a mixture of Klezmer, radical Yiddish song, political cabaret and punk folk, kept together by Kahn's amazing abilities as a songwriter, translator and performer; telling stories of outrageous incidents, poetically dark, tragically humorous and politically incorrect. Daniel Kahn challenges the borders between radical & traditional, lyrical & political, east & west, folk & punk, mama loshn & loshn hora.

- 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.

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?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Avigail Cohen's Erev Rosh Hashana

Ok..I'm about to scram out of work and head to Rosh Hashana dinner. I've got one more Rosh Hashana video for everyone. It's Israeli singer-songwriter Avigail Cohen singing Erev Rosh Hashana. If you dig it, check out her recent album.

Erev rosh hashana

B'rosh Hashana

L'shana tovah, everyone. May you be inscribed for a good year.

As a little pre-Shabbat Erev Rosh Hashana love, here's Chassidic superstar singer MDB singing his Berosh Hashana and Cantor Simon Cohen singing Eli Yaffe's Brosh Hashana. Enjoy.

MDB's Berosh Hashana

Cantor Simon Cohen B'rosh Hashana

Hat tip to YouTube user MarkSystems and Cantors for posting the videos.

Shirei HaLevi'im, pop for singing, crying, and davening

A gentle organ, swirling and building. Crisp guitar, added on in layers. And finally a gentle poet voice calls out "L'David Mizmor."

Ben Epstein's Shirei HaLevi'imWelcome to the world of indie-pop musician Ben Epstein. In his debut album, Shirei HaLevi'im, Epstein has done something rather magical. He's taken Tehillim (Psalms) written millennia ago by David Ha-Melech (King Davd) and, once again, given them life as intensely personal and intimate songs. Because this is how they started, right? David, warrior and king, conflicted and embattled, pouring out his fear, hope, love and longing in the best way he knew...song. Epstein's flawlessly crafted pop flows effortlessly, one memorable melody tumbling out after another. This is an album to be sung along with, jumped up and down with, and, on a clear starry night like tonight, cried along with. In releasing this album, Epstein has joined the ranks of Orthodox Jewish musicians like Matisyahu, Y-Love, Blue Fringe, and Stereo Sinai, who are both devout in practice and able to translate their religious experience into music that is approachable and meaningful to a wide audience.

Seriously folks. This is a fantastic album that's been in heavy rotation lately. I have every expectation that given some time and promotion, that Epstein will take the Orthodox pop world by storm in the same way that Blue Fringe did. I have every hope that the wider Jewish community embraces him, too. This is some seriously good music. Here are some clips of a couple of my favorite tracks, and you can hop over to CD Baby to hear the rest.




Epstein is just getting rolling as a musician. This album was put together as a recording project and he's still putting his road show band together. I'll keep everyone posted about his gigs as I hear about them.

So here's a funny thing, I may be helping him get some of those gigs. Epstein and I have been emailing back and forth a lot since his album came out. He's brand new to the scene and I've been giving him some pointers (as best I can). And, like many artists, is much more comfortable writing and playing music and than engaging in shameless self-promotion. So I've offered to help him get the word out and try to help him get some gigs. This is not a relationship I've had with a band before and so I'm really not sure how it will work out. But I'll keep you all posted on how it goes.

And I'll start now... I've got a fantastically talented Jewish indie-pop musician who's looking for venues to play for Jews of all types, with emphasis on the Othodox / Chassidic communities. Where should he play? Any bands want to play with him? He'd love to open for you. Drop me a line if you've got ideas.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Kol Shira - World music from eastern Iowa

One of the interesting movements in American Jewish music at the moment, is the adoption and promotion of Sephardic music. Kol Shira is the latest group I've run across that happily mixes music (Jewish and otherwise) from around the world, but draws heavily Sephardic and Misrachi music for their basic sound and approach. This, in my opinion, is a good thing.

And they do it well. Not quite world stage, Galeet Dardashti, well, but definitely 'drive for an hour see them' well. Valerie Davine's got a lovely, passionate, voice, and the rest of the combo (Linda Wertz on bass, Debbie Singer on guitar, Julie Anolik-Cassell on percussion and cello, Karen Charney on flute and vocals, and Rita Offut on vocals) are tight and talented. I don't think they have any recordings out, but if you live in Iowa you should check their upcoming performances list.

Here's a video from a 2005 performance, for more videos see their video page.

Kol Shira: Mizmor L'David

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Punk Jews" the movie

My buddy Michael from the excellent Heeb 'n Vegan blog is even more of a dedicated chronicler of Jewish Punk music than I am. Yay Michael. Last Friday he wrote a piece about a couple of documentaries on the topic that are currently in development. Go check it out.

Here's the trailer for one of the films. It's titled, cleverly enough, "Punk Jews." While it deals with punk music, according to Michael it's more interested in sincere but "unconventional practice of Judaism". And it opens with Y-Love. Does it get any better?

Punk Jews from Jesse Zook Mann on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ohad - Israeli rockstar Chassid

So you think you know niggunim...right. check this out....

The singer is Ohad Moskovitz, an Israel performer on the Chassid circuit. This is a pretty big budget affair, but, from what I understand, pretty representative of this style of music in Israel. Whew.

One thing I always enjoy about this kind of performance is the use of boys to sing the high parts and provide contrast, the way a female backup vocalist might support a male lead vocalist in a secular concert. It always reminds of how in Elizabethan theater boy actors were used to play female parts for the exact same reason: women were not allowed on stage.

Camp Gan Israel - Montreal

I just got a nice nice from the folks at Camp Gan Israel, Montreal.

"Here is the video of the Visiting Day choir of Camp Gan Yisroel, Montreal.
The video is professionally edited, and was just uploaded! Please post it on your site."

Sure thing folks. My pleasure. I'm a big fan of CGI and my two wigglers attended the Ann Arbor version. I was surprised and a bit disappointed to see that this was only a boys choir, though. While CGI is run by Chabad, who are Lubavitch Chassids and very strict about their own Jewish practice, CGI as a camp is very inclusive to all Jews regardless of movement or personal practice. Kol Isha, even under strict observance, usually doesn't block adult men from listening to young girls sing so it generally isn't a problem for the camp. My girls love CGI, do lots of singing, and our visiting day show had boys and girls singing together.

That said, the boys sing well and it's fun video. Enjoy.

UPDATE: Sigh. A little fact checking would have helped here. Mottel just pointed out that Camp Gan Yisroel Montreal is actually an all boys camp. Hence the lack of girls in the choir. Oops.

CGI Choir - Zoakti