"My big idea for the CD was, 'Let's give this to our families for Chanukah,'" Hyams said. "I never thought we'd get a record deal, because I figured 'This is stupid and Jewish and no one cares except us.'"
Music producer Brooks Arthur turns nostalgic with a new CD of classic Jewish music
Not much Passover music arrived in this year's mail so it's difficult to speculate on the ebb and flow of certain kinds of Jewish music recordings, but it does seem that fewer holiday-specific records are coming out of late. On the other hand, the flood of spiritually informed contemporary Jewish music shows no signs of abating, and this month's CD reviews focus on some of the most recent examples of that phenomena, including some tasty Pesach treats:
Jewish music of 2007 reviewed.
CD reviews, Metropolitan Klezmer, "Traveling Show", The Polina Shepherd Vocal Experience (featuring Quartet Ashkenazim), "Baym Taykh", Blue Fringe, "The Whole World Lit Up" , Gail Javitt, "Like a Braided Candle, Songs for Havdalah", Klezamir, "Warm Your Hands", Romashka, "Romashka", Chana Rothman, "We Can Rise", Slavic Soul Party, "Teknochek Collision".
I will be frank. I'm tired of hearing the same holiday songs over and over. So the best Chanukah present I've received this year is a pile of Chanukah-themed CDs with lots of new holiday songs, many of them quite good.
Bell is, by his own admission, more of a cultural Jew than a religious one. "My mother is Jewish, a very typical Jewish mother," he said. "She was very involved in my practicing. Both my parents were behind me and loved music. But for me, Jewishness was very much a cultural tie. I feel very close to the Jewish side of the family. I grew up with my Jewish cousins, going to all the bar mitzvahs, so I feel very close to that side, and I identify myself as being Jewish."
The High Holidays provide some of the greatest frissons one can experience in a synagogue. And the music is, indeed, a big part of those rising chills.
For 2,000 years, Jewish music has been a hybrid compounded of elements picked up from our neighbors. Salamone Rossi created Italian Baroque settings of Hebrew texts. Chasidic niggunim drew on Viennese waltz music and Eastern European military marches. Sulzer and Lewandowski wrote like German Protestants. In the Diaspora, Jewish music has always been a hyphenate.
After schlepping 40 years in the desert, it's hard to imagine a CD to exercise by coming from a people who have harbored a subconscious distrust of walking. But with my daughter's upcoming nuptials, my unending kvetch about fitting into the dress won out over my skepticism.
When you think of hip-hop or rap, you don't generally think of jowl-necked septuagenarians or skinny, psyched-out white guys rapping about the tsuris their mother gives them, but then again, you don't generally think of Jews either.
This is not your grandmother's Jewish music. Like other recent Jewish parody CDs, "Meshugeneh Mambo" carries on the tradition of Jewish humor popularized by such forbearers as Mickey Katz and Allan Sherman.
7 Days in the Arts
The Middle Eastern fusion music on "Hamsa" is so insidiously infectious and rhythmic that you will not only be humming along but tapping your feet, as well.
"What I wanted was music that touches people's souls and hearts in many different ways in their time of need," Len Lawrence said.
"There was level of musical sophistication that goes with the kind of music you can play on the mandolin, and my intention was to start a new acoustic-fusion thing, with an emphasis on string and wind instruments," said Eric Stein, who went on to form Beyond the Pale, a klezmer-fusion band.
Tis the season for cocktail parties, so why not one more. The Anti-Defamation League hosts its 2004 Los Angeles Celebration this evening, complete with dinner, dancing, martini bar and keynote speech by Harvard professor/defense attorney/Israel defender Alan Dershowitz.
While naming your holiday album "Barenaked for the Holidays" is a pretty catchy way to get some attention, for the quirky pop band that calls itself the Barenaked Ladies, it made sense -- about as much sense as getting naked on "The Sharon Osbourne Show" last year, anyway. Apparently, stripping down's just part of the offbeat Canadians' sense of fun. So it follows that anyone expecting the Ladies' holiday album to be anything less than silly would be, well, silly.
The new CD offers up revamped Christmas, Chanukah and New Year's classics, as well as a few original tunes, including one called "Hanukkah Blessings," written by Jewish band member Steven Page. The reinterpreted songs include a version of "Jingle Bells" that has "the extra lines you remember from being a kid," Page recently told rollingstone.com.
