Thursday, April 21, 2005

More Vulgar Than Bulgar

Alexander Gelfand has a well-written critique in this week's Forward of Rueben Hoch's Chassidic Jazz Project.

Some 'graphs:
In a piece that he wrote for Chamber Music America, Hoch cast doubt on the ability of klez-jazz fusioneers who lacked the Orthodox upbringing needed to "accurately portray the music of the Jewish people."

"They had not lived the life that I did," he wrote. "They did not have the religious background. It was what they did, not who they were."

And here's where things get sticky. For one thing, religiosity is no guarantee of musical authenticity. More to the point, Hoch's Chassidic Jazz Project provides as superficial a gloss on the nexus between jazz and Jewish music as you're likely to find. And it's far less sophisticated than the work produced by many of the klez-jazz types whom Hoch so casually dismisses as poseurs.
Ouch! Incidentally, this post takes its title from a sentence in the article, but although the words are spelled similarly, they don't really rhyme. (Bulgar is pronounced with the emphasis on the "gar".)

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Matisyahu ABC's

Here's an ABC News report on Matisyahu.

A taste:
Still, he had hurdles before he could embark on a singing career specifically, his religious advisers, who were bewildered by his plans.

"The rabbis at first were like, 'You're in yeshiva why would you want to go to these clubs and go to these bars and go back to this lifestyle that you used to be a part of?'" he remembers them saying.

But a performance before a group of young Hasidic boys at a community center won his rabbis over.

"I closed my eyes and sang the song, and afterwards I looked up, the two rabbis from the yeshiva were right next to me, and I looked up at them and they like had huge smiles," he says. "Ever since then, they got it, and the whole community is totally supportive."
It's interesting to note that at the end of the article, ABC news supplies two links: Matisyahu's website and

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Messianic Madness!

Photos are here.

Yahoo JM Group

Bards of Disengagement

Here's an interesting J-Post article on an in-the-works compilation CD of anti-disengagement protest songs.

You Make Me Want To Shout

Life of Rubin is calling our 12/03 essay "On JM Marketing", "The Bible On JM Marketing Wrongs" in this post ranking on Country Yossi magazine's Top Ten list.

4/19/05 link dump

Ben Jacobson reviews Yitzchak Fuchs' latest and the Moshe Skier Band. Funny thing is MSB doesn't have an album out.

MoC criticizes a selfish JM drummer.

The Jerusalem Post reports on the upcoming annual concert in Central Park timed to coincide with the Salute to Israel parade. Personally, I think the notion that that people attend this concert as a means of political expression is absurd. My impression of the attendees at the ones I've been at, is that for many, it's just a free show, featuring "name" JM entertainers, being held at a convinient time and place. They don't appear to be there in support of any particular political position vis a vis Israel. This being the case, those who tout the concert attendance numbers as meaning something are only fooling themselves. The Israeli government has no reason to take this event seriously.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Don't Squash The Music!

Music Thing links to a page about compression and mastering that uses visual examples from commercial releases to demonstrate the effects of over-compressing music.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Tzedakah Tatzil M'Lack of Name Recognition

Here's a post by Still Wonderin' called Altruistic Profiteering that relates nicely to a recent post of ours.

We're Not Gonna Take It (the afikoman)

VH1 Classic presents 'Matzo and Metal: A Very Classic Passover'

Premiering on the second night of Passover, Sunday, April 24th at 7 p.m. ET, the one-hour special features host Dee Snider (half Jewish) and Scott Ian of Anthrax, Leslie West of Mountain and Snider's Twisted Sister bandmate JJ French discussing their experiences in the music industry as well as their Jewish heritage over a special Passover meal. All foods served will be Kosher of course courtesy of the special's sponsor Manischewitz.

Those unfamiliar with a Passover Seder will hear how music plays a key role in the traditional dinner and see how the rich history of Passover is shared through storytelling. And hard rock and heavy metal musicians certainly have plenty of stories!

Blessed Be the Name of the Internet

Here's Glen Reynolds on online music distribution.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

He's Doing The Best He Can

A Russian immigrant piano player has won Israel's second-highest military honor, the Jerusalem Post reports.

Incidentally, is this heading too oblique?

Musicians' Charity

Here's an interesting column by Sam Inglis, "Who Really Benefits From Musicians' Charity?"

