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30 October 2008

Review: Moments Like These- Fern Lindzon

Review: Moments Like These
Fern Lindzon

I first became aware of Fern Lindzon about a year ago. When I learned that she was releasing this, her first CD, I was immediately intrigued. Not really sure what to expect from her, when the CD arrived I started listening to it right away. And listened again. And again. Moments Like These is a collection of intimate duets with Lindzon on Piano/Vocals, Reg Schwager- Guitar, Don Thompson- Vibes, and George Koller- Bass. Normally, I would say that this would make for a great sounding quartet, but the idea of doing these songs as duets is both bold and inspired.

Lindzon pays tribute to some great jazz artists such as Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Thelonious Monk, and Oliver Nelson, as well as legendary singers Ella Fitzgerald and Shirley Horn. The songs are selected from a broad range of Standards, Showtunes, plus a few surprises.

Lindzon is a truly outstanding performer. She has the ability to hold the listener’s attention throughout the album. The music never gets in the way of her floating voice, but provides a perfect background for her inventive style. In addition, the outstanding musicianship of everyone is on display during the instrumental breaks and on the three non-vocal pieces. Here we find quality jazz, a nice touch, considering that instrumental tracks are a rarity on vocal albums in general.

Another aspect of Lindzon that is not immediately apparent is her innovative approach as a composer and lyricist. As she says in the liner notes, she likes writing lyrics to standard jazz tunes. She displays this talent with great aplomb on the title track, Moments Like These/You Belong To Her, where she sings an original vocalese as an intro to her own lyrics set to the tune of one of my all-time favorite songs, Stolen Moments, by Oliver Nelson. She also sets original lyrics to Wayne Shorter’s Infant Eyes on her version called To See Through Infant Eyes.

Her composing and arranging abilities are on display with the Chick Corea-inspired Children’s Lullaby, which serves as a wonderful prelude to her beautiful rendition of Never Never Land, arranged in 5/4 time that reminds me of Dave Brubeck. Another Lindzon composition is the inventive TR7, a 12-tone blues that is actually a very nice piece. Just don’t try to sing along, you might hurt yourself (Just kidding, Fern).

My favorite song on the album is Re’i. This is quite a departure from the rest of the album. Lindzon sings the song in Hebrew, which adds a touch of mysticism to the smooth lines of the melody. Just as we settle into the slow groove, we are treated to a perfectly matched Vibes solo from Don Thompson. Another song with a twist is You Really Shouldn’t, But... As a tribute to Thelonious Monk it is a great Piano piece. But again, Lindzon puts her own stamp on it by using a slight Bulgar rhythm as the background. The Bulgar is a traditional Jewish dance, and gives new direction to what is otherwise a mainstream jazz piece.

The 6-page foldout booklet is nicely done, with photos; liner notes by Mark Miller, a noted jazz critic; thank yous and credits; and song descriptions. The track personnel and times appear on the back tray card.

I must say that I was very impressed with the audio quality. The vocals are clear, with just the right amount of reverb; the Piano, Guitar, and Bass are clear and distinct; and the Vibes have great presence. Vibes can be troublesome to record properly, but I give a lot of credit to the audio team of Chad Irschick and Michael Haas for the outstanding results the have achieved.

Moments Like These is a welcome introduction to the artistry of Fern Lindzon. And especially for those not familiar with her work, have a listen, immerse yourself in the music, and seize the moments that this album offers. Moments like these don’t occur very often.

Keith Wolzinger
Klezmer Podcast

Track List:
1 I Thought About You
2 On the Street Where You Live
3 Like Someone in Love
4 Re'i
5 Let Yourself Go
6 Tr7
7 To See Through Infant Eyes (Infant Eyes)
8 Children's Lullabye/never Never Land
9 Estate
10 You Really Shouldn't, But...
11 Moments Like These/you Belong to Her (Stolen Moments)
12 Where Do You Start?

Fern Lindzon
FL MySpace
FL CD Baby

25 October 2008

Review: A Song Is Born- Mitch Smolkin

Review: A Song Is Born
Mitch Smolkin

Right from the opening notes from the Didgeridoo, you can tell that Mitch Smolkin’s A Song Is Born is going to be an interesting listening experience. Smolkin leads us on a wondrous journey through Yiddish song, infused with world music in such a way that the album transcends the way we relate to this music. South American flutes and Harmonica add depth to the music, proving that the music of the shtetl can be brought to the world at large, taking elements from other cultures and enhancing the music in the process, rather than diluting it. In fact, adding these elements brings us closer to the Yiddish culture of those who emigrated outside North America.

