Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Reviewed -- Discs by Nochi Krohn Band and Yosef Karduner

In the mail... a pair of discs from Sameach Music. Yosef Karduner - "Breslever Melave Malka" and Nochi Krohn Band - "Ananim".

"Breslever Melave Malka"

Yosef Karduner's "Breslever Melave Malka" is an album featuring Karduner performing many traditional Breslover Melave Malka songs.

MoChassid and A Simple Jew have blogged about this disc.

I've been a Karduner fan since I heard his album, "Simanim Baderech". Something about his music really resonates, and I've tried to figure out exactly what it is. I think there are a number of elements that combine for the quintessential (to my ears )Karduner sound.

They include:

1) A warm nylon string guitar sound.
2) Strong nylon-string rhythm guitar as the main rhythm instrument.
3) Dumbek and shaker for percussion rather than trap drums.
4) Simple, but tasteful guitar fills, usually on acoustic, but occasionally on electric.
5) A sense that the songs were through-composed to the text.
6) Simple bass lines.
7) Odd phrasing, timing, and number of bars. (For example, "Hashivenu" on "Simanim Baderech" or "Ha'aleinu" on MoC's CD)
8) Searingly passionate vocals.
9) Effective use of subtle multi-tracking on guitars and vocals.
10) Effective occasional use of subtle keyboard pads.

As an aside, I saw Karduner live on his first trip here, and it was one of the most powerful musical experiences I've witnessed. The man has an incredible gift for expressing his spirituality through song.

This album is a good album for what it is, but it's not a quintessential Karduner album. Many of the tracks feature drum machine and prominent synth/keyboard playing. The lead guitar, mainly played by Menachem Herman, is not subtle when it appears. And, being that the songs are not original, there is an element of personal expressiveness missing from the vocals compared to his original music.

That said, despite missing many of these elements, this isn't a bad album and I've found much of it to be pleasant listening. To me, the music on this album is more effective on the tracks that eschew drum-machine and that feature more subtle keys work.

The two opening tracks, "B'motozei" and "Chadesh Sossoni" were both covered by Diaspora on "The Last Diaspora" which is where I know them from. Karduner sings the melody on "B'motzoei" slightly differently from Ben Zion Solomon's version. I wonder which is the original and which is a stylistic embellishment.

"Agil V'esmach" is an excellent track. The switches from tempo to rubato evoke the "rhythmic anomalies" that add charm to a Karduner performance. The synth accordion adds color without making the arrangement too busy.

Two of the tracks, "Elokim Yisadenu" and "Keli Chish Goali" share the same melody. On the first played as a freilach and on the second as a slow song. I prefer the faster version, but both are nice.

"Adir Ayom" features a guest turn on vocals by R' Abish the first time through which evokes the sound of some of the vocals on the Hebrew University release "The Hasidic Nigun As Sung By The Chassidim". Simple, but beautiful.

"Al Tira" evokes the groove of classic Karduner songs like "Mikimi", "L'inyan Hitchazkut", and "Kol Ha'olam".

Overall, this album is a nice collection of Breslover Melave Malka music. My favorite tracks on this album are "Agil V'esmach", "Al Tira", "Hamavdil", and "Elokim Yisadenu".


Nochi Krohn Band's "Ananim" is an excellent album featuring nice melodic songs with interesting, tasteful, and creative arrangements and lots of vocal harmonies. The musicianship is excellent, and the song selection is very good. Nochi did an outstanding job here.

Jewish Music Blog reviewed this album here.

Drummer Benny Koonyevsky and bassist Conrad Korsch anchor the tight rhythm section on the disc, which features Nochi's piano and Rhodes playing, tasteful acoustic and electric guitars by Marc Levine and Yoshi Fruchter, percussion by Shaya Lieber, alto sax by Yosaif Krohn, and nice lead vocals and vocal harmonies by the band members. A small horn section, flutes, saxaphone (often played by guest Dror Ben-Gur) and/or a small string section are used tastefully on some of the tracks.

The music evokes classic Jewish vocal bands like Ruach and Kesher, but with a more sophisticated edge. Leader Nochi Krohn has spent a lot of time backing up many of the Chareidi folk rockers out of Israel, like Chaim David and Shlomo Katz, and this disc evokes their influence, but with an American sound.

Most of the singing is simple, yet tasteful. On the thankfully few occasions that the vocalists attempt embelleshments typical of popular Chassidic "stars", the effort fails. The havarah is mainly standard American Jewish havarah, although the singers do occasionally lapse into yeshivish.

Notable tracks include "Hiney Keil" which closes with some pretty solo piano and "U'vney" which features tasteful bass and tremelo Rhodes solos. "Mah Rabu" is a nice opener that sets the tone for the disc.

The A section of "Kineret Niggun" sounds very much like Carlebach's "Re'ey Na". The opening groove is powerfully performed by Benny and Shaya.

The title track, "Ananim" doesn't do anything for me. Not musically and especially not lyrically. I'm very critical of original lyrics in general, and I'm not feeling this one. It just sounds simple; there's no interesting or evocative wordplay. Not that there's necessarily something wrong with tsimple -- it's possible to have beautiful simple lyrics like Naomi Shemer's "Al Kol Eleh", for example, or Diaspora's 'Kotel Song" or Woody Guthrie's "Get Through This World" off the latest Klezmatics album, for that matter-- but in this case it doesn't work that well.

I liked this album alot and I'd highly recommend checking out this disc.

Both of these discs are available at Sameach's website.