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22 September 2008

Review: JuMu Presents Nu Jewish Music Vol. 1

Review: JUMU Presents Nu Jewish Music Vol. 1

JUMU has to be the most interesting music entity that I have encountered. The mission of JUMU is to introduce New Jewish Music artists to the French music scene, for both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. This first compilation album consists of tracks from the artists they have been associated with since 2004. The album is a cross-section of the bands that are leading the new direction in Jewish Music. This international collection shows us that this music has a wide acceptance by young people around the world and JUMU is there to light the way.

This is a great introduction to New Jewish Music for those that might be new to the genre or are not sure where to start listening. So many musical styles are here in one place, from hip-hop and rap, to electro and pop, as well as some alternative and experimental sounds. I find this collection of music to be exactly where contemporary Jewish Music is focused and lays the foundation for what will be attracting an increasingly wider audience in the years ahead. I feel very fortunate to be in a small way connected to the pulse of this new musical direction.

So, what is on the album? North American readers might be familiar with Socalled, David Krakauer, Frank London, Hip Hop Hoodios, and Balkan Beat Box. My favorite song is Socalled’s You Are Never Alone, the first track on the album. To me, this song defines the New Jewish Music genre, mixing together layers of instruments, vocals, and electronic sounds.

But the real excitement for me is discovering the other bands that have not had much exposure yet. My favorite among these is Anakronic Electro Orkestra, from France. They have a great blend of old and new, combining a traditional Klezmer feel with electronic elements. And, as a big fan of Shantel, I am drawn to his remix of a track by Amsterdam Klezmer Band, again taking traditional Klezmer, but mixing in his special blend of Euro-Balkan electronica and vocals.

Other bands featured are Oi Va Voi, Boogie Balagan, Emunah, J.U.F., Boom Pam, Sophie Solomon, and new Pop singer Yael Naim, who is known to North American listeners from her song, New Soul, featured in an Apple Macbook Air TV commercial.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this album. It is, for me, the best compilation of New Jewish Music around, and I can highly recommend this album to anyone with an interest in exploring the new bands and musical directions that JUMU has become known for. Thanks to JUMU and these fine artists for putting New Jewish Music on the world map.

Keith Wolzinger
Klezmer Podcast

JUMU Presents Nu Jewish Music Vol. 1
JUMU/ V2 Music

Track List:
1. You Are Never Alone
2. Adir Adirim
3. A Csitari Hegyek Alatt
4. Biomecanicamel
5. Why Is It Funny
6. Bum Ching
7. Gypsy Part Of Town
8. Bulgarian Chicks
9. Havana Nagila
10. Bubbemeises
11. Who Knows One
12. A Time Of Desire
13. Freylehks Fun Der Khupe: Pelt Me With Rice
14. Wedding Son
15. Sadagora Hot Dub
16. Pin Pricks And Gravy Stains
17. Paris

JuMu MySpace
JuMu (France)

Klezmer Podcast On The Mainly Musical Meanderings Blog

Please read the nice post from Dan at Mainly Musical Meanderings

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16 September 2008

Review- Yizkor: Music Of Memory

Yizkor: Music Of Memory
David Chevan w/Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi And The Afro-Semitic Experience

As Yom Kippur approaches, and with it the associated prayer service of Yizkor, David Chevan’s Yizkor: Music Of Memory could not have been released at a better time. Chevan, along with the gifted Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi and The Afro-Smitic Experience, has completely re-imagined the Yizkor liturgy and given us the gift of a musical journey unlike any other we are likely to encounter.

Chevan quotes Abraham Joshua Heschel in the liner notes. “There are three ways to mourn. The first is to cry. The second is to grow silent. The third is to transform sorrow into song.” Certainly, words designed to comfort the mourner, but to a musician, it becomes an imperative. What better way for a musician to express sorrow and mourning? And the Yizkor service lends itself to this musical transformation very well. Chevan goes on to liken Yizkor to the Requiem Mass, with a set of texts that have been recited, unaltered, for centuries. Spurred by death and near-death among his family and friends, he channeled his mourning by composing these jazz settings of the sacred texts.

How do you combine jazz with the Hazzanut of the traditional service, you ask? Well, as a jazz fan as well as a Klezmer/Jewish Music fan, I can say that the combination works very well. Granted, the jazz is toned down a bit to provide the support for the vocal artistry and gymnastics of Mizrahi. But there are two bonus instrumental tracks where the band gets its moment to shine.

I have been awaiting this release for the better part of a year. I learned of it in November, 2007 from Chevan’s Fall Newsletter. He mentioned listening to the rough mixes and how excited he got every time he heard them. He kept posting updates on the project throughout the year. Then in July 2008, I was fortunate to meet Hazzan Mizrahi and hear his magnificent voice. He mentioned the Yizkor album project he worked on. And so here we are.

Mizrahi brings a fresh perspective to this concert setting of Yizkor. Keep in mind that the Hazzanut he sings are based in the traditional style; the jazz resides with the orchestrations of the band. Mizrahi, though, does get a chance for some improvisation on Psalm 23, a beautiful piece with a groovy rhythmic background and open solos from the Piano and Guitar.

El Meleh Rakhamim is the touchstone of the album. This work features Mizrahi in his most impassioned performance.

Yizkor For Martyrs is the showcase for the powerful vocal range Mizrahi possesses. He is capable of dynamics that few can approach. The last Amen is nearly a whisper. I highly recommend watching the beautiful video of this song on YouTube, a documentary film about the making of the album. See the link at the end of this post.

