Monday, April 10, 2006

Pre-Sefirah music madness

As I was saying a couple of posts ago, I promised not to listen to my Jewish rock CDs from erev Pesach until Lag b'Omer. So I’m taking this final glorious opportunity to walk around the apartment with my CD player blasting all the stuff that I’ve bought in the last month or so. Nine CDs. Yep, count ‘em. Nine.

Well, first, I went back to the albums I’d bought even before them.

Matisyahu is not for me—I have a problem with both rap (my apologies to Etan G., the Jewish Rapper) and reggae in that I like to be able to understand the words without a lyrics sheet. (Cheer up, Etan—I have the same problem with opera!)

Moshav Band, on the other hand, is really a pleasure to listen to. I confess to having gotten a particular kick out of their single-guy’s lament “If someone falls in love with me, please let me know about it,” though you should be forewarned that there’s a major “shomer negiah alert” on that one.

The next time I went into West Side Judaica, I brought a copy of this post, as I wanted to get exactly the Piamenta album that Mark/PT recommended. Naturally, the store had half a dozen Piamenta albums, but not that one, so I figured, well, if Mark’s gripe is against overproduced studio recordings, I’ll just get a “live” album. I’m now listening to the 2-CD set “Piamenta, Live New York Performance.” Yossi Piamenta is one wild and crazy electric guitar player, and I mean that in the best possible way. As a singer, he’s more of a shouter, but man, can he play! (The other players in the band are no slouches, either). Only Piamenta could figure out how to do a medley that includes Sefardi/Mizrachi music in Hebrew and Arabic along with the extremely Ashkenazi “U-shavtem Mayim.” Wow, unbelievable!

I already wrote about seeing Aaron Razel in concert and buying his CDs (all four for $40—what a m’tziah/”find”!). More later.

Exactly one week after the Aaron Razel concert, I went to a Latino-Jewish music concert at Makor and saw Smadar Levi and Yoel Ben-Simhon’s Sultana Ensemble. Smadar and Sultana both perform in the Sefardi/B’nei Edot haMizrachi (Children of the Lands of the East?) tradition. Their beautiful music is occasionally in English, but mostly in Hebrew, Ladino (Judeo-Spanish, a combination of the Spanish and Portuguese spoken by the Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal in 1492 or thereabouts, plus Hebrew), and Arabic. Some of us Ashkenazi Jews tend to forget that a large segment of the Jewish community lived in Arabic-speaking lands for many centuries, and this type of music—“Sultana music aims to preserve and promote Judeo–Arab and Middle Eastern music, creating a dialogue between Eastern and Western music traditions”—is the sort of gentle and extremely enjoyable reminder that we need. By the way, the Sultana album is a two-fer—you get two for the price of one, in that Yoel Ben-Simhon’s back-up singer is none other than Smadar Levi. Check out the Yigdal that they sing together—I love it!

Several days later, I headed back to Makor, this time with the Punster, to catch a little night music after Shabbat (Sabbath). We saw Neshama Carlebach, who’s a wonderful singer, singing both her father Shlomo’s songs and her own. Then we were entertained by Blue Fringe, whose music I love enough that I bought their first album the minute I saw it on the table. (I already had their wonderful second album, 70 Faces.) I have to admit that, seeing Avi Hoffman play an electric-guitar solo in person and close-up for the first time (the stage was about three blocks away when I saw them at the outdoor Jewzapalooza concert last September), I had a slight case of, for lack of a better description, website flashback. (See the clip of the February, 1986, Kabbalah performance at Yeshiva University in which "wacky dueling soloists perform "Yismechu." Here's yet another skinny guy who looks as if he can barely carry an electric guitar, much less play one, but then he starts to play, and all bets are off :) ). Anyway, bein’ me, I danced and sang through the whole show (as usual :) ), and had a wonderful time. It was a particular joy and honor to meet Dov Rosenblatt, who wrote "Hineni" and responded by e-mail to my post thereon, and also to meet Avi Hoffman, who posted a well-thought-out comment to that same post. And their first album, My Awakening, is good stuff, especially their wicked "Flippin' Out." Try both albums.