Here's a taste:
Making a charity record brings with it a reward that most good works don't: the chance to have a hit single with no risk of failure, no matter how poor the material, no matter how weak the performances. I'm sure I'll be accused of being cynical for saying this, and perhaps I am. But is it really the disaster victims who stand to gain the most from this sort of project? Or is it the faded pop stars using their involvement to get back into the public eye? The songwriters whose dismal efforts would never normally trouble the charts? The producers who are busy adding names like Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney to their CVs? Aren't they being just a teeny bit cynical too?

It's Bein Hazmanim...

... and that means the usual upsurge in traffic from people "Googling" for Shwekey and Lipa Schmeltzer mp3's. Guys, just buy the albums.

email backlog

One reader comments on a pair of old posts (here and here) about Carlebach-style davening:
Perfect! That says it just right. It's about the lack of respect, about superficiality. As I wrote, I am no tsadik in this regards, but I have grown to become much more aware of it and decided its a very bad example for the kids. Anyone wants to complain about 'em, look to the parents!

It's what bothers me. If the folks were serious about davening and THEN got up and danced or sang the fast, (obnoxious IMHO) tunes, that's one thing. But that's not the case. I look around on a typical Shabbos morning, and the kibitzing is non-stop, the topics of the kibitzing, at least what I hear, is usually not oriented towards anything Jewish, unless its political conspiracy about whatever the latest is in the matter of our local Jewish schools (a real mess there) ...and a lack of derech eretz towards those who are there to DAVEN is pervasive. Chicken and egg. Does bad music lead to lack of respect or does lack of respect lead to bad music? It all ties in, somehow.
Heshy Maryles writes:
I am a sometimes-band organizer in LA, and I have a real simple solution for poor-quality guest performers. I ask the client before the gig whom they want to have perform from the family/friends, if anyone. Then I tell them that I want their cooperation to require all guests who want to perform to be cleared by the baal simcha, who needs to come to me to tell me whom to allow.

Then, aside from the pre-designated guests (usually a somewhat talented singer who is a best friend of the chosson, or the
kallah's kid brother who comes up to do an off-key number during the dinner, etc), I tell all would-be performers that the
baal simcha isn't letting anyone up here, so check with him/her.

It works quite well (except that sometimes the chosson's best friend isn't as good as he thinks!).
I also only allow "guest musicians" with the consent of the ba'alei simcha. That approach works quite well assuming the people the clients DO want to have sing aren't painful to listen too. Sometimes, they're just awful.

I've also had several instances where people came over and insisted that the ba'al simcha wanted them to sing. I find those
the hardest to deal with, because its uncomfortable to call someone a liar. I usually handle these by telling them that they've got to have the ba'al simcha come over and let me know. That usually ends there.

I once played a wedding where the kallah's father dragged over two guests from Israel to sing during dinner. I knew something was up when one of them produced his own mic (a cheap radio shack model) from his bekeshe pocket, preferring it to one of ours (not that I'm complaining about that.)

Anyhow, these guys proceeded to sing "the Racheim that never ends and has no instrumental breaks." The caterer was yelling that we needed to start the 2nd dance, all of the guests were cringing, and I tried to end the song several times, but all to no avail. These guys just kept on going and the kallah's father was standing front and center encouraging them to continue. They must have sung the entire tune six or seven times through.

When they finally ended the song, the kallah's father urged them to sing another and they promptly launched into the "the unending Tefilah L'ani." As with "Racheim" it was interminable, but what could we do? It was what the ba'al simcha wanted. I will say that it was hard to keep a straight face when several of the guests came over later to "compliment" us on the guest singers.

Another reader writes:
I was at a wedding last night [Ed. this past Sunday] in Boro Park and here is the rumor I heard from a relatively reliable member of the chosson's family:

The family had contracted with Neginah but then changed their mind. They were willing to lose their deposit but Neginah insisted that the contract is still legally binding. The family nevertheless hired another band (I can confirm that). Supposedly, this was a huge deal in the J-music world because no one had ever stood up to Neginah like that. ______ _______ [Ed.] had even promised to come and do a little free singing as reward for standing up to Neginah.

I left before the second dance so I don't know if ______ _______[Ed.] came.

Does any of this sound credible? Are these distant relatives of mine really going down in J-music history? Or is this just some silly story?
There are some interesting halachik issues here that I've been meaning to write about for a while. Hopefully, I'll get to them soon.

