Friday, December 22, 2006

In Review - "Wonder Wheel" by The Klezmatics (Lyrics by Woody Guthrie)

In the mail... Handed to me at a recent wedding gig... The Klezmatics' new release "Wonder Wheel" featuring their settings of some of Woody Guthrie's lyrics, which he'd never recorded.

I like this album a lot. The 'matics are in fine form on this outing. This is essentially a folk project, but even though they say there isn't much klez on this album, its influence is clearly felt throughout. The musicianship is excellent and the soloists are in top form. Long-time drummer David Licht is no longer with the band on this recording, and his absence allows this recording to illustrate how integral bassist Paul Morrissett is to the band's sound. Licht’s replacement on this album, Kenny Wolleson, plays well, and the producers, GoodandEvil, frequently augment his drumming with tabla and other percussion.

The recording features several guest musicians who play an integral role in this project's sound especially Susan McKeown on vocals and Boo Reiners on guitars and banjo.

From the fun zydeco of Frank London's "Mermaid's Avenue" to the playfulness of the lullaby "Headdy Down" by vocalist Lorin Sklamberg, and from the klez of Matt Darriau's Goin’ Away To Sea --which was apparently not written by Guthrie, a fact discovered after the song was recorded-- to a poignant "Orange Blossom Ring" (also by London), “Wonder Wheel” demonstrates the appropriateness of the “shidduch" between the band and Guthrie’s lyrics.

Violinist Lisa Gutkin’s setting for "Gonna Get Through This World" is stunning. Probably my favorite track, but I liked most of them. Susan McKeown is featured here to great effect. The alternating trumpet, clarinet, and violin fills are just beautiful and the tabla drums add some very nice color. It’s folk, but with the Klezmatics’ unique world music touch.

Reedman Matt Darriau's composition "Pass Away" is an intriguing Eastern sounding track that sounds much like his work with one of his other projects, "Paradox Trio".

The production on "Wheel of Life" sounds too dense to my ear, I'd have preferred some more sonic space in the arrangement. GoodandEvil overdid this one, In my opinion.

In short, the music on "Wonder Wheel", much like Guthrie's lyrics, is not overtly Jewish, yet it somehow has a Jewish flavor throughout.

This is not a Jewish album, yet, this is a very Jewish album.

Amazon has it here:

Friday, December 15, 2006

Drummer Available

Shmuel Klaver writes:
I would like to thank my friends, mostly musicians, for all of their well-wishes following my (2nd) stroke last October. Thanks to all of your tefillos, I have pretty much fully recovered B"H, giving me once again the opportunity to be upset with Neginah for not giving me any work... I would like to ask a favor, though.
I've been without a parnassah for quite some time, but I am now teaching again; so if any of you hear of someone in the Monsey area looking for drum lessons, or if any drummers out there need a last minute sub for a Monsey-area shmorg because you're running late, please keep me in mind. I can be reached at 845-694-8235 or I appreciate your posting this; I know it's a bit unorthodox (oy-in Monsey, yet!) Love to all - Shmuel Klaver

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

From the mailbag...

Psachya writes:
Along the lines of your "peeps in the hood" - I did a gig recently that had more than its share of optimists, and I thought I'd share their optimism with you. Here goes:
- I met Optimist #1 before I even got into the hall. I had parked my car down the road from the hall. Half of my equipment (keyboards, sound system, etc.) was on the sidewalk; the other half was still in the car, with the hatch open.I believe I had an amp in my hand when the Optimist pulled up next to me and asked, "Are you pulling out now?" (This happens to me frequently, but only in Brooklyn. It must be something in the water.)
- Optimist #2 was the fellow who wrote on the prep, "We want it lebedig but not crazy." His optimism was rewarded, BTW. I think.
- Optimist #3 walked up to our sax player and informed him that he was to play in a "legitimate style (gotta love it), not this CRAZY FUNK STUFF that everyone plays nowadays." Our sax player that evening was a young Israeli whose style was both extremely funky and quite legitimate. But not exactly the Howie Leess/Pitz Lamm klez tenor style that this fellow was looking for. (At least I assume that's what he was looking for.)
- Optimist #4 walked up to us during the smorg. He was holding an iPod or some such thing. "There are three really nice niggunim on here," he said. "Could you guys learn the songs now so you can play them during the dancing?"
- Optimist #5 (he must have known #4) said that his favorite song in the world was a certain Adi Ran tune. "You guys know it, right?" Wrong.
It happened to be a very enjoyable gig. Despite all the optimism.
You don't know every Adi Ran tune?!?!?!

Hilla Hoitash at the Israeli Consulate's Dept. of Media and Public Affairs writes:
I just wanted to bring to your attention to our new Blog. This is the official Blog of the state of Israel, the first state Blog out there. It's edited by our team of young professionals here at the Israeli Consulate in NY. Let us know what you think?

Here's the link
I took a quick look, and the blog will be featuring profiles of Israeli musicians you may not have heard of.

A Simple Jew asks:
Is it possible to release a song without the words "Yerushalayim" or something that ends with the suffix "einu" (ex. Elokeinu) in the lyrics?
Sure! Na, Nach, Nachma, Nachman Me'Uman!

KFAR's Adam Davis writes:
hey there. got a couple cool events coming up in Chicago.... details at

He Who Pays The Piper Calls The Tunes!

