You don’t need to be a genius to see that the music industry,
like the other branches of the media, is driven almost
entirely by desire for profit. Perhaps that is not an
entirely bad thing, but with the continuing consolidation
of media companies, the bottom line really means bottom,
as in lowest common denominator.
Jewish music has a small niche audience and is thoroughly
ghettoized, regardless of what kind of Jewish music
it is. Even a comparatively popular act like The Klezmatics
is found on a small specialty label. When Neil Sedaka,
who certainly has a proven record as a hit maker, decides
to record a Yiddish album, he does so for Sameach. That
is not a reflection on the record label; my hat’s off
to them for distributing the music they do. But it says
something about the market.
This month’s column is filled with excellent music,
almost all of it from bands who are producing and distributing
their own CDs or from tiny independent labels struggling
to survive. Where would Jewish music be without Sameach,
Yiddishland, Golden Horn, Tzadik and all the others?
You should support these endeavors, because this is
nearly the only way that Jewish music will survive.
It sure won’t get any help from the Fortune 500.
Yiddishe Cup: “Meshugeneh Mambo” (self-distributed)
Oh, mama, those strange men are here again. When last
we heard Yiddishe Cup, they were playing wild and weird
klezmer; now they’re playing — well let’s just say Mickey
Katz would envy their madness. Maybe not their costumes,
which evoke a combination of Carmen Miranda and the
local Hadassah thrift shop, but their music definitely.
The heavy-metal-doo-wop-James-Bond version of “My Yiddishe
Mama” is worth the price of admission by itself. I can’t
imagine what they are like on stage but I’m sure the
American Psychiatric Association is watching closely.
Available from www.Yiddishecup.com.
Rating: YYYY ½
Neshama Carlebach: “Journey” (Sameach)
There was never much doubt that Neshama could carry
on her father’s legacy. The real question was whether
she could extend it and make it her own; Reb Shlomo
cast a long shadow. This CD, her best to date, answers
the question with a powerful affirmative. Most of the
songs are by Reb Shlomo, but the interpretations are
distinctive and original. Neshama is in fine voice,
with a smokier, more expressive sound than ever. Darker
and a bit more brooding than any of Shlomo’s records,
a terrific recording.
The Catskill Klezmorim: “The Well-Tempered Klezmir”
Solid mainstream klezmer with a strong jazz flavor.
Capably played and a lot of fun. Available from email@example.com.
Rating: YYY ½
Counterpoint: “When The Rabbi Danced: Songs of Jewish
Life from the Shtetl to the Resistance” (Albany Records)
Classical-inflected performances of program of Yiddish
chestnuts by Counterpoint, a vocal ensemble directed
by Robert Cormier, who has been an integral part of
the preservation of the Terezin legacy. Studied, precise,
but a bit lifeless. Rating: YY½
Golem: “Homesick Songs” (Aeronaut)
From the opening speeded-up chords of “Odessa,” you
have a pretty good idea that this is not your father’
s klezmer band. Unless, of course, your father was Sid
Vicious. A wildly entertaining set that re-imagines
traditional tunes in a kaleidoscope of styles, from
brass band to café tango to three-chord thrash. Jazz
Passenger stalwart Curtis Hasselbring brings the funk
with his trombone and vocalists Annette Ezekiel and
Aaron Diskin twist all night. And just when you thought
nobody could do anything new with “Rumenia,” they do.
Not for the kiddies, but a load of fun.
Ayelet Rose Gottlieb: “Internal External” (Genevieve)
This light-voiced Israeli jazz diva is strongly influenced
by Jeanne Lee and Betty Carter in her loosey-goosey
approach to melody. Fascinatingly sinuous version of
Ornette Coleman’s “Peace” opens the set, there’s a Charles
Mingus tune, “Portrait,” and “You’re Driving Me Crazy,”
but the other five offerings are originals by Gottlieb,
angular and abstract. Terrific support from trumpeter
Avishai Cohen, guitarist Shahar Levavi, Matana Roberts
on alto and a tight rhythm section.
Rating: YYY ½
Kapelye: “Neyer Derekh/New Directions” (self-distributed)
Kapelye, one of the earliest New Klez bands, has undergone
some changes recently and is now a trio — Eric Berman
on bass and tuba, Ken Maltz on clarinet and Pete Sokolow
on keyboards and vocals — with guest drummers. As it
was when Henry Sapoznik was at the helm, the band is
an excellent purveyor of mainstream klezmer in the ’20s-’30s
style, with an occasional excursion into swing. Excellent
straight-ahead playing. Available from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rebecca Kaplan and Peter Rushefsky: “On the Paths: Yiddish
Songs with Tsimbl” (Yiddishland)
Rushefsky is carving out a nice niche for himself as
a tsimblist, playing that old-world version of the hammered
dulcimer quite deftly. The sheer strangeness of the
sound to modern ears helps transform even the most familiar
tune into something new and Kaplan’s haunting vocals
help enormously. If the direction of New Klez is into
the past, to the music of the “old country,” then consider
Rushefsky one of the pathfinders. Available from www.yiddishlandrecords.com.
Rating: YYYY ½
Shtreiml: “Spicy Paprikash” (self-distributed)
When I reviewed this band’s first set I expressed apprehension
about their future direction. Jason Rosenblatt’s harmonica
playing, while capable, had too thin a sound to carry
a klezmer group, and Josh Dolgin’s accordion seemed
to echo rather than complement him. The new CD doesn’t
entirely put my concerns to rest but the set is energetic
and polished and definitely a step forward. Dolgin is
playing with a fuller sound, there are keyboards and
occasional brass, and Rosenblatt has really connected
to the expressive possibilities of the diatonic harmonica.
Available from www.shtreiml.com.
Consumer Alert: Since she died earlier this year, a
lot of people have become interested in Naomi Shemer,
best known here for “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav.” Hatikvah
Music is importing a mammoth two-CD, 50-song set, “Asif,”
that spans Shemer’s career with original recordings
by her and others dating from 1956 up to the late ’80s.
For more information, go to www.hatikvahmusic.com or
call (323) 655-7083. n