Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cantors Assembly puts the Journal of Synagogue Music online

If you're a Jewish music nerd like me, this is big news. The Cantors Assembly, which is affiliated with the Conservative movement, has put their Journal of Synagogue Music and Conference Proceedings online in downloadable .pdf form. The Journal has annual issues dating back to 1967 and the conference proceedings go back to 1947! There is some seriously good scholarship in these pages, some of which is still highly relevant and some of which makes a wonderful time capsule of changing ideas about Jewish music.

As Samuel Rosenbaum says in the intro to his 1982 essay collection Words About Music, which is also included
Music plays a unique role in the life of the Jew. Certainly, it enhances life; but it is far more than that. We study, pray, celebrate and mourn in the language of music. It is a part of life's fabric. In many cases it is the fabric itself.
Ain't that the truth.

It's fitting that I found out about this today. I'm on my way to a Cantors concert featuring Cantors Alberto Mizrahi, Meir Finklestein, David Propis, Simon Spiro, Rebecca Carmi and Daniel Gross, among others.

Here's a video of Cantor Meir Finklestein to get me in the mood.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Cafe Noah - Aljazeera writes about Jewish music

So this is a first. I get ideas for blog posts from a lot of different sources..today's comes from an article and video on the English website of Aljazeera, the Arabic language news network. The article and video are part of Aljazeera's "Witnesss" television program which (if I undrstand correctly) produces short tv length bio-pics of interesting Arabs around the word. It's most recent episode is "Cafe Noah: Cultural exile in Israel. A reminiscence of a by-gone era for a group of Jewish Arab musicians and their struggle to keep their music alive."

Cafe Noah is a 1996 documentary by Israeli film maker Duki Dror. It's available through Amazon (I just ordered a copy) in a double set with Dror's film Taqasim, which was "shot in the streets of Cairo, is a voyage to the hidden treasures of Arabic music and to the participation of Jewish musicians." The Amazon description of Cafe Noah isn't as heavy handed as Aljazeera's and doesn't talk about the Jewish Arab musician's "cultural exile," instead describing Cafe Noah as "the Jewish musicians from Baghdad and Cairo have immigrated to Israel. They were masters in Arabic music, but their music was not valued in the new homeland." But the idea is the same. Israel in the 1950's and 1960's valued European influences over Arab and home-grown pioneer songs over either Ashkenazi or Jewish-Arab (mizrachi) folk music. It wasn't until the rise of pop Mizrachi music (described as "Central Bus Station Music" in Amy Horowitz's excellent book "Mediterranean Israel Music") that Jewish music with Arabic origins began to play a more prominent role in the Israeli music scene.

Here's the full Algazeera video. It paints a fascinating picture of the end of an era of Jewish Arab music.

Cafe Noah: Cultural exile in Israel

It's important to note, though, that while it was an end of an era the resurgence of Mizrachi music in the pop arena has helped a resurgence of interest in Mizrachi music in other areas. Since 2000 Israel has hosted the International Oud Festival and a wide variety of Israeli musicians ranging from traditional folk to progressive metal bands have explored the sound.

As an added treat, Aljazeera put a video up on YouTube of a performance of "The Cafe Noah band" including Abraham Slaman (Kanun), Albert Elias (Flute), Felix Mizrachi (violin), Ezra Barhum (Oud).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Even More Jewish Music in Michigan this fall

I've added some updates to my listing of Jewish music in Michigan this fall. New on the list are my fav's the Afro-Semitic Experience playing in Lansing and Grand Rapids on Nov 5 and 6 and a lecture on Sephardic Jews with a flamenco performance by Scott Mateo Davies in West Bloomfield on Nov 7. Check the listing for full details.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Songs at a Table

Recently there has been a wave of new recordings of interesting approaches to Chassidic music. In recent posts, I've written about Jeremiah Lockwood's Niggun Project and Brook and Harkham's Darkcho album. Coming up soon will be the Breslov Bar Band's debut album. These recordings are all interesting because they are, to a large degree, neo-Chassidic. Or, Chassidic inspired. Today's album, Songs at a Table, is straight up Chassidic niggunim and I'm pretty exited about.