Psalm 121 Esa Enai is a quick three tempo, and shows the lighthearted side of Mizrahi. Very enjoyable, but it is the shortest track on the album. David, how about another chorus? The band obviously likes this song, too. It is one of the songs that is included as an instrumental on a bonus track.

My favorite song, though, is the opener Adonai, Mah Adam. From the opening line in the Bass, followed by the Piano, Clarinet, and Flute, this is a song you can really get in your head. Plus, this is the other bonus track instrumental version.

The engineering on this recording is very good, overall. Mizrahi’s vocals come across as both powerful and delicate in the right places, with just the right EQ and reverb applied. The band mix sounds good, but to me the ancillary percussion is a bit too present and there seems to be a bit too much room ambiance on the clarinet and sax.

The eight page CD insert is very well done. The design evokes the feeling of Yizkor, and the cemetery photographs enhance the album’s theme of memory. There are Hebrew transliterations and English translations of each song, plus an introduction and thank yous from Chevan. He promises to post additional material on his website soon.

This is not background music for your next party. But if you invest the time for some serious listening, you will be deeply rewarded. I have not had such a rich listening experience in a very long time. Yizkor is worth the effort and this music deserves your attention. As the prayer says: A good doctrine has been given to you; do not forsake it.

Track Listings
1. Adonai, Mah Adam (My God, What is Man?) (4:43)
2. Psalm 16 Shiviti Adonai L'Negdi Tamid (I Keep God Before Me At All Times) (7:05)
3. Psalm 121 Esa Enai (I Raise My Eyes) (2:54)
4. Yizkor for Martyrs (5:26)
5. Psalm 23 (9:42)
6. El Maleh Rakhamim (God, Full of Compassion) (10:56)
7. Adonai, Mah Adam (Instrumental version) (4:45)
8. Esa Enai (Instrumental version) (3:32)

Keith Wolzinger
Klezmer Podcast

Yizkor: Music Of Memory
David Chevan w/Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi And The Afro-Semitic Experience
Reckless DC Music

Yizkor Project
David Chevan
Yizkor For Martyrs YouTube

08 September 2008

Review: Klezmafour

Review: Klezmafour

New bands are always appearing on the Klezmer scene, but one of the most exciting bands I have found is Klezmafour, a fabulous, high-energy group based in Poland. I’ve been listening to their hot new album, the self-titled Klezmafour for some time now, and it has become one of my top favorites for this year.

The band has been performing since 1999, mostly in Poland and neighboring Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Slovakia, and Czech Republic. With the release of this CD, Klezmafour has put their name on the world Klezmer map. I’m sure they will be touring widely very soon.

The music is a combination of traditional Klezmer tunes mixed with original material. The music is quite lively and, in the right places, very emotional. They blend styles and make just the right transitions, putting the music front and center, making this a magnificent listening experience. While the music is aimed at the younger crowd, there is plenty here for the more seasoned listener to appreciate. The lead duo of Andrzej Czaplinski and Wojciech Czaplinski (Violin and Clarinet, respectively) are brothers from a musical family. Together, they lead the band through a broad range of Klezmer styles, with some Balkan and Middle-Eastern influences. The music is fresh, and I find it irresistible.

Opening the album, The Storm, an arrangement by Wojciech, sets the tone for all that is to follow. A nice groove is set by the rhythm section, then the Clarinet enters with a Klezmer melody. Later they switch to a tune I know as Tantz, Tantz Yidelekh, but they play it at half tempo, with a fast rhythmic background. Very effective. There is even some thunder added for effect, hence the track’s title.

My favorite track has to be Psalm, arranged by Andrezej. It begins with a series of long electronic chords, that give a feeling of other-worldliness. Lots of ambiance behind the soulful violin solo. The Clarinet and Violin alternate with the melody in a very slow tempo, then suddenly we are up to speed, and the band kicks into high gear with the fast melody and some wizardry from the Bass.

Suite Part 1 and 2 are further examples of some very creative arranging by Andrzej and Drummer Tomasz Waldowski. Suite Part 1 is slow, ethereal, with a nice Clarinet melody, and subdued background. Part 2 opens with some wild Bass, leading to a great melody- first by Accordion, then with harmonized Clarinet/Violin. There is even room for Accordion and Clarinet solos. Then they sing and clap in a slower tempo, speeding up gradually to the original tempo, followed by a Drum break before ending. This has to be the most fun track for the band. You can’t help but sing along.

The Middle-Eastern influence is most apparent on Safar Al Omr. with a heavy beat from the Drums, particularly the Toms. It’s a very interesting track, with the Clarinet melody played over some very interesting rhythms from the Bass/Accordion/Violin combination. If you like Drums, this is the one for you!

Lublin Station and Bialystok Station (both by Wojciech) are a short suite wiith some contemporary elements. There is even a bit of Bulgar rhythm. Together they show the range and versatility of Klezmafour. This is the essence of their music, and I find it very engaging.

The sound quality is outstanding. Of course, the bass and drums sounded magnificent on my home theater, but the mix is balanced and each instrument is clear and distinct. The mix also held up well in the car as well as on computer speakers and earbuds.

These songs all fit together very well. There wasn’t anything on the album that I didn’t like. Klezmafour has hit on a new sound that, I believe, makes a bold statement on the the future direction of Klezmer. For more on Klezmafour, listen to my interview with Wojciech on Klezmer Podcast 36.


Klezmafour MySpace

Klezmer Podcast 38- JUMU

I have posted Klezmer Podcast 38, featuring an interview with Claude Szwimer of JUMU in
Paris, France.