So this older gentleman comes over at tonight's gig to compliment our volume and shares the following story.
"I was at a wedding recently, and the band was playing way too loud. So, I went over to the bandleader and asked him to lower the volume. He refused and told me that's what the bride and groom wanted.

So, I told him...

I don't care what you say my daughter wants! I'm the one paying you, so turn it down now!"
Turns out this exchange happened at his own child's wedding.

Note to bandleaders: if you don't play too loud, this won't happen to you.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

From the mailbag...

Psachya writes:
I'd like to address some of Ron B.'s comments regarding the use of headphones or earbuds by club-daters. I have recently done some gigs with Yochi Briskman of Neginah, and he has a setup similar to the one described. As a sideman, I found several distinct advantages in using the headphones:
- I essentially had my own private monitor & mix, which I could alter at any moment. If nothing else, it's a lot of fun. For example, if the sax player is doing a hot solo, I can boost him a little; if he's doing routine section stuff, down he goes. It's a hoot!
- More importantly, it makes it easier for particular musicians to hear each other efficiently. As the keyboard guy (usually playing a bass split), I often find myself with the entire band separating me & the guitarist. (Why bandleaders do that is a whole 'nother blog, but there are legitimate reasons, and I often do it when I lead bands as well.) The problem is, obviously, that we can't hear each other's changes very clearly, and have to make educated guesses as to what the other one is playing. This problem is eliminated with the 'phones - in many ways, it makes the band sound tighter.
- I can actually hear myself play. (If no one else, the keyboard players out there will know what I'm talking about.)
- As I use the heaphones as opposed to the earbuds, it has the added advantage of acting like earplugs in terms of blocking out volume, without blocking out the actual music.
- When Yochi uses this system, he has his own twist - he has one mike set up for his voice to go only into our phones. This way, he can instruct the musicians in their ears without having to shout over the music. This obviously leads to a much more efficient gig, and the bandleader can put much more of his own stamp on the gig as it is in progress. For Yochi, who leads from the drums, this is obviously a particular advantage.
- In regard to some of Ron B's other points, I see his point regarding the use of monitors AND headphones. There may be a reason for it - I'm not a tech guy, so what do I know. Also, I can't speak for the sound on the floor - it's hard to guage that from the bandstand. I will say that having an engineer - wherever he is situated - beats what I see 95% of the time, which is no engineer at all. Usually the bandleader runs the sound, and has to rely on field reports, which usually consist of an old lady telling us that we're much too loud at around the same time that a bochur is telling us that we're not loud enough. So having an engineer is a step in the right direction - let's not discourage that, shall we? There are times that "techno razzle-dazzle and sizzle-sazzle processing" (to use Ron's words) actually makes the music sound better. Here's hoping.
K. writes:
wondering about neginah.. Did you have a bad experience with them???

Just read something a negative way. And I booked them for my wedding.
My response:
Neginah is a large well-established band that has been playing for many years. I’m sure you’ve heard them before, liked what they do, and that’s why you hired them. They can do a very nice job and many people are very happy with their work.

I’d not let something some blogger wrote cause you too much worry. :)

If you have a specific concern, you probably should talk it over with them.

If I can be of further help, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Mazal Tov on your wedding!

12/5/06 Link Dump

Mo C writes about how downloading is affecting CD sales.

Isreality comments on the fact that Israelis are always singing.

Ben Jacobson says "just say Noy!"

The Forward tells "A Cantor's Tale".

The Jewish Week profiles SoCalled.

George Robinson writes up Brave Old World.

Betcha always wondered what Santa does the rest of the year. I actually met Kirk when I played a gig in Houston and one of the musicians in the band rented a sousaphone from him.

New Agudah Takanos

Although some bloggers have covered the recent Agudah convention session on blogs, none seem to be aware of a leaked post-convention memo proposing takanos on blogs.

Blog in Dm's intrepid investigative team is glad to be able to share these hitherto undisclosed proposals with you.

Agudath Israel Internal Memo -- FOR INTERNAL RELEASE ONLY

Dear fellow Moetzes member,

Enclosed, please find a draft of the proposed takanos on blogging as per our meeting at the Agudah convention.

Draft Takanos on Blogging

A group blog may consist of a maximum of 5 bloggers. One of the bloggers may act as a comment moderator or else the blog may have 4 bloggers and one additional regular commentor.

A one-man blog is recommended.

The "blogoversary" celebration is to be discontinued. The 1,000,000 hit celebratory post should not be turned into a "blogoversary" .

Only 400 readers may sit at their computers to view a blog at the same time. After 10 PM, bochurim may be invited to read blogs, but they may not have seats while reading.

For those who like to snack while reading blogs, snacks should be limited to basic cakes, fruit platters, a modest buffet, and the standard meat or chicken hot dishes. Sushi blogging is prohibited!

Bloggers who imbibe while blogging may only drink Gordon's vodka or Old Willamsburg, Old Overholt, or Old Crow.

Bloggers may only use free or low-cost blogging solutions like Blogger.

It is forbidden to host your blog on a server that is less than five years old. (You've heard of yeshivishe cars? Well, we're mandating yeshivishe servers.)

The total cost of a Blogads purchase should not exceed $1800.

We the rabbinical signatories -- barring familial obligations -- and unusual and extraordinary circumstances --will not guest-blog or comment on a blog that disregards these guidelines.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts, heoros, and chiddushim.

With Torah blessings,
Rabbi Y. Perlow, Novominsker Rebbe, Yoshev Rosh -- Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah of Agudath Israel of America