Shanir Blumenkranz’s extensive contribution to the world of radical Jewish music can only be compared to Robbie Shakespeare’s formative influence on reggae. Blumenkranz plays on numerous projects issued by the Tzadik label — so many of them, in fact, that his recognizable style of bass playing is virtually inseparable from the sound has come to define so many of Tzadik’s Radical Jewish Music projects, including Pharaoh’s Daughter, Pitom, Edom, Rashanim and Kef, among others. He has closely collaborated with label’s producer, John Zorn.
So it is particularly exciting to see Blumenkranz in the role of band leader. With guitarists Eyal Maoz and Aram Bajakian, as well as Kenny Grohowski on drums, Blumenkranz has released “Abraxas: Book of Angels 19,” a set of compositions penned by Zorn. Exchanging his usual electric bass for gimbri — an acoustic African instrument with three strings made of goat skin — Blumenkranz propels his ensemble with raw and intricate rhythms.
In contrast with the previous “Book of Angels” rendition by David Krakauer — a darkly whimsical, phantasmagoric record defined by its androgynous plasticity — Blumenkranz’s album is an all-male, three-guitar-and-drums, no-nonsense affair. Most of the tunes apply a jazz approach to the hard rocking, heavy metal sound. Many tracks are danceable, and yet the impulse towards rocking out goes hand in hand with abstraction, a collision of textures and colors.
Unlike their pudgy, cherubic, church-tending counterparts, in Jewish mythology angels are not what you’d call angelic. Ominous and conflicted, with a penchant for irony and obscure turns of phrase, they are messages from the personal and collective subconscious for us to wrestle with. These angels create the parameters of our formative and deformative moments. Perhaps it is in such a context that one might understand “The Book of Angels,” a collection of scores penned by avant-garde composer and saxophonist John Zorn. A number of musical groups have tackled these compositions; the latest encounter is David Krakauer’s “Pruflas: The Book of Angels Vol. 18,” released on Tzadik Records earlier this year.
David Krakauer is among the world’s foremost klezmer clarinetists. He has worked with diverse collaborators, from the neo-classical Kronos Quartet to legendary funk trombonist Fred Wesley. What he brings to this date, in addition to a virtuosic treatment of the score, is the ability to extract from his clarinet sounds one indeed associates with dark corners of the subconscious.
The CD case to John Zorn’s first Christmas record, “A Dreamers Christmas,” comes as a sort of stocking. Reaching into the sleeve you’ll find, along with the CD, a sheet of stickers that could represent a new line of holiday-themed Giga Pets.
You might be tempted to over-think this album, with its cute and somewhat disturbing iconography, especially if you’ve come to expect music from Zorn more agitating than these lovely tracks. You shouldn’t. Zorn released this album through his own label, Tzadik, which puts out a steady stream of avant-garde recordings. And although he only served as producer and arranger here, this jazz album is as much Zorn’s brainchild as it is the Dreamers’, the band he assembled.
With Marc Ribot on guitar, Kenny Wollesen on vibraphone, Joey Baron on drums, Jamie Saft on keyboards, Trevor Dunn on bass and Cyro Baptista on percussion, the Dreamers play catchy, riff-based music that reflects a wide range of styles: surf-rock, lounge, exotica, blues and straight-ahead jazz. They do this with an appealing earnestness that works wonderfully on a Christmas album.
Eli Valley re-interprets the four sons in light of the Egyptian Revolution.
Philologos has difficulties and questions, both.
Meredith Ganzman looks back on the career of Rochelle Slovin, founding director of the Museum of the Moving Image.
“Rockets on the Balcony,” Omer Klein’s fourth album and his Tzadik Records debut, is also his first self-consciously Jewish record. In the liner notes, Klein explains that when John Zorn first approached him about the project, he was reluctant to make “calculated evaluations as to what counts as Jewish music and what doesn’t.” But over the course of working on the album, Klein developed a knack for labeling each of his pieces as either “Jewish” or “not-Jewish.”
