When I said that one of the reasons for my summer off was that I am working on a book, I wasn't kidding. I'm doing a revised edition of Essential Judaism which, after 15 years, could use some updating. I only mention this because it explains the comparative silence of the past week or so, as I finished up one phase of the revisions before moving on to writing the new chapter(s).
That said, I've been swamped by news and I want to pass along a bunch of it. Some of these items we will return to in the near future, especially new CDs that I promise to write about. But everything below is worth your attention.
Jenny Scheinman has long since moved past the "Jewish music" label, if such a thing can be said to exist. She has also taken on a rather ambivalent stance vis-a-vis being a jazz artist, since her last album was original songs that placed her closer to the singer-songwriter thing. That said, she's going to be appearing at one of the most classic and hallowed of jazz halls. Scheinman will be playing the Village Vanguard July 21-26 with her new band, which features Myra Melford on piano, Doug Wieselman on reeds and Rudy Royston on drums. Scheinman will, of course, be playing her fiddle and, I expect, singing a bit too. The Vanguard is (still) located at 78 7th Avenue South in the Village (duh); the phone number is (212) 255-4037.
Here are a bunch of upcoming CDs I'm planning on writing about shortly:
the Canadian band Ventanas is offering a fusion of Sephardic, North African and flamenco on their latest set, Arrelumbres;
Big Galut(e) is a band that blends classical with klezmer on their eponymous CD; their clarinetist is Robin Seletsky, offspring of Harold and there is a theorbo (aren't those rather fattening?);
Robin Seletzky (left) and Big Galut(e)
Jazz singer Deborah Latz will be playing at the Cornelia St. Cafe on July 25 and I should have a review of her latest CD, sur l'instant on this page shortly before that;
Benny Sharoni, one of the less-heralded but definitely gifted Israeli jazz musicians currently living and playing in the States, has a new album showcasing his muscular tenor sax, Slant Signature (Papaya Records);
Continuing on the jazz tip, Erik Friedlander will pay tribute to fellow cellist Oscar Pettiford on his next album, Oscalypso (Skipstone Records), which will be released in late October.
Romashka on the Roof
And a couple of promising gigs for local faves: Romashka, featuring Inna Barmash and Ljova, will be playing on the roof of the JCC in Manhattan (Amsterdam and 76th St.) Thursday, July 23 at 7 p.m., and Jordan Hirsch and his All-Star Yiddish Jazz Ensemble (featuring Pete Sokolow) will be performing at the Museum at Eldridge Street (12 Eldridge St.) Wednesday, August 5 at 7 p.m.
In a somewhat different but not unrelated vein, the Film Society of Lincoln Center is presenting their annual summer extravaganza of music-related film and video, "Sound + Vision" July 29-August 6. The opening night film is a loving profile of rock hitmaker Danny Fields, Danny Says, by Bryan Toller, well worth your time.
Yes, that is what Paul Shapiro has. Yes, he can play the
whole range of saxophones. On his latest CD, about which more momentarily, he
even blows shofar, which isn't even a reed instrument.
Joking aside, Shapiro has that big, meaty tenor thing going,
the sound that was the muscular bottom to hard bop and soul jazz from the early
'50s through until fusion wiped it away in an electronic haze of tinkly Fender
Rhodes pianos. He has put it to particularly good use with his Ribs 'n' Brisket
Revue, a smart, funny evocation of '40s jump blues and the period in American
popular music when R&B (heh, heh) hadn't quite evolved into rock 'n' roll
while guys like Slim Gaillard and Cab Calloway were adding Jewish sounds to
their palettes for spice and humor. That aggregation has been playing pretty
regularly at Harlem's Floridita, the Cuban restaurant tucked under the West
Side Highway at 125th St. and 12th Avenue.
Ribs 'n' Brisket -- Get 'Em While They're Hot!
Meanwhile, closer to the old Yiddish stomping grounds, on
Thursday, July 9 Shapiro is playing his live score for the 1925 silent film His People (1925), directed by Edward
Sloman, a not uninteresting filmmaker whose career sputtered out after the
coming of sound. Shapiro will be leading a heavy-duty sextet, with Frank London on trumpet, Tomas Ulrich on
cello, Brian Mitchell on piano, Dave Hofstra on bass and Tony Lewis on drums.
