The Arty Semite

Best Experimental Jewish Music of 2013

By Jake Marmer

  • Print
  • Share Share

This year, we ventured to create a set of five memorable 2013 releases that are not easily defined either as “Jewish music,” jazz, or klezmer, but represent alternative, thought-provoking musical experiments, rooted in yet transgressing Jewish musical traditions.

Please note that the works below are listed in alphabetical order — there’s no ranking here.

“Pillar Without Mercy”
By Deveykus

In this release, young klezmer trombonist Dan Blacksberg dredges up heavy metal’s darkest essence, situating it within the klezmer/niggun vocabulary. Thrashing, and not even ironic? And yet, the heavy metal uninitiated (myself included) may just come to realize how oddly soulful this music is, and how profound a catharsis it may engender. This is not about exorcising your demons, nor about teenage angst, but a truly intelligent — even intellectual — encounter with massive noise that surrounds us and that we’ve been absorbed into. So much so that, as niggun references and melody lines emphasize, the very spiritual essence may just be bound-up somewhere deep in this register. See some recent footage here.

”Zion80”
By Jon Madof

It is not surprising that Zion80 has received impressive coverage, including in The New York Times, JazzTimes, and here in the Forward, for their unexpected combination of Fela Kuti and Shlomo Carlebach. This, however, may have less to do with Kuti and Carlebach than it is a testament to the diversity and skill of the large, impressive collective of improvisers led by guitarist, composer, and now conductor Jon Madof, who has managed to loosen folky Carlebach melodies into a full-on party. Here’s a recording from one of their recent shows abroad.

Siach HaSadeh
By Yoni Kaston

This Montreal collective, which includes Yoni Kaston and Joel Kerr, plus numerous and varying guests, taps into one of our tradition’s greatest resource: the niggunim, or Chassidic chants, melodies traditionally used for prayer and transcendence. What makes the album so vastly different from similar projects is how this band extends the niggun-space, improvising within each niggun’s vocabulary in a way that continues the meditative, mystical space released by the music. Although classical, folk, jazz, and klezmer elements all briefly enter the works at some point, the overall sound is quite incomparable to anything else. The niggunim are not translated into any one of these styles’ paradigms — instead, the music’s centrality remains with the nigunnim themselves, as the collective moves through soul-tugging renditions of Modzitz, Breslov and Lubavitch traditions. See a recording, in the duo configuration, here.

“Back to the Woods”
By Uri Sharlin and the DogCat Ensemble

This is the sort of album that may remind you what music is really about: dreaming, finding yourself in some inherited memory, inside an emotion or yearning you didn’t know you had. Uri Sharlin’s collection is sophisticated, complicated, feel-good music. Engaging with various Mediterranean traditions, it takes your imagination from a Greek café to an Italian piazza, from a Spanish beach to a Tel Aviv street corner. One track even brings reggae traditions into the mix. And if you think the accordion is a whiny tugging at some darkly Eastern European soul, you’ll be amazed at the tenderness and hipness Sharlin extracts from this instrument. See this jam and also this animated version of one of the tracks.

“Storm Game”
By Michael Winograd

It’s hard to believe that clarinetist Michael Winograd has only celebrated his 30th birthday this year. “Storm Game,” Winograd’s klezmer concept album, covered in-depth here in the Forward, displays an impressive and thorough familiarity not only with klezmer tradition, but also a tremendously sophisticated conception of art as such. See some samples of Winograd’s work here and here.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Music, Best of 2013, Jazz

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • How did Tariq Abu Khdeir go from fun-loving Palestinian-American teen to international icon in just a few short weeks? http://jd.fo/d4kkV
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.