For those of us who cling to a romantic vision of the creative process — an image of the artist’s various influences simmering together in some delicious subconscious stew — it jars a little to hear Klein describe his oeuvre in these stark terms. The good news, though, is that Klein is a gifted jazz pianist who can riff on just about anything. A few of the pieces on “Rockets on the Balcony” started as what Klein describes as an “exercise” in writing folk tunes, and in their clumsiest moments, we can too easily hear the composer’s effort to come up with something that sounds homespun. Blessedly, though, these introductions don’t last long; far more exciting than Klein’s faux-folk melodies are the pleasing improvisations that come out of them.
In 2006, when the MacArthur Foundation bestowed its “Genius” award on John Zorn, the panel of judges only underscored what many fans already knew. Zorn’s extensive output as a composer of avant-garde music, a first-rate saxophone player, and a leader of a group of downtown New York musicians, has been vastly important and influential.
His latest album, “Interzone,” recently released on his own Tzadik Records label, is a reminder that the maestro still remains on the outer edges of experimental music. Zorn is not only proficient in a multiplicity of styles and approaches, but has also attained a whole new level of fluidity of movement within them.
When Erez Safar started the Sephardic Music Festival in 2005, he was thinking about the future of Sephardic music. Having spent the last decade watching klezmer explode in popularity among artists like the avant-garde composer John Zorn and the Brooklyn punk band Golem, Safar realized klezmer was moving into a brave new future and was leaving its Sephardic counterparts behind. If the annual festival is Safar’s response to that problem, “Sephardic Music Festival Vol. 1,” is the permanent document illuminating a musical movement at a moment of uncertain transformation.
“Klezmer had this hip factor, but that never happened to Sephardic music. So the idea was to have cool different styled Sephardic music,” Safar told the Forward. The 18-track compilation reads like a who’s who of Jewish Middle Eastern sounds. Movement names like Moshav Band, Sarah Aroeste, Pharaoh’s Daughter, Jon Madof and Galeet Dardashti pepper the tracks alongside less familiar figures. The most startling inclusion is a six-minute opener by rock-reggae Hasid Matisyahu. On the track, Matisyahu mostly discards the twisting breathless vocals he built his career on, in favor of softly spoken words over a funky electronic maqam beat. His inclusion indicates the scope of Safar’s Sephardic dream: a pan-ethnic space that draws musically on places as diverse as Morocco and Ibiza.
Listen to Matisyahu’s ‘Two Child One Drop’:
On the new record by the Israeli quintet Fogel and the Sheriffs, Jesus packs a gun, the Pope is a woman, and the Second Coming occurs in the bedroom. One song calls the Holocaust a “soiree”; another orders a Muslim woman to “put on a burka, baby” to hide her body, from her head to her clitoris. Long before the album’s final song declares, “I was crucified inside my mama’s womb,” the point is clear: nothing is too sacred to satire.
Produced by avant-garde guru John Zorn and released on his Tzadik label, “Exorcism” blends the blues with touches of jazz, punk and klezmer. Despite the superficial shock, these songs are meant as social commentary, not hate speech or blasphemy. The liner notes include a prominent image of a Star of David, quote the prophet Jeremiah, and praise “the High Holy One, Blessed be He, who brought us to life, maintained us alive and led us to this moment! AMEN!” It seems the band has no problem with faith, only with organized religion.
Listen to ‘Bless Me’:
Crossposted from Haaretz
Here’s an idea for a wonderful festival of new Israeli jazz: Bring together under one roof all (or most) of the local musicians who have put out albums in recent years under the New York label Tzadik Records. In the past 10 years, Tzadik — the company owned by avant-garde composer/musician John Zorn, high priest of the fascinating downtown Manhattan jazz scene — has recorded several of Israel’s most creative musicians.
The imaginary festival, which could be called Tzadikim and would hopefully take place in Tel Aviv rather than New York, would feature performances by saxophonist Daniel Zamir (who helped arouse Zorn’s enthusiasm for Israeli music more than a decade ago), singer Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, guitarist Eyal Maoz, the band Pisuk Rahav (which performed last week in Tel Aviv, and gave people a taste of its complex/wild potential), guitarist Ori Dakari, saxophonist Uri Gurvich and pianist Alon Nechushtan. Zorn himself would, of course, be a guest performer on saxophone; maybe he’d even bring with him to Israel some of the wonderful musicians who regularly play with him and who left an indelible impression when they played in Tel Aviv three years ago.
