Monday, January 28, 2008

From the mailbag... [updated]

Recently, PHP rhythm guitarist Doni Joszef emailed:
Just writing to let you know that our band - PHP - is about to release our debut album entitled "Hodu" - with Sameach Music. The CD should hit stores in about 1-2 weeks....

[Update:1/29/08] Additional PR material removed at PHP's request.[/Update]

...Guests musicians include Nochi Krohn, Aryeh Kunstler (who actually just joined our band as bass/vocals), Shaya Leiber, and others.
Doni included a links to download the album and cover art. No liner notes, though.

Regular readers may remember that a while back, I linked to a thoughtful article Joszef had written for the 5 Towns Jewish Times.

The email started me thinking about if "a fresh energy of 'jam' and creative grooves" are in fact "so desperately needed in Jewish music." The next logical question to ask is whether the concept is in fact fresh. Of course, the most obvious question is whether this specific project is any good. For the record, I do have some biases about the genre. I'm not a fan of pointless noodling and I could care less about which version of "Dark Star" is the most awesome. In general, my preference in this style of music runs towards the funkier, jazzier end of the spectrum. Vintage keys. Clav, B3, Wurly, etc. Think MMW rather than the Dead.

Getting back to my questions...

Long time readers will know that I support creativity in Jewish music, so from that standpoint, new approaches and sounds are always welcome. (Whether a given approach works or not is another matter.) From that standpoint, a fresh approach is always nice.

I'm not sure I accept the premise that there aren't enough Jewish 'jam' projects out there though, i.e. Soulfarm, Merkavah, Piamenta, even NOKAS. Check this out too. In a 2006 article about Matisyahu, Slate's Jody Rosen described his aesthetic as "white-boy-jam-band reggae, with lots of guitar filigree, frequent show-offy solos, and a far thinner bass sound than you'll hear on any Jamaican dance-hall record." That's a relevant quote, because on listening to this album, my first thought was that some of the horn section stylings sound like they came off of Matisyahu's first album.

Recording a jam album is always a challenge because the inherently restrictive format of an album --the time limit-- imposes limits the band doesn't have in live performance. Jam bands are meant to be seen, experienced even, not just heard.

Listening to this album, the songs pretty much all follow the same form. There's an intro or "groove vamp", then there's typically a setting of liturgy, (for the most part, the lyrics seem to be an afterthought to the grooves), although there are some wordless songs, and then a "jam" or solo section. Then, it's back to the other sections. Taken on their own, some of these sections are interesting, but it often feels like the song sections do not flow together organically.

The band relies heavily on the guesting keys, percussion, and horns to carry the album. Strange, since they perform as a quartet sans these instruments. As a result, this is an odd debut album; it's a jam disc with mostly restrained jams and a heavy reliance on guest musicians to fill out the sound. That said, there are some nice musical moments when everything seems to come together and the production quality is very good.

For a sense of PHP's live presentation, check out some YouTube clips of a recent show here, here, and here.

The album is available here.

James Hix writes:
I stumbled across your 2005 blog on Finale vs. Sibelius and it was just what I needed to make up my mind which way to go in buying a new notation program. I’ve been an avid MOTU person since they came out with Professional Composer back in the middle 80s and switched to Composer’s Mosaic when it was released. MOTU had the best customer service department for any company I’ve ever dealt with. Any question I had they could easily help me with and each upgrade seemed to fix problems specific to what I needed. Then they up and abandoned the software around 10 years ago leaving a lot of people hanging. I even bought an old Macintosh G3 solely dedicated to Mosaic (it won’t run in Mac OS X or Classic) but I’m getting tired of booting it just to write music.

I’d taken a college class back in 89 on a very early version of Finale and even then Pro Composer was more intuitive. Mosaic blew it away when it was released, but I still had friends who told me I was crazy for not using Finale. They’d never used it, but knew it couldn’t be as good as Finale. I’ve fought the last ten years the temptation to break down and purchase Finale because I had a personal affront to using it. A couple friends have recently told me they were using Sibelius and really liked it, After reading your comparison I’ve decided that Sibelius is probably the best choice for me.
Glad to have helped. Judging by this and many similar emails I've received, I've sold a lot of people on Sibelius over Finale. Those MakeMusic! guys should take customer service a little more seriously, I think. If they had, I'd never have tried Sibelius. In fact, Blog in Dm is the #1 Google search result for sibelius vs. finale and many similar searches.

A.J. Towne writes:
There is this new hot music group!! You guys should check them out! I just got their cd today in the mail, and they’re great! I paid $15.95 and that included shipping and handling! Man you really should get this cd!! They are a great group and some of them have preformed with really big signers! Check it out.[Web URL removed]
$15.95 including shipping and handling! WOW! That's awesome! No plug for you!

Got a bunch of comments on "The Klezmer Gene (A Recessive Gene)."

Jordan writes:
Lovely piece. I know exactly what you mean.
A. writes
Just saw this posting re the klezmer's beautiful.
Der bavustzinik arbeter writes:
Ahem... my best friend from middle school is getting married in may. alas, she is marrying a lovely, but not Jewish man. as of right now she has no plans to have live music at all, but i've been suggesting that should she want a jewish band, all she has to do is "challah" and I'll help her find something. I really do hope the klezmer gene kicks in...
Ari comments over at the Klezmer Shack.

E. forwards a link to Shloime Dach's: Political Bundler.