Smolkin is a gifted musician whose voice soars above the band with grace and smoothness rarely seen among today’s performers, of any genre. And his dynamic range from a whisper to full voice is captured with all the emotion intact, and the interplay between singing and spoken word is used to great effect.

Kudos also to vocalist Aviva Chernik who presents, with her beautiful voice, the perfect counterpoint to Smolkin’s singing, as well as speaking the English narration.

The music runs an emotional gamut from hope to sadness, love, loss, joy, and humility. Fueled by Smolkin’s research into his family’s past, he pays tribute not only to their memory, but to all those who share an ancestry in the Yiddish cultural experience. In fact, one aspect that I find most intriguing is that each track on the album has a dedication written by friends and family members who helped fund the project.

A Song Is Born begins and ends with A Nign, a wordless song, which evolves into the familiar Chiri Bim.

Libe is the most beautiful yet delicate track on the album. Smolkin shows his passionate side here with great support from the band, including a lovely Violin background and a sensitive Trumpet solo from Paul Brody.

Unter Dayne Vayse Shtern starts with an Argentine Flute Interlude, overdubbed so as to sound like multiple flutes. It has a wonderful sound, and features the very talented Marcelo Moguilevsky, who also provides a nice Clarinet solo later on. I also liked the Clarinet/muted Trumpet duet.

On the waltz Vu Nemt Men A Bisele Mazl, I liked the sound of the Accordion, Bass, and Penny Whistle, as well as Chernik’s beautiful vocal harmony. The song’s last chorus is an a capella four-part vocal that left me wanting to hear more.

Ergets Vayt makes good use of English narration and Yiddish lyrics. I found this to be an enjoyable piece, featuring a Piano solo from Cesar Lerner and more Trumpet/Clarinet that works so well here.

My favorite track is Di Zun Vet Aruntergeyn, what I would call a Bluesy Slow Hora, with a spot-on Blues Guitar solo from Levon Ichkhanian, growling muted Trumpet, some great sounds from the Fender Rhodes, and again, the Didgeridoo. This song sets the context for the album, where all the world music elements combine to bring Yiddish song to a new level.

Vilne, the longest track, is the centerpiece of the album. It is a song of longing for the old homeland, full of emotion, and has the richest, most orchestral arrangement among these songs. Singing of Vilne, the lyric says “Ah, how often your name calls forth a tear from my eye.” Could we say the same of our hometowns of today?

I enjoyed the middle-eastern feel of S’iz Shoyn Farfallen, with the emphasis on Percussion and featuring a smooth middle-eastern Electric Guitar solo and the Argentine Flute.

Shabbes is a four-part chorale, a lush piece that stands on its own apart from the other songs on the album. The arrangement by Sid Rabinovitch is outstanding and gives Smolkin the platform from which to soar over the other voices in a very ethereal setting.

After the last song on the album Smolkin has added a hidden track, a recording of a live performance by the group that became the basis for this album. It provides some insight into the group’s development and approach to the music.

The sound of the album is superb, with a deep, rich sound field and some of the most pristine vocal reproduction I have heard on CD. Smolkin and Chernik sound magnificent, with such clarity that it seems they are in the room with you. The rest of the band sounds equally fantastic, but I have to single out the beauty of the Argentine Flute, which as with any Penny Whistle or other high-pitched instrument, can be piercingly strident in the upper register. Here, the sound is clear without any edginess. A truly remarkable job by the engineering team of Jeremy Darby, Jim Zolis, and Peter Bond.

The 12-page CD booklet is an equally beautiful work of graphic art, with a common theme of colored smoke in the background of each page. The booklet includes full Yiddish and English lyrics, some nice photos, introduction, and thank you page.

It is difficult to keep in mind that this is Smolkin’s debut CD, as the performances are clearly those of a veteran performer, with all members of the group displaying a high level of musicianship. They all create a real connection to the music, and as a listener, I am drawn into the musical landscape they have worked so hard to create. I believe this is the right direction that Yiddish song needs to be headed, and I can give this album my highest recommendation. A Song Is Born, and so is Smolkin’s rising star.