As I've mentioned any number of time, I'm a big fan of niggunim. As such, you'd think I'd have a pile of fantastic recordings to thrown on anytime I get the urge to listen to some. Sadly...not true at all. Partially, I'm fine with this. To a large degree niggunim are music to be sung, not listened to. They're not a performance music, so why would I expect lots of recordings? Partially, though I'm pretty frustrated. Most niggun recordings I've run across miss the mark by either adding instrumentals (for check the amazing, but highly orchestrated Chabad nigun collection) or by presenting them as part of a musicians performance (e.g. the many Carelbach recordings).

At last, Songs on a Table gets it right. This is a collection of niggun recorded in the wild, at a table, with nothing more than a bunch of guys* singing, clapping hands, and banging the table. The niggunim presented are a diverse set, including traditional Bobover, Breslover, and Lubavitch niguns as well as more contemporary compositions. The guys voices are well practiced and authoritative. And, most importantly, it sounds nothing like a well mannered performance. Most interestingly, while niggun are intended to be spiritual songs, they are as often as sung joyful rowdy table songs. This album is on the joyful rowdy side. Great fun. Pass the schnapps.

Berl's Niggun(Breslav)"

The one caveat, and my one annoyance with the album, is its production. Which I don't like. At all. Between poor microphone placement (which made it hard to pull out the occasional harmonies) and the addition of a layer of lacquer (e.g. studio effects including reverb), it's just not recording it could have been. The result is solid and appreciated, but not brilliant. (For an outstanding, but not Jewish, recording of similar music check out the Tsindali Choir singing Georgian table songs [video] [album])

I should mention that the Songs at a Table recording is a fundraiser for Leket Israel, Israel's national food bank.
"With the help of 45,000 annual volunteers and a dedicated staff, Leket Israel supports hundreds of non-profit organizations caring for the needy. Leket Israel:
· Rescues over 110 tons of food a week that would otherwise be destroyed from hundreds of food producers.
· Coordinates the largest food purchasing cooperative for non-profit organizations in the country.
· Provides professional guidance to non-profit organizations in nutrition and food safety.
· Supplies over 5,000 volunteer prepared sandwiches a day to school children from dysfunctional homes in 24 cities."

Chanukkah is coming up folks... good music, good cause. How about it? You can get more info at Songs at a Table.

*Ok, let me be clear. I have nothing against women singing niggunim and would be very receptive to hearing a recording of such. But all of my experience with traditional niggunim has been with guys, both in personal singing and in recordings. The only recordings I've heard with women (e.g. the really mediocre UJR / Transcontinental recording "Niggun Anthology") have been really poor stuff. C'mon sisters. Get you're niggun on!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Michigan Jewish Music - Upcoming events

Hi folks...Fall is falling. Kids are back in school. It's a great time for Jewish music on the North Coast. Here are a couple of concerts that I know of coming up. If you know of others, let me know! In particular, I haven't found any Jewish pop bands hitting Detroit this fall. Which is wrong. So very wrong.

Oh..and apologies to my friends in the Heartland Klezmorim, who played on Sunday. Um. This was supposed to get written a couple of weeks ago and...well. sorry.

Oct 21: Jerusalem String Quartet at Ann Arbor's Rackham Auditorium

Jerusalem String QuartetFounded in 1993 when its members met in high school, this still youthful, internationally acclaimed quartet is known for playing well-worn classical standards with attentiveness, freshness, and vigor. The group tends to perform its program selections on the high end of the tempo range without losing control, resulting in excitement that doesn’t degrade into haste. Program: Mendelssohn’s Quartet in E Minor, Mark Kopytman’s String Quartet no. 3, and Brahms’ Quartet in C Minor.

Oct 24: The River Raisin Ragtime Review and the Kol Halev choir plays "The Music of Tin Pan Alley: Jewish Contributions to American Popular Music" at Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor

River Raisin Ragtime ReviewJoin this outstanding ragtime-era orchestra as they present important American works associated with Tin Pan Alley. R4 surveys important Jewish composers, performers and publishers at the forefront of a commercial music industry that lasted decades. R4 features Tin Pan Alley pioneer Charles K. Harris’ 1891 sensation “After the Ball,” as well as music of George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Al Jolson, Jean Schwartz, Harold Arlen, Gus Kahn, Grace LeBoy, Ted Snyder , Y.P. Harburg , Jay Gorney and Dorothy Fields. You’ll want to sing along with hits including “Toot Toot Tootsie, Good Bye,” “Swanee,” “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “The Sheik of Araby,” “Avalon” and many other period songs that have become American standards.