If the family changed their mind on their own, gave plenty of advance notice, and was willing to forfeit their deposit, then I don't think Neginah has a legitimate claim on legal or Halachick grounds. (Presumably, this depends on the terms of their contract.) Even so, the idea of booking a job that had already been promised to another band seems uncomfortable to me.

There have been other cases in the JM industry (I don't know the specifics of this one) where bands have tried to induce clients to back out of contracts with other bands and have offered reduced rates in order to to make it worthwhile for them to lose their deposits. In other words, the bands have approached the clients rather than the client deciding to reconsider and investigate other options. It seems to me, that there are clear issues of "ani hamehapech" /gezel in those cases.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Tuba Solo

The Pig of Death (that's an Artscroll dig, btw) saw Marcus Rojas last night. I saw him withe several groups at the old Knit years ago. He's a great player. He's been a fixture on the NYC Downtown scene for years.

Baruch Dayan Emet - Ehud Manor Z"L

Ehud Manor, lyricist/translator of many well-known songs like "Halevai", "Eretz Tropit Yafa", "Ein Li Eretz Acheret", "Bashana Haba'ah", "Hakinor Hane'eman", "Kafe Etzel Berta", "Lalechet Shvi Acharayech", and "Abanibi" has died.

It's been a tough year for the Israeli music community which has already been mourning the deaths of Naomi Shemer and Uzi Hitman.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

On the other hand - part 2

I stopped by Sam Ash to pick up some sheet music for an upcoming gig. This means more Paragon music magazine excerpts, of course. (See here for our previous Paragon excerpt.)

So, without furter ado, here are some unedited excerpt of reviews from their March issue:
"The vocals range from guttural lows to high-pitched screams, while also keeping a nice mid-growl for most of the album."

"Solos fly like B52's ready to drop bombs on unsuspecting listeners... Vocals vary from guttural lows to high-pitched screams of torture, with mids that will rip apart your brain with each vocal delivery."
As you can see, they are quite distinctive. And compelling.

Here's one they didn't like:
"Do this. Buy a cheap CD player/radio at your local electronics store; get something cheap, under $20. Grab a hammer and proceed to bash...[Expletives deleted. Ed.] out of the speakers. Now buy a CD of dogs barking. Play that CD in your newly bashed CD player. Do You understand what I'm getting at? This CD should have come with a complimentary bottle of aspirin! Supposedly these guys have been working at their sound for 5 years now... good to see that hard work paid off.

C Is For Cookie, Not!!!

Cookie Monster is singing a new song, Fox reports. The new song is called "A Cookie Is a Sometimes Food." What's next? A revised version of Neshoma Orchestra's "Let's Sing The Alef-Beis" faturing the new song "A Kugel Is A Sometimes Food?"

Although, given the problem with unhealthy eating habits and obesity in the frum community, it may not be such a bad idea.

Ki Lo Noa

According to Haaretz,Israeli singer Achinoam Nini will be the sole performer at the Pope's funeral.

Via Bloghead.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Monday, April 04, 2005

In The Adar Spirit...

Dear Bandleader:

We look forward to your performance at our daughter's wedding. If you don't mind, we would like to request a few of our favorite songs. If you could play these at some point during the reception, we'd be grateful:

Any Keith Jarrett composition from his solo series. Please arrange it for full ensemble and nothing in 4/4 please.

Mahavishnu Orchestra, "Dance of the Maya" and please have the guitarist play John Mclaughlin's solo from the live performance Nov. 16, 1972 at Chrysler Arena. My wife and I were at that show and we particularly liked his use of polyrhythms. If you find it too difficult you can leave out the feedback.

Any of John Coltrane's duets with Pharaoh Sanders. I understand that theiruse of atonality is not everyone's cup of tea, but all our guests love high register tenor saxes.

We thought a little Stravinsky right after the toast would be nice. We particularly like "The Rite of Spring." If you want to use the sheet music it's OK. We like a tempo of about 1/4 note = 93.

Then for the candle lighting ceremony, please play Frank Zappa's "The Grand Wazoo." If you want to play it in the original key of Bb, that would be fine. And my cousin Jeannie would like to sing the baritone sax solo, though you may have to play that part in another key - she has kind of a high voice....
There's more at John McGann's. His Book of Jobbing is fun too!

