Tuesday, May 29, 2007

In Review:" Merkavah", "Refuge Rock Sublime", and "A Night In The Old Marketplace"

Off the review stack...

Merkavah - When Will The Master Come?

Merkavah's debut disc on JMG, "When Will the Master Come?", is essentially a one-man-show featuring guitarist Yerachmiel Altizio who plays virtually all of the instruments excepting drums, played by Rich Bloom, and woodwinds, played by Mike Fuerstein. He also sings on some of the tracks. Despite all of the multi-tracking, Altizio successfully captures the sound of a live jam band. In addition to singing, Altizio does some Matisyahu-esque toasting on some of the tracks. He does this at least as well as Matis, if not better.

The tunes are mainly well-known Chabad nigunim, although there is a cover of Dov Frimer's Al Hanisim and a well-known melody for Ashreinu associated with the anti-Chabad movement in the '90's. The music is high-energy. The disc also has a few short tracks with Torah thoughts from Rabbi Goldberg, Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivah Hadar Torah, where Altizio is currently studying.

One thing I noticed listening to this project is that the songs all sound much the same. They typically start out with a groove, followed by the head --typically a Chabad melody either sung or played on guitar -- followed by an extended jam section, and then the head again to end. Some more variation in arrangement, groove, tempo, and style would go a long way towards making the project as a whole more interesting. The guitar tone uses a very distinctive sounding effect (sounds like an envelope filter/wah) too much. More variety in the guitar tone would have added a lot too. The keyboard parts and the sounds used to play them, especially the organ, don't grab me either.

I'd consider this a good demo CD of Altizio's concept. There are some interesting ideas, but they really need a band to flesh them out. Adding a good keyboardist and/or some other soloists would kick the musical energy up a lot.

Merkavah's MySpace page is here.

Amazon has the album here:

Mare Winningham - Refuge Rock Sublime

Mare Winningham is an Emmy-award winner, and Academy Award nominee, and has been making guest appearences on Grey's Anatomy and Law & Order. She's also released "Refuge Rock Sublime", an album of Jewish country-bluegrass music. This is a very acoustic sounding record with lots of fiddle, guitars, mandolin, and banjo.

Most of Winningham's lyrics don't grab me, but the production and feel is very pleasant. Interesting tunes include album opener "Valley of the Dry Bones" and her covers of "Karev Yom" and Tanchum Portnoy's setting of "Etz Chayim".

Her website is here. There isn't much there, but there is a music video for 'Valley of The Dry Bones."

Amazon has the album here:

Frank London's "A Night in the Old Marketplace"

This is a deep album. I've been a fan of Frank London's work for years. "A Night in the Old Marketplace" is his score for a musical based on I.L. Peretz's Yiddish ghost story "Bay Nakht Ayfn Altn Mark." Lyrics are by Glen Berger.

"Night" features compositions and arrangements performed by a four-piece band and numerous guest vocalists. The musicians are Ron Caswell on tuba and bass, Brandon Seabrook on guitar, banjo, and mandolin, Art Bailey on keyboards and accordion, and Aaron Alexander on drums. Interestingly, London doesn't play on this project.

The music is deeply Jewish. A contemporary cabaret in the shtetl, if you will, blending myriad influences, Jewish and other, into a compelling brew of Yiddish Theatre for the 21st century. This is a dark story though, so don't play this one for the little ones unless you want to answer lots of questions.

The story in short: Sheyndele commits suicide by jumping into the well after being married. Her husband becomes a recluse.

Nosn, her true love, has visions of Sheyndele and remains in love with her.

The Recluse debates with the Badkhn and urges him to repent. Instead, the badkhn attempts to raise the dead and reunite the lovers with the help of the Gargoyle guarding the well.

According to legend, the Gargoyle once lured a band of klezmorim returning from playing a Shabbes gig to their deaths in the well. Divine punishment, perhaps?

The Badkhn waits until midnight and attempts to awaken the Gargoyle and summon the spirits from hell so the lovers can be reunited.

After an argument between the Badhkn and Gargoyle, the dead klezmorim are raised and play as the dead are raised.

The lovers reunite in a black wedding at which the badkhn whips the assembled into a frenzy urging them to live again.

After being rebuked by the recluse, Nosn dies, the dead return to their graves, and the Badkhn regretfully awaits the sunrise.

According to London, "A Night in the Old Marketplace" will be staged in Philadelphia soon.

Standout tracks include "The Bottom of the Well", "The Tale of the Drowned Klezmorim", "A Word", "Meet Me in the Old Marketplace", and "The Ten Faces of G-d", but the whole project is great.

About some of the songs...

The album opens with "The Bottom of the Well", a zhok performed by vocalist Susan McKeown, who also participated on the Klezmatic's Grammy-winning album, "Wonder Wheel." The song tells of the aftermath of Sheyndele's suicide. She now rests at the bottom of the well.

"The Tale of the Drowned Klezmorim", performed by Joanne Borts, tells of a band of musicians punished for performing on Shabbes:
For their punishment was swift
And how very like the nature of their sinning
Though they strayed off of their path
At the end of the night
They had already strayed
At Night's Beginning...
In "A Word" the Badhkn, sung by Manu Narayan, tries to remember "a word for changing everything."

The Gargoyle invites the dead to return in the waltz, "Meet Me in the Old Marketplace" performed by LaTanya Hall.
"Make your way, Purgatory is open today.
"The Ten faces of G-d" explains the Kabbalistic concept of the ten faces of G-d and asks "when can a broken glass mend?" The vocalists are Martha Cluver, Karen Goldfeder, Silvie Jensen, Matt Hensrud, and Steve Hryclak.

In the closing number, "A Tavern in Pinsk", "They Might be Giants" sing of the dead who are waiting in a bar for Moshiach's arrival.

In addition to the vocalists mentioned above, the Klezmatics' Lorin Sklamberg and Shudder to Think's Craig Wedren also appear on the album. Sklamberg sings on "One Prayer, One Lullaby" and "It Doesn't Matter" while Wedring appears on "Nosn's Vision."

Rokhl Kafrissen wrote about the project here.

The CD is out on Soundbrush. Their website is here.

Amazon has the album here: