Friday, August 26, 2011

Shabbat Shalom from Camp Ramah Philly

Shabbat Shalom everyone.

My eight year old daughter has been visiting her grandparents all week. I've been missing her a lot. sigh. So for my 'get in the Shabbat grove" video, I thought I'd share this great video of the kids at Camp Ramah Philly, led by Rosh Shira Jimmy Costello, singing Not By Might, Heiveinu Shalom, and the Machaneh Ramah Yomi song in perfect 50 part cacophony. Great job, kids.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Joseph Achron Society

Joseph Achron was a highly regarded classical violinist and composer at the turn of the 20th Century. He was Jewish and, as is noted in Wikipedia "[h]is preoccupation with Jewish elements and his desire to develop a 'Jewish' harmonic and contrapuntal idiom, underscored and informed much of his work". Sadly, while Hebrew Melody, his most popular piece, is relatively well known, few of his other pieces have been published or are played regularly.

To help correct this problem, the Joseph Achron Society, founded in 2010, is "publishing his unpublished works, recording his unrecorded music, and promoting new scholarship and performances." The Society created the first published edition of Joseph Achron's Third Violin Concerto, which was performed in May 2011, by the Brandenburg Symphony. This was the first public performance of the piece in over 70 years and met with excellent reviews. (For the more on the performance, check out The Forward's interview with Joseph Achron Society founder Sam Zerin.)

The Society is currently working on creating and publishing the first performance edition of the Achron-Paganini Caprices for Violin and Piano. These transcriptions of Paganini's Caprices were prepared by Achron for his friend, violinist Jascha Heifetz and have never been published. (The Society is looking for support to complete the editing and publishing of the works. If you're interested in helping, check out their fundraising page.)

Here's a video of Achron's Hebrew Melody, by the legendary violinist Joseph Hassid.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Izabo's Summer Shade

This is my summer for Israeli music. Israeli bands are pushing hard to get traction in the American market. I've skyped with Israel's Oleh! Records, found out that Israeli bands took SXSW by storm, and exchanged email and tweets with Israeli bands and promoters asking me to blog about them. That's new for me but I'm game. There's a lot of great music coming out of Israel and I'm happy pass it along.

Today's find is the Israeli band Izabo. Here's their official blurb....
"Best described as a “brilliant, action packed combination of Psychedelic Rock, Disco, Punk and Arabic spices,” these psychedelic rockers secured a spot as one of Israel’s most successful alternative pop bands with the 2003 release of their debut album “The Fun Makers.”
To me they fit in the same 'Israeli beach party' orbit with my fav's Boom Pam and Electra and their new video, Summer Shade, is a perfect summer track..buzzy and languid at the same time. Like Electra Izabo sings in only lightly accented English, making it an easy listen for an American audience. In fact, the light accent and the lightly Mizrachi flavored tunes lends Izabo a perfect sense of friendly exotica.

C'mon. Even the ice cream cones have bushy mustachio's. How much more friendly does it get?

Right now, Izabo is running a giveaway on their facebook site. "Like" them and get Summer Shade and two other tracks for free download.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sharks Have No Bones!, or The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement

When I was a kid I loved books of trivia. Hundreds of pages of random facts (sharks have no bones! ) that sparked my curiosity and gave me a random sampling of information (often horribly wrong) to base my forays into the library or encyclopedia and lunchtime discussions with friends. To a budding info-junkie, those raw facts were pretty addicting.

As a kid, I might have loved Stephen L. Pease' book "The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement". With a studious tone and a "Ripley's Believe it or Not" enthusiasm Pease spends 500 pages chronicling amazing accomplishments by Jews. Did you know that
  • Jews invented both holography (Gabor) and the ball point pen (Biro)!
  • Between 2002 and 2008 fourteen Jews played major league baseball!
  • After 1853 all De Beers' diamonds were sold to a London syndicate of 10 Jewish buyers!
You do now. You can thank me and Pease later.

This book's strength, and it's weakness is Pease voracious appetite and unrelenting boosterism. Like a true trivia book, there is no sense in the book of how any of the facts relate to each other and to Jewish history and no sense what facts were left out (it is only 500 pages, after all). It's all just a large pile of evidence for how cool Jews are. And, based on Pease's evidence, we are pretty cool.

This is a music blog, so of course I immediately turned to the music section. In this section I found a page and half jammed full of references to Jewish contributions classical music (there are LOTS) and three quarters of a page acknowledging that we've pretty much played no role in country music. As counted by awards, and paragraphs, we were pretty influential in rock and roll, musical theater, and jazz. And we have Babs. Pease awarded Jewish musicians one multi-page biography and that bio honor went Barbara Streisand. And, of course, no recognition at all of Jewish music. No klezmer, cantorial, or Yiddish musical theater. Debbie Friedman or Shlomo Carlebach never existed.

As a kid I might have loved the quirky randomness of the book. But as an adult I find it a joyless slush. There may be folks out there for whom the book, as Rabbi Harold Kushner says in his hyperbolic puff, "strengthens [their] pride in being Jewish."

It might.

But it also diminishes my sense of what being Jewish is. What ever being Jewish is, it is not to be found in this book. Knowing that sharks have no bones (and that they have several sets of replaceable teeth) really doesn't tell you anything about sharks. Knowing that, in 2008, 8 of the top 16 major department stores were either owned or started by Jews tells us even less about ourselves.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Israel's Visual Art Rockers Eatliz produce dreamy stop-motion animation mini-masterpiece

I love synchronicity. Earlier this week I was going over the lists of Israeli bands that played SXSW over the last couple of years (and fantasizing about going this year to see the next crop). One of the videos that stood out was "Lose This Child" by the Israeli "visual art rock/ complicated prog pop" band Eatliz. A couple of days later I got a note from the bands promoter suggesting I blog about the video. Yep. Good plan.

Eatliz, Hebrew for "butcher shop," has a great bass heavy funk drive and a wonderfully floaty, squawky vocalist. They meet my requirement for a band to continually surprise me while remaining true to a central music vision. They haven't knocked the Israeli rock band Electra out of my heavy rotation band of the week yet. But they just might. For more details, check out their website and this "hi, we're Eatliz" video.

Eatliz recently teamed up with the Grammy nominated directors Yuval & Merav Nathan to produce one of the most gorgeous and haunting music videos I've seen in a long time. The video has been screened at 40 film and animation festivals, winning 14 awards, including in the US, Israel, Australia, Korea, the US and all over Europe.

According to the band's promoter,

"The making of the video took 6 months. The video utilizes moving sand sculptures, which help make the characters part of their environment. The majority of the video was painstakingly photographed frame by frame at a beach in the early morning hours over three months at night. Each night, the crew had limited time and were up against the elements, but were able to create this mini-masterpiece :)

The song "Lose This Child", is taken from Eatliz band latest album. Eatliz is an internationally acclaimed visual Art Rock band from Tel Aviv, which are known for spectacular live shows that are a visual treat, outstanding genre crossing music, beautiful award winning animation music videos. Recently, Eatliz finished a full North American tour which included several shows at sxsw and Canadian Music Week festivals, followed by a east coast tour and a European tour. In 2012 they will tour China and Japan and will continue to spread their artistic music and animation music videos."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Saul Kaye live every night this month

Saul Kaye is a fine blues musician (see my 2010 post) who's exploring the intersections of Jewish and African lyrical and musical traditions. As he puts it...

"Jews have been enslaved in many countries over the centuries including Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Rome, Greece, Germany, and Malta. So, like the African Slave experience proved to be a catalyst for blues, so the path of Jewish history fostered its own form of soulful tears, from Jews crying out in Egyptian slavery ( Exodus) to the prophet Jeremiah weeping over the destruction of the Temple in Eicha ( Lamentations ) , Jews know the pain of spiritual crisis and call to Hashem with their own form of blues. You can hear it in the synagogue when the Torah and the books of Prophets are read, chanted in tropes passed down through time, recounting forbearers' sorrows on days of tragedy like Tisha B'Av, or remembering celebrations of freedom on Passover, when Jews recall the Israelite's "Song at the Sea," as the waters of freedom parted."
Kaye is experimenting with a new online approach to giving concerts between his live shows. Every night this month (August, 2011) except for Saturday night, he's giving an intimate live show via The shows are at 9pm US Eastern / 6pm US Pacific time. I just found out last week and haven't caught one yet, but will try to catch tonight's show. I'm not exactly clear how StageIt works, but I get the impression that Kaye's shows are a 'pay what you feel appropriate' sort of thing.

I'm excited to catch one of the shows. This is a great opportunity for folks not in one of the big metro areas to catch a really talented performer. Check it out.

To give you a taste, here's Kaye playing the Desert Blues.

Update: I caught the Saul Kaye show on StageIt last night and thought I'd report on both Kaye's performance and on StageIt. Kaye gave a casual 30 minute, from his living-room, performance, that included songs from his new albums, a few covers, some 'day in the life' stories and some chat with the audience. For a new fan (e.g. me) it was a great opportunity to get to know Kaye a bit and see that he really has the vocal and guitar chops you hear on the album. Now I really want to see him live.

The StageIt experience was reasonably good. Sign-in was easy (it took my Facebook account info). I was able to buy $5 worth of 'notes' to use as my ticket to the show and then another $5 worth to leave as a tip. The division of ticket and tip is smart. It gave me two different opportunity to decide how much I valued the performance, both before the show started and during the show. Sound quality was surprisingly good, though I suffered with some occasional screen buffering (which was probably a problem at my end).

One interesting thing is that Kaye was playing to a rather small audience, but has been doing so all month. He didn't get rich on last nights show, but brought in a few bucks and made at least one new fan (me!).

All in all the StageIt experience was a good one and I'll be interested in seeing if other bands start using it as a way to stay connected with their fans between tours and to build audiences in places they haven't played yet.

Friday, August 12, 2011

SoulAviv's Joyful Noise

Shabbat shalom everyone,

For this week's 'get in the shabbat groove' video, I thought I'd share "Joyful Noise" by SoulAviv. SoulAviv were semi-finalists in the International Jewish Music Competition in Amsterdam last year (and one of the only non-klezmer bands to make it that far). Soul Aviv has lovely harmonies and an uptempo gospel-influenced bounce and are a hot ticket on the synagogue, JCC and camp circuit and were included in the recent UJR compilation CD, Ruach 5771 along with songleader luminaries Craig Taubman, Rich Rect, Dan Nichols, and Josh Nelson.

Soul Aviv. Joyful Noise.

For more info or to snag one of their CD's, check out their website.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Serge Gainsbourg. A Heroic Life

Serge Gainsbourg was a highly influential French singer-songwriter, actor, director. He was Jewish, the children of Russian Jewish parents, and his extensive discography includes a darkly comic rock album called "Rock around the Bunker" about Nazism that was influenced by his experiences wearing a yellow star and hiding from the Nazi and Vichy governments.

A new film about Gainsbourg was just released. The film, called "Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life" was directed by Joann Sfar, one of my favorite comic book artists. Sfar, himself, is also French, Jewish and known for incorporating Jewish themes and ideas into his work (see The Rabbi's Cat, The Rabbi's Cat 2, and Klezmer: Tales of the Wild East.)

I can't wait to see this. It looks great.

Here's the official blurb and trailer.
Taking the best from LA VIE EN ROSE and AMÉLIE, renowned comic book artist Joann Sfar’s GAINSBOURG: A HEROIC LIFE is a completely original take on one of France’s greatest mavericks, the illustrious and infamous Jewish singer-songwriter, Serge Gainsbourg (Eric Elmosnino). Born Lucien Ginsburg to Russian-Jewish parents, Sfar follows him from his precocious childhood in Nazi-occupied Paris, to his beginnings as small time jazz musician and finally pop superstar. Along the way he romances many of the era’s most beautiful women, including Juliette Greco (Anna Mouglalis), Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta) and Jane Birkin (Lucy Gordon). Employing a witty surrealistic style and a soundtrack that includes many of the musician’s greatest hits, GAINSBOURG: A HEROIC LIFE is a quintessential time capsule to ‘60’s Paris.

For more info on the film and a listing of theaters, check out the Music Box Films website.

I'm currently bouncing back and forth between cranking up some Gainsbourg tunes and some covers from the "Great Jewish Music: Serge Gainsbourg" album put out by John Zorn's Tzadik: Radical Jewish Culture label. The album includes covers by John Zorn, Fred Firth, Marc Ribot, Cibo Matto, Elysian Fields, Kramer, Franz Treichler (of the Young Gods), Blonde Redhead and others. I don't have a copy of Rock around the Bunker but I'm hot on it's trail.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sunny Klezmer ... the new Klezmer Juice video.

Klezmer Juice, a fine klezmer band from sunny southern California just released an honest-to-gosh MTV style music video. Ok, so it's mainly the band leader Gustavo Bulgach, biking, driving, and dreamily noodling his clarinet in all sorts of sunny California locals. But they get credit for a real video. Before this moment of sunny cinematography, Klezmer Juice's credits included being the on-screen band in the Owen Wilson and Vince Vaugn film "The Wedding Crashers," being nominated for a Grammy and putting out two fine contemporary klezmer albums. Good job, gang.

Papirosen - Gustavo Bulgach KLEZMER JUICE

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Black Ox Orkestar

Emerging from the vibrant Canadian art-rock music scene of the early 2000's, Black Ox Orkestar released two albums, Ver Tanzt? and Nisht Azoy (Not Like This) of contemporary Jewish music that are dark, haunting and intense. The albums clearly draw on Askenazi Jewish roots, with evocations to klezmer, cantorial and Yiddish folk motifs. The albums draw on contemporary jazz, folk, and art-rock influences as well, but without the 'aren't we clever and eclectic' feel that often mars musical hybrids. These albums are on a short list of my favorites, both for their musical depth and for their ability to evoke, for a few moments, a world where new Jewish culture thrived and renewed itself instead of degenerating into apathy, nostalgia, or pastiche.

Nisht Azoy
Nisht Azoy - BLACK OX ORKESTAR by Constellation Records

Here's the Orkestar's official blurb. Gotta love the phrase "Anchored to tradition without being suffocated by it." Exactly. We need more of that.

"The second record by Montreal’s Black Ox Orkestar placed the group at the forefront of a ‘new Jewish music’ that rejected contemporary fusion and musty nostalgia in equal measure. With backgrounds in folk, punk-rock and free jazz, the group’s four musicians distilled Balkan, Central Asian, Arabic and Slavic sources into a coherent, impassioned sound that gave teeth to old Jewish songs. Never relying on museum-piece reverence or an obvious, forced collision of musical forms, Black Ox rewrote a Yiddish songbook in ways that sound organically anchored to tradition without being suffocated by it."