And now, as promised:

So I put the CD player on hold because I’ve left the subway train and am standing on the platform, with trains entering and leaving the station, and I can’t hear a thing. I turn it on again as I’m waiting for the elevator to the street, and turn it off again when I realize that the elevator is right next to a noisy ventilation shaft. I leave the station, turn on the CD player a third time, then realize that I’m standing under the elevated subway tracks and still can’t hear the music. Darn. I’ll have to wait ‘til I’m a block away from the station to be able to hear the music. Then, just as I’m about to put the CD player on hold for the third time, I finally realize what I’m hearing.

And I practically shout, right there in the middle of the street, “Is that what he’s singing?!”

Mizmor l’David
Hashem roi, lo echsar

A psalm of David
The L-rd is my Shepherd, I shall not want.

The Twenty-Third Psalm.

To a bossa nova beat.

Say WHAT?!

And yet, somehow, it works.

Aaron Razel.

How do I describe him?



MOChassid described him this way:

MoChassid said...
I think Aron Razel is new under the sun
Friday, August 20, 2004 9:44:51 AM

And this way:

“Aron's music is very funky and very much not your typical Jewish music”

And this, from he who knows, having recently played back-up for him:

“I am again in debt to MOChassid, because he turned me on to a great musician with some amazing compositions and I am really looking forward to this show.Aaron writes and plays his own music, which already puts him one level above most of the drek which eminates from the Jewish Music world. His music is complex but deceptively catchy. It works its way into your brain and refuses to leave. As part of my preparation for any backup project, I listen to the artist's music over and over in my car. Within one or two listens I had already assimilated the melodies, and it was driving me crazy, because I was hearing his live album in my head NON-STOP. In fact, several times I woke up in the middle of the night realizing that I was dreaming about one of his songs! This has not gotten much better over the past two months.

Mendel, my guitar player, who is, by the way, usually not too impressed with any kind of Jewish Music (at least not compared to the likes of Steve Vai or Jimi Hendrix), reports similar effects. In fact we have become so intimately familiar with Aaron's excellent Live album that we have memorized all of his ad-libs, grunts, and even his band introductions (I think half of the band is named Doni).”

That was just the warm-up, folks. Here's the rest.

“Aaron's music is fun to perform. It's complex, not because it's difficult to play, but because it goes in unexpected directions. And yet it still has solid pop hooks that keep it listenable. It reminds me of many of my favorite bands, including Squeeze and Billy Joel.”

“Unexpected.” Yeah. I mean, seriously, how many songwriters could take a set of lyrics like this—“Leave the Ark, you, your wife, and your two sons, and the wives of your sons with you”—and actually make them sound catchy?

Don’t miss his delightful “Shir HaMaalot, B’shuv Hashem.” It works even better when you have a bentcher/birkon (Birkat haMazon/Grace after Meals book) in your hands—I still haven’t been able to match the words to the music, ‘cause they're accented in crazy places, but, boy, am I ever having a blast trying! :) ) Don’t miss Aaron Razel, the next time you have an opportunity to buy one of his CDs or, better yet, to see him live in concert.

Pesach kasher v'saméach—A kosher and happy Passover.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a stove to kasher.



Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Oh my heavens, after a grand time spend pouring boiling water on, and covering, every flat surface in the entire kitchen, then coming home from 2 sedarim at ridiculous hours of the night, I can barely remember my own name! I hope I get what's left of my waistline back by Shavuot.

I have a vague recollection that Blue Fringe played "Av Harachamim," which Dov Rosenblatt dedicated to his mother, who was in the audience, because they'd been rehearsing it in her basement and she'd told them that she liked "that cha-cha." (Likewise.) They also played that wicked parody number "The Shidduch Song," for which they brought in a trumpet player and a sax player and borrowed Neshama's keyboard player. Dov had already joined Neshama in a duet. The rest is a blur, I'm sorry to say, but it's a really nice blur. :)

Sun Apr 16, 02:41:00 AM 2006  

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