Keith Wolzinger
Klezmer Podcast

A Song Is Born
Mitch Smolkin
MLS Productions (MLS 111)

Track Listing:

1 A Nign - A Melody
2 Libe - Love
3 Unter Dayne Vayse Shtern - Under Your White Starry Heaven (Interlude)
4 Unter Dayne Vayse Shtern - Under Your White Starry Heaven
5 Vu Nemt Men A Bisele Mazl - Where Can One Find A Little Luck
6 Ergets Vayt - Somewhere Far Away
7 Di Zun Vet Aruntergeyn - The Sun Will Set
8 Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen - Raisins and Almonds
9 Vilne - Vilna
10 S'iz Shoyn Farfaln - It's All Over
11 Papir Iz Dokh Vays - Paper Is White
12 Shabbes- Sabbath
13 A Nign - A Melody (Reprise)

Mitch Smolkin
CD Baby

21 October 2008

Review: Taibele And Her Demon

Review: Taibele And Her Demon
Lorie Wolf

Mixing music with narrative storytelling is an unusual project to undertake these days, but Lorie Wolf’s Taibele and Her Demon breaks new ground, with new possibilities for us to ponder. The album takes its title from the Isaac Bashevis Singer short story about Taibele, a Jewish woman living in a shtetl in Poland, whose husband abandoned her after their three infant children had died of childhood disease. She is visited late one night by a widower from the shtetl who claims to be a Demon, saying he will destroy her if she does not do as he says.

The narrative on the album differs from the original story only in that it is told in the first person and is shortened. The accompanying music, all original compositions by Wolf, is interspersed with the story and sets the mood, much in the same way that a film score sets the mood and tone for each scene.

The music of Taibele And Her Demon is Contemporary Jazz, with some gorgeous harmonies and energetic improvisations. The one exception is Tango For Taibele, where Wolf explores the Jazz possibilities of the Tango, adding Accordion along with Violin as Taibele succumbs to the Demon. This is a perfect match of music and mood.

On Seven Wives, we hear some beautifully creepy music as the narrator tells us the evil characteristics of the Demon’s seven she-devil wives. The band gets a good workout here, with some great solos from the Bass, sleazy Trombone, Flute and Piano, and Violin/Clarinet duo.

On Demon Dance we are treated to Wolf’s solo turn on Drums, with subtle accompaniment from the Bass. The melody and rich harmonies are woven through the song, an uptempo tune that implies the Demonic joy of Hurmizah as he controls Taibele.

On the last track, So Be It, we hear the soft, sad, and melancholy side of Wolf’s writing style. Soulful Saxophone, Piano, and Bass ably convey the feelings of loss and sadness theat consume Taibele at the end of the story. The Piano solo is a fitting response to the mood of the piece.

My favorite track is Moonless Night, Where the narrator sets up the plot of the story leading up to the appearance of the Demon. Wolf writes what is for me the most memorable theme on the album, with her great harmonic fabric woven so ably by Flugelhorn and Sax. The simultaneous improvising by the two instruments behind the narrative lends much to the story line. Returning to the theme at the end, we are left with the beautiful harmony in our ears.

Alchonon is a more upbeat piece, with a nice groove, and some fine solos from the Violin, Bass, Trombone, and Soprano Sax. There are some places in this piece where you can sense a Jewish/Klezmer chord structure, along with some of the best Jazz on the album. This is some of the most creative music on the album.

The album sounds terrific, with a great mix throughout. On everything from my home theater to computer speakers all the instruments were clear and well-defined, down to the last detail of every bit of Wolf’s Drum kit. My personal preference on the narration would have been to use a bit more reverb, as the voice sounds a bit flat compared to the richness of the instruments. And there are some points where the voice is overwhelmed by the band. But these are fine points and in no way diminish the enjoyment of the experience.

The album is listed under the “Alternative” genre in the iTunes Music Store, and I suppose that is the most appropriate. This is one album that cannot be pigeonholed because it is really in a category by itself. Wolf and her band have done a wonderful job of exploring the boundaries of what we think of as Jewish music. Wolfe has put considerable effort into this project and it shows in the very high quality of the writing and the performance of everyone involved. Listening to the album compelled me to pull out my dusty volume of Singer’s works and take another look at this story. Now, I can’t read it without hearing Wolf’s melodies running through my head. And that is the sign of great music and the impact it can have on us. I highly recommend this album to anyone who has an interest in original Jewish music and the work of Singer. And those who secretly love Demons.