The River Raisin Ragtime Revue is based in Tecumseh and is comprised of professional musicians from throughout Michigan. R4 is dedicated to educating and entertaining through the performance of significant American music. Utilizing meticulously researched and engaging narratives, R4 transports audiences to the cultural and social conditions of by-gone eras. The orchestra has issued important historical recordings that have received international praise. Fanfare Magazine writes R4 offers “…education, entertainment and a sonic blast rolled into one.”
R4 will be joined by the Kol Halev Choir and soloist Cantor Annie Rose. Ms. Rose will perform her signature rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Yiddle, on your Fiddle, Play Some Ragtime.”

For more info see the R4 schedule page. By the way..this is my shul and I wouldn't miss it. If you come by, say howdy.

Oct 25: Teruah Lecture: Music of the Diaspora

Jack ZaientzI'll be teaching a class on Jewish music titled "Music of the Diaspora" at Temple Beth Emeth as part of their Beit Cafe adult education program. Here's the blurb. I love blurbs. Particularly when I write them.
Topic: In this meeting we'll talk about and listen to examples of secular and religious music from around the Jewish world including Ashkenazi, Sepharidic, Morrano/Converso, Ethiopian, Israeli, Mountain Jews, and Mizrachi Jews.

Discussion questions: How much of our view of being of Jewish comes from our immediate surroundings and culture? Now that the internet has made unexpected corners the world immediately available, how might that change our sense of Jewish culture? How will that change our sense of being Jewish?
Oct 26: "An Evening To Remember" Cantors Concert at Adat Shalom Synagogue

Alberto Mizrachi Whew. After the River Raisin show and my lecture, I'm not sure I'll have the energy to make it to this. But I really want to. The show pays tribute to Cantor Larry Vieder and will feature Hazzan's Alberto Mizrahi, Meir Finklestein, David Propis, Simon Spiro, Rebecca Carmi and Adat Shalom's Hazzan Daniel Gross. I've wanted to hear Mizrahi sing for years. Maybe this will be my chance.

Nov 3 David Broza at the Ann Arbor Power Center

David BrozaDavid Broza is Israel's number one export and sometimes referred to as Israel's answer to Bruce Springsteen. "For thirty years now, Israeli superstar David Broza has been considered one of the most dynamic and vibrant performers in the singer/songwriter world." He's a regular on the Jewish music fest circuit and draws big crowds. He'll be playing the Power Center in Ann Arbor. Here's a recent Billboard article on Broza's latest album.

Nov 5 and Nov 6: The Afro Semitic Experience in Lansing and Grand Rapids

The Afro Semitic Experience, from my home turf of Connecticut, is one of my favorite groups exploring the intersection of Jewish music and jazz. I saw them play last year at the Michigan Festival of Sacred Music and they were wonderful. Check 'em out.

November 5, 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. Friday night service with the Afro-Semitic Experience at Congregation Shaarey Zedek, 1924 Coolidge Road, East Lansing, Michigan, for more info please call: 517-351-3570 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 517-351-3570 end_of_the_skype_highlighting, or visit http://www.shaareyzedek.com/index.php

November 6, the Afro-Semitic Experience in concert, Temple Emanuel, 1715 East Fulton Street, Grand Rapids, MI 49503, for tickets and more info please call (616) 459-5976 or visit http://www.templeemanuelgr.org/

Nov 7: ¡Viva Sefarad! Flamenco and the Jews of Spain at Congregation Beth Ahm in West Bloomfield

"Internationally acclaimed guitarist Scott Mateo Davies" and his group will be performing and lecturing at Congregation Beth Ahm. The event at 2:30pm and is free and open to the public.

What is significant about flamenco is its cultural mix. It represents the influences of extremely divergent cultures: the Moors, Sephardic (Hebrew for Spanish) Jews, Gypsies, and the dominant Spanish culture. For example, many of the melodies used in flamenco have both Sephardic and Arabic roots, the "letras"(texts) are in a characteristically Gypsy poetical form while the guitar is typically Spanish. (From Davies website)"

Nov: 11 - The Cantors Assembly documentary "100 Voices: A Journey Home" playing in a theater near you

The first national showing of 100 voices in September was a big success, with lots of sold out theaters. So the promoters are going for round two on Nov 11. Here's a listing of all the theaters in the US that are participating, including 20 Michigan theaters ranging from Port Huron to Benton Harbor.

