Click the BIG ARROW to see David Bromberg back in the day -- 1985
It looks like a spring of big changes and unusual combinations in the Jewish music world. We have a comeback by an outstanding performer from the 1970s, a renowned Israeli composer working on a requiem mass (!), a jazz singer moving into the world of multimedia performance art.David Bromberg: The Comeback Yid
If musical talent is inherited, roots music virtuoso David Bromberg didn't get his from his parents. His father, a psychotherapist, wasn't musical and his mother, he says, "played piano and sang to us for a while, until we realized she was tone deaf."
He asked, "Does it have to be genetic? Well, I had a lot of relatives who were involved in the Yiddish theater. There were musicians and magicians and 'ecktors.' So I suppose that may have had something to do with it."
Wherever the talent came from, it is undeniably there. Bromberg, a world-class acoustic guitarist who also plays mandolin, "a little dobro and a little bass," worked as a sideman on more than 100 albums, playing behind blues legends like the Rev. Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt, pop stars like Chubby Checker and rock giants like Bob Dylan. He also had his own band and recorded several excellent albums as a leader.
Then in 1980 he gave it up.
"I got burned out, although I didn't recognize it as burnout at the time," he said. "Nobody tours like that today: I was on the road for two years without being home for two weeks. When I was home I wasn't practicing, or jamming, or writing. I didn't want to be one of those guys who were phoning it in. I decided I wasn't a musician anymore. I wanted to find a new life for myself."
By the middle of the 1980s he had graduated from the Chicago School of Violin Making. He moved from making violins to appraising and selling them and from Chicago to Wilmington, Del., little suspecting that he would eventually wind up with a guitar in his hands again.
"I met a few times with the mayor [of Wilmington] and he said he would love to see music on Market Street again, which is where I live and my shop is," Bromberg explained. "So I decided to start a couple of jam sessions. I figured I could endure it for a couple of months, but as it turned out I loved them. Now, if I'm in town I'm there."
He now believes that he could have overcome the burnout with only a year or two off, but he guards against its recurrence anyway.
"There are certain things I will not do again," he said. "These days I pick and choose [gigs]. I won't do two sets a night, I won't do club gigs. If I didn't like the place the first time, I don't go back."
He must have liked the music world a bit. After all, after two decades, he has come back.
David Bromberg's first studio album in 17 years, "Try Me One More Time," was recently by Appleseed Recordings.
David Bromberg http://www.davidbromberg.net/home.html
David Bromberg with Jerry Garcia and Mimi Farina at Woodstock, 1969.
Ayelet Rose Gottlieb: 'Song Of Songs,' Multimedia Style
Ayelet Rose Gottlieb is a vocalist and a songwriter of great skill, and now with "Mayim Rabim," the Tzadik album of her song cycle based on "Shir HaShirim," getting excellent reviews and a lot of buzz, she is moving into a new realm.
Offered a May residency at BRIC (Brooklyn Information and Culture) Studio, she is hard at work on a multimedia version of the cycle, collaborating with director Franny Silverman and video artist Renate Aller.
"I found myself really digging into the text again," she said. "Your perspective really changes."
Working in collaboration inevitably alters her perception of the work. Not that this is necessarily an unpleasant thing.
"It's very fun. I'm lucky to have found these two women," Gottlieb said. "But it's not easy because it's the most personal thing you can share with someone. It's an expression of your inner world. I never feel overexposed when I release a record or play in public, but when I have to bring people into the core meaning of it as it translates into my life and being, it feels very exposed. Luckily they're friends and I feel mostly comfortable doing that."
Of course, the text of "Song of Songs" has been set to music many times, but Gottlieb says she didn't think about previous settings when she decided to compose music for this greatest of love songs.
"It was almost a subconscious experience for me," she recalled. "I was telling a story."
And now the story will be retold again but, as she acknowledges, in a different way.
"The music will be the same but my understanding of it is really different," Gottlieb said. "When have to explain my music to somebody else, to bring new people into it in a very deep way because they need to create with me, I have to understand what I mean in every moment of the piece. Now it's a few years after I've written and recorded it; it's a whole different thing for me."
Something else is different, too. Gottlieb is performing with a new quartet for her jazz gigs, being backed by Loren Stillman on sax, guitarist Sebastian Noelle and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi.
Ayelet Rose Gottlieb's album "Mayim Rabim" is available on the Tzadik label.
Ayelet Rose Gottlieb: http://www.ayeletrose.com/
Shulamit Ran: Mass Appeal
When you are commissioning composers for a new requiem mass, Shulamit Ran might not be the first name that comes to mind. After all, she is an Israeli Jew, an unlikely candidate for writing a Catholic service.
But if you want a small-C catholic service, why not invite the greatest living Israeli composer to participate? That is what the world-renowned vocal ensemble Chanticleer did.
"I cannot imagine that they didn't know it ... that I'm Israeli and born in Israel," she said. "My guess is that they were aware of it. When Joe Jennings [Chanticleer's musical director] got in touch with me and proposed the commission, I said to him, you realize that I am Jewish and Israeli; anything that I write would be from my perspective. And he said, 'We know that and we assume that anyone writing this work will bring their own perspective to it.'"
Ran felt no inner conflict about accepting the assignment.
"I thought it was a very intriguing challenge, lending my perspective as a Jew to a portion of the Mass," she said. "I asked which portion of the Mass I would be choosing from and he told me, 'Actually we've already assigned you a portion, the Credo.'"
The nearest Jewish equivalent to the Credo's statement of the principles of faith, Ran decided, would be Maimonides' "Ani Ma'amim."
"I realized that 'Ani Ma'amim' would be a perfect text," she said. "I decided that I would be setting the Maimonides text and that it would be in Hebrew. That seemed to be a good point of departure for me in terms of the text of this work. I also made it clear that although one can do this kind of setting with an eye to emphasizing the common elements -- in fact my Credo does begin in Latin, using the words that articulate the belief in one God, maker of the earth and all things in it -- one could approach it as that successfully. But I made it clear from the beginning that it would be through my lens as a Jew.
"So in the second part of my section, there actually I decided early on that I wanted the piece to probe into the meaning of faith, especially in the face of very great adversity. So there are several texts that are related to the Holocaust. This is the way in which this is personalized for me."
The real fun -- and part of the challenge -- was writing for a vocal group as talented and varied as Chanticleer.
"I try to approach each project with the thought of the uniqueness of the ensemble," Ran explained. "With Chanticleer, I was so thrilled at the thought of writing for them. They are so extraordinary. I asked for the vocal ranges of the singers and the way they go above and below their ranges and mesh together. The type of singing that they do is so strongly centered around Renaissance music, which gives it a special quality, very different from the usual SATB [soprano-alto-tenor-bass]."
Both composer and commissioners are delighted with the results.
As Ran said, "It was challenging but also stimulating."