Back in 1997, “Buena Vista Social Club” introduced American audiences to a style of Cuban music that was popular in Havana in the 1950s. The album charmed the critics, topped the charts, spawned a documentary film, and was championed by Starbucks when the coffee behemoth decided to become a curator of world music.
Such a crossover seems unlikely with “Pastrami Bagel Social Club,” the debut album by AutorYno, a French trio who are playing in New York this week as part of the Tzadik Records Guitar Festival. With their pastiche of jazz precision, punk rock fury, and heavy metal bombast, AutorYno sounds like a funky soundtrack to the apocalypse. Along the way, they tip their hats to klezmer music and Jewish culture, most notably with a “Traditional Hora” that sounds like what might happen if you hired Metallica to play at your wedding.
The Jewish museum (Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme) in Paris greets its visitors with massive tombstones dating back to 11th century. There are also frail parchments, medieval megillot, newspaper clips of the Dreyfus trial, and dim brass ritual objects. Imagine then, the shock and delight inspired by the exhibit that landed there this spring, alien as a spaceship: Radical Jewish Culture (RJC), a show focusing largely on avant-garde musicians, many of whose works appear on John Zorn’s Tzadik label. Though these artists are diverse in style, they have one common denominator: an intense interest in redefined, subverted, and indeed radical Jewish identity.
Raphaël Sigal, scholar and music aficionado, worked for the past four years along with his two friends Mathias Dreyfuss and Gabriel Siancas to bring the history and life of the movement to French audiences. Sigal studied comparative and Yiddish literature at the Sorbonne, taught French in Israeli universities, and is currently pursing his doctorate in French literature at New York University. The Arty Semite contributor Jake Marmer asked him about how you can have a musical exhibit in a museum, what it means to display a still-living culture, and the differences between French and American Jewry.
Jake Marmer: What was the impetus of putting together the Radical Jewish Culture exhibit in Paris?
Unlike many practitioners of Jewish music, percussionist and composer Roberto Rodriguez doesn’t view Jewishness as a simple war chest of traditions and musical idioms to draw from. Instead, Rodriguez’s Cuban-Jewish All Stars project is a more strict interpretation of what a particular moment in Jewish history must have sounded like.
The era is pre-revolutionary Cuba, where a sizable community of both Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews contributed to a vibrant multi-ethnic cultural mosaic. And if Rodriguez’s July 15 concert at the The Jewish Museum of New York was any indicator, they enjoyed an incredible nightlife.
Rodriguez, who has performed in Joe Jackson’s band and for guitarist Marc Ribot’s Los Cubanos Postizos, was initially goaded into the Cuban-Jewish All Stars project by avant-garde jazz polymath and fellow New York musician John Zorn, who asked Rodriguez to make a “Jewish album” for his Tzadik record label. The result was 2001’s “El Danzon de Moises,” followed by “Baila! Gitano Baila!” in 2004 and “Timba Talmud” in 2009. Echoing the titles of these albums, his Thursday show was similarly billed as “a unique Latin klezmer sound that echoes Cuban roots dance music and traditional Jewish klezmer.”
While Rodriguez is clearly inspired by klezmer, however, those looking for Cuban interpretations of klezmer tunes, like those performed by David Buchbinder’s Odessa/Havana ensemble, will be surprised. Though Rodriguez is certainly aware of the klezmer motifs that he uses, they are little more than broad inspirations.
So, what was a non-Jewish, non-Israeli Cuban doing organizing the NYC Israeli Jazz Festival, anyway?
“Someone had to do it,” said Roberto Rodriguez who composes, leads and plays drums for the Cuban Jewish All-Stars. After 20 shows and over 1000 people passing through the doors at John Zorn’s non-profit jazz space The Stone last week, Rodriguez expressed quite a bit of — well, nachas — at what he and the musicians were able to create from May 20 to 30.
“I wanted to show how deep and influential Israelis have become in the New York Jazz scene,” he said. “They come from a small country, like Cuba, and they play in such different styles. I couldn’t get that kind of diversity from any other country.”
With performances that ranged from the emerging Oz Noy to the polished Avishai and Anat Cohen brother sister combo, the audiences of the festival were treated to the exploration and virtuosity that Israeli musicians are bringing out of Israel and to the streets of New York.