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7 Days in the Arts
Purists were skeptical when Sarah Aroeste debuted her Ladino rock 'n' roll band back in 2001. Most artists singing in the fading Sephardic language were traditionalists, performing classical versions of songs dating to the Jews' expulsion from Spain in 1492.
But here was Aroeste, mixing rock and jazz with the flamenco and Middle Eastern-tinged music of her ancestors, singing those same lush romances accompanied by electric guitar as well as oud. And, the New York press noted, she was doing so while performing with a bare midriff and gyrating hips -- moves that led several publications to label her "The Jewish Shakira."
Robb Zelonky is scheduled to appear in Irvine after a two-month tour of California, bringing a special show with songs tailored to Jewish culture. He has also produced four secular CDs.
Since distributing a CD of hymns to members of Tustin's Congregation B'nai Israel, the Conservative synagogue's cantor, Marcia Tilchin, and congregant Carl Cedar, a veteran musician, no longer sing alone in the sparsely filled sanctuary on Friday night.
Michael Berenbaum, a first-rate scholar and writer, who was founding director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., has produced, in effect, a traveling museum, or in barely more than two score pages, a traveling museum exhibit.
The boychick is Etan G, who calls himself The Jewish Rapper and whose CD, "South Side of the Synagogue," features songs such as "Yo Yo Yarmulke" and "Hava Na Wha?" Even so, it's startling when he ushers a visitor into a living room that appears to be decorated by the set dressers from both "Yentl" and "Shaft."
Shhh! Today and tomorrow, the Silent Movie Theatre presents "The Silent Picture Show."
7 Days In The Arts
7 Days In The Arts
Tired of the same old synagogue music? Want to put a little lift in your liturgy? Then give your cantor the gift of Ugandan Jewish music, Say what?
Yes, Smithsonian Folkways has just released a singular CD titled, "Abayudaya: The Music of the Jews of Uganda."
This is a sometimes lilting, often haunting and always fascinating collection of African Jewish music in which the rhythms and harmonies of Africa blend with Jewish celebration and traditional Hebrew prayer.
Chayim Frenkel, cantor at Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, conceived "Nishmat Tzedek" ("A Righteous Soul") in 1993 after his brother Tzvi, 39, died suddenly, the victim of an undetected blood disease.
7 Days in Arts
The Jewish Agency, in conjunction with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and the Hed Arzi Music Company, has released a CD of Israeli pop music to benefit Israeli victims of terror, titled "Yesh Od Tikva" (Our Hope Endures).
When Andrzej Szpilman was 12, he furtively rummaged through a chest high on a shelf of a closed wardrobe in his Warsaw home. Inside the closet, he found 10 copies of a book and, recognizing his father as the author, hid one in his third-story bedroom. "I read it and received a shock," said Andrzej Szpilman, 46, a dentist and record producer who immigrated to Germany in 1983.
The book was "Death of a City," his father, Wladyslaw's, grittily brutal, dispassionate 1946 memoir of hiding in and around the Warsaw Ghetto. Since Roman Polanski turned the book into a searing film, "The Pianist" -- which won four National Society of Film Critics Awards and is up for two Golden Globes on Sunday -- Szpilman has become one of the best-known Holocaust survivors in history.
7 Days in Arts
During Orange County's annual "Chanukah Concert", a corner of Costa Mesa's Performing Arts Center is transformed into an all-Jewish music store featuring CDs recorded by some Reform cantors who participate in the performance.
"They don't have much opportunity to put their CDs up for sale," said Dr. Gordon Fishman of Newport Beach, who co-produces the concert with his wife, Hannareta. She and some friends supervise sales, which this year include works by Ruti Brier, Nancy Linder, Shula Kalir-Merton and Arie Shikler. Also available are CDs by the Orange County Klezmers, who play at the concert intermission.
Stiller says he was drawn to the family-oriented radio series, "One People, Many Stories" -- in which celebrities read Jewish tales by authors such as Sheldon Oberman and Isaac Bashevis Singer -- because the literature connect him to his own family stories.
Fifty-six years after Anne Frank perished in Bergen-Belsen, her life and legacy loom larger than ever.
In his new CD, "Garden of Yidn" (Naxos World), violinist and music historian Yale Strom, who will be in concert in Los Angeles next week, offers tunes going back as far as the early 19th century, giving the listener not only a superior musical experience but some fascinating historical sketches of Jews in the Yiddish- and Ladino-speaking world.
"Let My People Go-Go" is a very kitschy CD, but this isn't your ordinary, everyday kitsch.