It’s an open-air event at the Abrons Art Center at the Henry Street Settlement
(466 Grand St.), beginning at 8:30 pm.
Which brings me toShofarot Verses, his most recent CD release, on the Tzadik label. Shapiro is united
again with Tony Lewis and they are joined by Marc Ribot on guitar and Brad
Jones on acoustic bass, a very agreeable quartet, to say the least. The album
is something of a giddy hybrid, showing off all sides of Shapiro’s musical
personality, from the dark, intense spirituality of a solo version of “Hashiveinu”
to the guitar-driven antics of “Surfin’ Salami.” His playing is mercurial,
sonically rich and harmonically dense, and the shifts in mood are deftly
achieved and frequently quite funny. Given the numerous references to the High
Holy Days on the album, this might just be perfect listening for the month of
You can find out more about all of the many faces and facets
of Shapiro on his own website, which will also send you to places where you can
buy his records.
When I think of Brazilian music the first word that pops into my head is “silky.”
I know that this is hardly the word that characterizes tropicalia, or Brazilian
hip-hop or forro, so maybe I’m dating myself. As Steve and Eydie would say,
blame it on the bossa nova.
You are undoubtedly asking yourself, “What does this have to
do with Jewish music, purportedly the subject of this blog?”
To answer that question simply, the new CD “Raízes/Roots” by
the Brazilian-Jewish singer Nicole Borger (billed by her first name only), is a
collection of Yiddish classics re-imagined in a variety of Brazilian forms, and
Nicole’s smoky alto is, well, silky. The album, released on the Soundbrush label, is an easy-to-take confection that turns
“Abi Gezunt” into a bossa nova,
“Com Saúde” and “Bulbes” into a funky “Batatas.” The band is first-rate, with
such familiar downtowners as Cyro Baptista and Brandon Seabrook, and a lit of
guests that will seem even more familiar: Frank London (who produced and
arranged the set), Lorin Sklamberg, Michael Winograd, Jake Shulman-Ment and
Nicole herself is a laid-back contemporary version of Gal
Costa, perhaps, with an easy loping swing and a nicely judged sense of humor.
Her duet with Sklamberg on “Nova Dança” (“Der Nayer Sher” to you), is downright
giddy and an excellent close to a very pleasant set.
due to the vagaries of the U.S. mail, I was unable to post this before
the CD launch gig last weekend, but you can get the album and hope that
Nicole makes it back to NYC very soon.
No doubt you have read by now about the Supreme Court's decision in the Obergfell case, making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. Is there a Jewish slant on this issue? Or as my grandma would have said, "But is it good for the Jews?"
Actually, as beasts go, the band Golem is pretty well-mannered. And musically, at least, they skip and strut more than they lurch. But it is towards the South Street Seaport that they are propelled for a gig this weekend. Saturday evening, June 27, Golem will be playing at Fulton and Water Streets as part of a deliciously global gumbo of music that will run from 5 to 9 p.m. Also appearing Los Crema Paraiso, a power trio from Caracas, Venezuela, who put a psychedelic spin on everything they touch, and Benyoro, a Malian band that mixes traditional and modern moods.
Which is, of course, what Golem has always done, and continues to do. They emerged from hibernation last year with a new album, a modified line-up and new energy. They overcame the death of their record label (JDub, R.I.P.) and bounced back good as new. (For an interview I did with band leader Annette Ezekiel Kogan when Tanz, their most recent album, was released, go here.) The Saturday gig looks like a really clever blend of disparate global sounds, and Golem were always a powerhouse live act, so it's worth a trip downtown (if you're in town).
I was sitting down to sort today's mail and there, wedged between one of my wife's textile magazines and the new issue of The Cricketer was a familiar face. I found myself staring at the young woman on the cover of the new issue of The American Poetry Review and thinking, I know her. And indeed, I do, and so will man of you. Alica Jo Rabins, fiddler, band-leader, Torah teacher and published poet (and how!) is smiling out at readers from the cover of the July/August issue of APR, which opens with a selection of eight new poems of hers. The poems are not up on the APR website (ah, the privileges of subscribing), but you can check out the previous issue there.
