Monday, June 25, 2007

The Nochi Krohn Band's "Ananim" (CD review)

You'd be hard pressed to hear this album in our apartment--but that's because I'm usually singing along at the top of my lungs! :)

Disclaimer: It's impossible for me to give a truly objective review of this album--as a former synagogue choir singer (alto), I'm a complete sucker for vocal harmony. :)

So when the band (brass, woodwinds, and all) comes in strong, then cuts off, and a trio of voices joins the party in a-capella harmony, singing a rockin' version of "Bor'cheinu, Avinu, kulanu k'echad, b'or panecha," I just eat it up. What a delicious take on "Sim Shalom!"

These guys don't play your (grand)father's Big Band music! Theirs is a delightful combination of Benny Goodman (twenty-first-century style) and Crosby, Stills and Nash with Hebrew lyrics.

Not everything on this album can be described as twenty-first-century Jewish Big Band music, though. The flute-accompanied folk-rock "Ki Heim Chayeinu" is beautifully simple enough to be almost a children's song. It's been in regular "rotation" in my head when I davven Maariv (pray the Evening Service). This song also shows this group's penchant for sharing the singing honors--not every harmony singer gets the honor of singing lead every now and then.

Another song that's been in regular "rotation" in my head is the very first song, "Ma Rabu," which I "hear" during Shacharit (the Morning Service). This starts out as a folk-rock piece with some very nice harmony singing, indeed, and finishes with brass and woodwind accompaniment. I like!

"Niggun Kineret" is a nice change of pace. It starts with middle-eastern influenced percussion, which continues throughout the song. Then the guitar launches into country-western mode. The middle section has some swingin' honky-tonk piano. Okay, the singing is Ashkenazi ay-yay-yay in three-part harmony, plain old-fashioned schmaltz. But the middle-eastern and country-western twists, not to mention the honky-tonk piano solo, elevate it a bit above the usual "shiny-shoe" (slick, over-orchestrated) music.

"U'vnei Yisrael halchu" is certainly one of the more unusual musical treatments of the crossing of the Reed Sea that I've ever heard. A little jazz, lots of harmony, plenty of brass and woodwinds, and a very fine musical "bridge" in the middle.

Sadly, the recording is not all fun and games. I generally tend to try to avoid thinking too much about some of the grimmer prayers found in Jewish tradition, so I would have made it a point to avoid listening to "V'nikeiti" too often. But the liner notes say that this song was written in memory of a man killed in a homicide bombing at a Jerusalem cafe while sitting at an outdoor table usually occupied by some of the band members.

On a more cheerful note, thank goodness the Krohn Brothers and their many musical friends who make up this band are kind enough to provide translations and/or explanations of all their songs. The title song, "Ananim," (the only one in Sefardi/Modern Israel Hebrew--I envy those who've mastered the ability to go back and forth between Ashkenazi and Sefardi Hebrew) is a real beauty, nicely written ("All songs composed and arranged by Nochi Krohn"), played, and sung. My compliments to the "chef," and company.

The last song, "Shalom," (oseh shalom bi-m'romav) is most notable not only for the country-western sound and the harmonies, but for the family feeling--it's a kick, hearing the vocal melody passed from one voice to a second and then to a third at the end, with a smashing three-part-harmony finish.

Many thanks to MOChassid--it was on "U'Shmuel B'korei Sh'mo," the album that he produced in memory of his father, Cantor Shmuel Ganz, that I was first introduced to the Nochi Krohn Band.

Nu, you still have a week to buy this album before the "Three Weeks." What are you waiting for?! :)


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