Keith Wolzinger
Klezmer Podcast

Taibele And Her Demon
Lorie Wolf

Track List:

1 Agunah
2 Moonless Night
3 Monologue I
4 Alchonon
5 Monologue II
6 Tango for Taibele
7 Monologue III
8 Seven Wives
9 Demon Dance
10 Monologue IV
11 So Be It

Lorie Wolf
LW MySpace
CD Baby

03 October 2008

Review: Poykler's Shloft Lied

Review: Poykler's Shloft Lied
Matt Temkin's Yiddishe Jam Band

I am a big fan of Matt Temkin, knowing him and playing with him for the past nine years. While Matt has been mostly playing in groups as a sideman, he has at long last assembled his own group, Matt Temkin’s Yiddishe Jam Band. The combination of straight Klezmer as it was played in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, plus a swinging jazz style make for a well-rounded set that pays homage to the Klezmer old school greats as well as a nod to some jazz legends.

Temkin says that the album pays tribute to Klezmer greats Elaine Hoffman-Watts, German Goldenshteyn, The Epstein Brothers, Paul Pincus, Howie Leess, Ray Musiker, and Peter Sokolow. This style of Klezmer is my favorite, with music that is meant for dancing.

Throughout the album Temkin lays down the perfect groove, with drum styles like the Bulgar, Freylekhs, Swing, and some cool Jazz. He has a clear vision of what the band is about, and I believe he is headed in the right direction.

The album covers a lot of musical territory. Temkin captures the sound of his home town on Chicago Medley, with three great tunes played the way his grandfather would have played them.

Philly Bulgar is a great tune that I know as Nicolaev Bulgar, and is played in the distinctive Philly style. Listen to the great Trombone work from Rachel Lemisch.

Epstein and Borsht are in the New York style. The Epsteins, along with Peter Sokolow, are famous for bringing many of these Jewish dance tunes to the Hasidic wedding halls of Brooklyn. Borsht is a medium swing tune and has good solos from the Mike Cohen on Clarinet and guest Frank London on Trumpet.

German’s Bulgar #9 and 7:40 are European in origin. German Goldenshteyn came to the U.S. from Moldova and brought his extensive repertoire with him. This is one of the best examples of the Moldovan style. 7:40 is a fast Freylekhs that just keeps going. This is one that I never get tired of hearing.

Rumshinsky’s Theater Bulgar and Count Rushimsky’s Bulgar are two versions of the same tune. Theater Bulgar is a medium tempo piece that is always a popular feature. Here we get some nice solos from Binyumen Ginzberg on Piano, Allen Watsky on Guitar, and Temkin on Drums. The Count gives us a Quincy Jones/Count Basie look at the same tune. I would also give it kudos as the best arrangement on the album. Good solos as well. I love the classic Count Basie ending, too. You don’t hear it often in Klezmer Swing, but it adds a nice touch here.

The title track, Poykler’s Shloft Lied (Drummer’s Lullaby) is an original jazz tune with a very distinctive groove led by Temkin on Drums and Brian Glassman on Bass. The Bass line is my favorite on the album. It’s just perfect for this track, which is a vehicle for some open solos from the band.

The sound quality is excellent. Temkin teamed up with Drummer Aaron alexander to produce the album, and the results speak for themseves. Al Perrotta Engineered, Mixed, and Mastered the tracks to perfection. I like the mix very much, having listened to it from headphones, computer speakers, in the car, and with my home theater (which revealed a great depth of the soundfield; deep, rich bass, and every instrument clear and distinct, paticularly all the bits of Temkin’s Drum kit.

Liner notes are very limited, with one side of the CD cover foldout for song descriptions, track and personnel listings on the back, and thank yous behind the CD tray. I would have liked a photo of the band, but some good ones are posted on the band’s web pages.

As Yiddishe Jam Bands go, I think Matt Temkin has the right idea. Blend some great Klezmer, Swing, and a little Jazz and there you have it. A great album, and a great introduction to the music of some Klezmer legends for those just getting interested in the genre. There certainly are no sleepy Drummers in this band!

Keith Wolzinger
Klezmer Podcast

Poykler’s Shloft Lied
Matt Temkin’s Yiddishe Jam Band
Matt Temkin

Track list:
1 Count Rumshinsky's Bulgar 4:32
2 Philly Bulgar 3:35
3 Borsht 4:31
4 Chicago Medley 6:31
5 Epstein 3:09
6 German's Bulgar #9 4:02
7 7:40 2:41
8 Poykler's Shloft Lied (Drummer’s Lullaby) 9:18
9 Rumshinsky's Theatre Bulgar 3:30

CD Baby
Klezmer Podcast 37