Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hie Yourself Down to Eldridge Street . . . .

It's been the kind of day in which the BBC seems thrilled that Malta has made it to the finals of the Eurovision song contest. No. Really. You can't make this stuff up. And why would you? Israel is also one of the finalists, which reminds me of a discussion on the Jewish Music e-mail list a few years ago. People were debating whether Julio Iglesias was descended from crypto-Jews; my response was that I was still apologizing to everyone for Barry Manilow.

So I'm happy to push you in a more fruitful musical direction with the premiere of Yale Strom's short documentary about the epochal photo of over 100 klezmer and Yiddish standouts, "A Great Day on Eldridge Street," and a concert by Strom and numerous guests that will be part of the evening. You can see my review here, and find more information at the Museum at Eldridge Street's website.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Two CDs Reviewed -- I Told You I Was Back

The pile of unheard recordings on my desk threatens to topple over the give me a subdural hematoma (did I spell that right, TV med show fans?). So the simple solution is to start whittling it down. Ergo . . . .

Klez Dispensers, The: “Say You’ll Understand” (self-distributed). This is a rather schizophrenic album, swinging between the kind of big-band klez-jazz swing of early KCB and the straight post-Ellis Island klezmer of the Yiddish radio era. Happily, this octet is adept at both styles. But it would be nice to see them try to find a musical space in which they could be integrated. They come close on “Gregg’s Hora,” an instrumental that swerves from the bumping rhythm of a doina into a graceful waltz, but most of the set’s 13 cuts fall into one of the two camps. An entertaining album, but I think they can do more. Rating: 4 stars. Available from

A.J. Teshin: “The Kurt Weill Project” (LML Music). A.J. Teshin has one of those gloriously pure high tenor voices that could break your heart singing “Pop Goes the Weasel.” It’s the voice that Michael Feinstein thinks he has. And when you apply that voice to the best Kurt Weill ballads the results are meltingly lovely. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Teshin felt he had to do something to modernize Weill for a contemporary audience and as the producer of the CD he went a little overboard, adding dance beats, sound effects and the occasional unnecessary aside. If you can mentally strip away all the added paraphernalia and just listen to Teshin sing, you’ll be rewarded by some very fine interpretations of Weill. For his next album, I’d like to hear him with a simple piano trio. Rating: 3 stars. To hear some of the album or to purchase it, go to

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Mamma, That Man's Back Again


That was some infection. Three-and-a-half months’ worth.

No, not really. I can’t even explain the long, long silence, although if you are a regular reader of Jewish Week, you know I’ve been anything but silent. It’s not even that I’ve been so preoccupied with paying work – or the lack thereof – that I couldn’t find the time for the blog(s). I suppose it’s a case of the cobbler’s barefoot offspring. Consider this some kind of an apology. The half-assed kind.

I’ve been listening to a lot of ‘70s free jazz in the past week or two, focusing a lot on the spiritually driven stuff spawned by John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. So it’s been a steady musical diet of Pharoah Sanders, Leon Thomas, Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre and the like, a sentimental journey, if you wish, to the loft jazz scene of my college days. Back then I was probably more at ease with the political music coming from Archie Shepp et al., but the attraction of the spiritual search was undeniable. If you’ve read Essential Judaism, you know that when I hit my thirties I began my own spiritual searching, leading me back to Judaism, in no small part through music.

So what was I looking for last week? Probably my youth, maybe another source of musical religiosity. But you can find a very fine, specifically Jewish version of the spiritual free jazz of the ‘70s in the work of Greg Wall and Later Prophets, whose new CD, Ha’Orot, I’ll be reviewing in a few days. Wall is someone who has moved seamlessly from avant-garde jazz into the rabbinate without abandoning his musical pulpit. The new set was inspired by HaRav Avraham Kook, one of the most invigorating Jewish thinkers of the 20th century. It’s also the impetus behind excellent Jewish-themed jazz albums from the Afro-Semitic Experience and Frank London, to name a couple of outstanding examples. What’s nice – for me – is that connecting to these works is like delving into my own roots twice over.

Actually what triggered this line of thinking probably was listening to and interviewing tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger. The result of that process can be read here.