"100 Voices" will offer a unique and moving look at Polish/Jewish history and culture and highlight its current resurgence. The story is told through the personal reflections and musical performances of Cantors Assembly members and acclaimed composer Charles Fox who made an important historic mission to the birthplace of Cantorial music. The documentary will give generations the opportunity to learn about and re-embrace the Jewish culture that produced one of the most artistic and educated societies that once flourished in Europe. Above all, the Program will celebrate the resilience and the power of Jewish life, while telling the story of two peoples who shared intertwined cultures"

Dec 5: The Mama Doni Band brings some Chanukah Fever to Temple Israel

Mama Doni Mama Doni, a.k.a. Doni Zasloff Thomas, is a mom, educator, performer, songwriter, and lead singer in The Mama Doni Band, winner of the 2008 Simcha Award for “Inspiring Joy Through Music,” in competition with more than 100 bands from 15 different coutries at the International Jewish Music Festival in Amsterdam, Holland.

Doni will be playing at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield on Dec 5 at 1:00pm.

Jan 13: The Red Sea Pedestrians play the Ark and pretty much everywhere

Red Sea PedestriansThe Red Sea Pedestrians, Kalamazoo's own klezmer-tinged roots rock band hits the Ark on Jan 13. The RSP is a family favorite and was in heavy rotation in the car for a month after seeing them live two summers ago. I'm pretty sure they've got a new album out. Can't wait.

"The Red Sea Pedestrians are a one-of-a-kind, full-blown, instrument-swapping fusion between tradition and the here-and-now. We’re talkin’ high-energy world-beat grooves, hypnotic laments from the earth, songs of celebration and wonder: a warped and beautiful blend of Klezmer, Greek, Gypsy, Celtic, Jazz and American Roots, all filtered through the band’s original vision"
Here's their handy-dandy touring schedule widget.. They'll be playing near you at least once. Promise.

Band website design

Feb 5 Yiddishe Cup plays the Ann Arbor Ark

A klezmer band by way of Catskills cha-cha. I saw them live two years ago and had a blast. They hit Ann Arbor every winter. Not a purist's klezmer band, but a lot of fun.

"We dare you not to dance!" Reviving the wacky Jewish humor of the '50s and '60s by parodying everything from cha-cha to doo-wop to rock, Northeast Ohio's Yiddishe Cup is also one of the tightest, most vigorous klezmer bands around. Year after year they wind up on Jewish-music ten-best lists, and their live shows are legendary. Get ready for songs like "Gentile on My Mind" or "Meshugeneh Mambo"! But they can also play it straight, bringing the energy and tradition of klezmer music to their delighted audiences"

Feb 24 Yasmin Levy at Lansing's Wharton Center

Yasmin LevyOnce heard, Yasmin Levy’s voice is never forgotten! Her passionate vocal delivery and striking good looks continue to entrance fans new and old. In her deep, spiritual and moving style of singing, she preserves and revives the most beautiful and romantic songs from her Ladino heritage, the Judeo-Spanish language and culture of the Sephardic Jewish communities who were driven from Spain in the late 15th century. Born in Jerusalem, Israel in 1975, London’s Guardian raves, “Here surely is the next world music superstar.” Levy will be joined by an exceptional group of musicians including Yechiel Hasson, guitar; Vardan Hovanissian, flute, duduk, ney, clarinet; Miles Danso, electric double bass; and Ishay Amir, percussion.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"Anthology of Jewish Music" Radio Program

I love community radio and am always thrilled when I find a new station with Jewish programming. Anthology of Jewish Music is a weekly hour long show that "highlights the Ashkenazi and Sephardic cultures, including Yiddish and Hebrew selections." It's broadcast and streamed live on Co-op Radio 102.7 out of Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada. It's shows are also archived online for play-on-demand and download. Check it out.

UPDATE. Ok. I'm an idiot. I just went to add Anthology to my radio show list and there it was. Evidently I found it once before. But it's worth find twice.