New Music Products for Adar

Sweetwater Unveils Vocal Range-Enhancement Solution:
If your band anguishes over being unable to perform the songs of Journey, Iron Maiden, Rush, Mariah Carey and other high-range singing legends, Sweetwater is proud to introduce the Octaviser, a shocking new hardware solution that takes upper register falsetto, singing and screaming to a whole new level!
Also check out Digidesign's Stadion and Moog's MoogerFooger 4'33".(It lets you overnight samples!)

Here's A Rant From A Reader

In response to this post, Dave Bogner writes:
Hatikvah Bashing? I'm shocked...SHOCKED I say!

For years the Haredi community (Hassidim and Misnagdim alike) have studiously avoided any direct mention of Israel (the state). If they are going there or talking about it in any context, it is always 'Eretz Yisroel', a neat formula that pretends that there is no such place as the modern State of Israel.

Here's the deal.

You want to argue about whether the modern State of Israel is indeed 'Raishit 'Tzmichat Geulateinu', I can see intelligent arguments being made on either side of the issue. You don't want to say the 'Mi'sheberach for the state or the army on Shabbat... OK, fair enough.

But when the government of Israel is, in effect, the word's wealthiest (and most indulgent) father-in-law (think about how many thousands of haredim get government subsidy checks, health insurance and childsupport payments for sitting in kollel!)... listen politely to the damned song! Nobody said you had to sing along.

Considering that every bus station in Israel has a kosher sukkah on sukkot... every Israeli hospital has a kosher kitchen /food court... and the Israeli government maintains the Rabbinate's monopoly on marriage, divorce, conversion and many other issues, it is wildly inappropriate to treat Hatikvah as though it were Wagner (and don't get me started on THAT!).

This topic reminds me of one of the guys at yeshiva who would run out of the room anytime the yeshiva band would start playing a Carlebach tune. One Purim, we figured out that if we started a Carlebach tune when this fellow was at a certain point in the circle, he'd just swing out of line and straight through the door right next to the band. Since he was a little tipsy, his exits were er... not graceful, to say the least. Though it's years later, in my mind's eye,I still have the image of of this guy sailing out of the circle and staggering straight through the door. I don't think he realized that the band was timing its segues around his position in the circle.

A thoughtful email

A reader writes:
I am looking for decent music I can use in shule for davening. I go to a "modern Orthodox" shule in ________ [Ed.]...and I am not attuned to all the various happenings and groups you mention. I did not grow up in an Orthodox environment, but a Conservative one...and have always loved Jewish music. My dad was from Romania, a survivor, and he and one other cousin had some nice tunes for Shabbos and davening from Europe, but otherwise, I am self-taught.

I hear a lot of tunes/groups I can't stand...I have no idea if they are in the Boro Park sound club or shiny shoe music or
whatever you call it...but there is a lot of music that I find unlistenable...and I also hear a lot of folks in shule using terrible tunes for davening, say for kedushah in Mussaf shabbos. There are tunes and melodies I think enhance davening...and others that become what I call "show tunes" or rock'n roll tunes that a lot of folks like...but I find they distract from what we're supposed to be doing.

Some tend to pick, for instance, the worst of Carlebach's tunes and then use them in what I believe are the WRONG places. Everyone is singing, but no one is davening, if that makes sense.

So this is perhaps not a simple question...I don't want to know who NOT to listen to, but if you have suggestions on albums, groups, individuals, new or old, that are worth listening to in this regards. Or, just have good music that enhances yiddishkeit.

I try to find the right music. It's tough here. We don't have a retinue of places to go listen. I have had very nice feedback on my davening, but I have no other aspirations other than to enhance the davening, and there is no greater accolade than when someone tells me I made them feel like I helped their t'fillah. So I am in constant search of the 'right' material.

Thanks for any thoughts/ideas/suggestions. I know everyone has their own tastes, but just reading a no. of your posts...I love the discussions about the state of Jewish music, and I also want to know which groups and invidividuals are worthy of listening to..both on a musical basis but also who are worthwhile-as-far-as-you-know folks...I just have no details about the scandals...don't want the details, which is why I ask for a positive list, i.e. those you WOULD recommend rather than the "let's blacklist or worry about 'em" bunch.

Finally (and I apologize for the length of this), I am enjoying the discussions about the appropriateness of using secular music as a basis for tunes or as background. My dad, z'l, I remember, would tell me about a few of the nigunim he learned from his dad, traditional Hungarian tunes, were based on Hungarian folk songs.
Would anyone like to respond?