Alicia Jo Rabins amidst Pacific greenery
I'm assuming from her Twitter feed @ohaliciajo that she is still performing with Girls in Trouble.She's now living in Portland, and recently won the 2015 APR/Honickman First Book Prize for her forthcoming collection Divinity School. Mazal tov! Not to be too demanding, but when can we expect to hear a poetry reading and a new CD from the band?
Just received an e-mail from Jane Peppler (I suspect a lot of you also got it), and there's a lot to chew on quite happily. First, she was the grand prize winner in the second annual "Der Idisher Idol" competition in Mexico City. (Who knew such a thing existed? Okay, a lot of Jews in Mexico City and the vicinity knew.)
I have to admit, though, that the news that pleased me most was the
publication of Jane's new 382-page book,"American Yiddish Penny Songs by
Morris Rund and Others," a compilation that includes facsimilies of
some 200 Yiddish songsheet broadsides from 1895-1922. You can purchase the book as a PDF download for $7.00 here. You can also buy her book of Yiddish songs from Warsaw in the early 1930s and CDs she has recorded of some of the rarer material from these volumes at the same location. How could you go wrong with Mexico's own Yiddish Idol?
Kulturfest is going to go out with a big bang. Tomorrow's programs include some exciting farewell goodies. Let me pull your coat to a few of them:
Taste of Jewish Culture-- a street fair sponsored by Workmen's Circle, which will include the best of Jewish culture, i.e., live music and food. I can't vouch for the food, although I'm sure it will be fabulous (and I'll eat too much of it), but the music, which will go all day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., includes not only the cream of NYC, but also some heady out-of-town guests: Paul Shapiro’s Ribs and Brisket Revue and Frank London’s Klezmer Brass
All Stars with Eleanor Reissa and special appearances by Nikitov (the
Netherlands) and Klezmerson (Mexico). 46th Street and 6th Avenue.
Alicia Svigals: Violin Mass Appeal
--I don't think this means that Svigals is converting to Catholicism.
It's a new suite that walks listeners through the history of klezmer
forms, and I can't imagine anyone who could do it better. 3 p.m., Joe's
Pub block party, Astor Place and Lafayette St.
Yiddish Lullabies and Love Songs with Inna Barmash --A live rendering of one of my favorite recordings of the year, with the distinguished lawyer and mommy offering some heartfelt and lovely songs. I'm sure her husband, Ljova, will pitch in ably on viola. (Hey, guys, when are you going to get the kids into the act?) 3 p.m., Museum at Eldridge Street 12 Eldridge St.
I'm sort of on hiatus at Jewish Week for the summer, a combination of a book deadline and belt-tightening at the newspaper. I fully expect to back at that lemonade stand (we serve kosher lemonade; our highly qualified shokhet cuts the lemons himself) in September.
But there is so much going on in the world of Jewish music and I feel both an urge and a responsibility to cover it. Undoubtedly, anyone who is reading this blog already knows about the astounding Kulturfest, which wraps up tomorrow. Thursday night I had the singular pleasure of seeing the Ger Mandolin Orchestra making a rare public appearance. They brought down a nearly full house with exactly the sort of virtuosity you'd expect from eleven of the best mandolinists in the world. (My piece on the group can be read here.) Let me also get in a plug for the Dutch band Nikitov. I saw them do a sort of mini-set before a theater performance at the Abrons Arts Center and was very impressed with their chamber-jazz-cum-tango sound; they are playing at Joe's Pub tonight and are well worth a look.
There is a heck of a lot of great Jewish music on offer both live and recorded. The Jewish community (communities, really) ought to be getting behind its musicians. That's why I'm reviving this blog.
George Robinson is adjunct assistant professor of Media Arts and Technology at Borough of Manhattan Community College, and the and author of the critically acclaimed Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals (Pocket Books, rev. ed. 2016) and Essential Torah: An Introduction to the Five Books of Moses (Schocken Books, 2006). Mr. Robinson is the film and music critic for Jewish Week, the largest Jewish newspaper in North America, and contributes film and music criticism to several other publications.