Why are there SO many Israeli Jazz artists? Over the years, many have considered this question, including JazzTimes and NPR’s All Things Considered. Most of the Israel jazz musicians in America have gravitated to New York, and from what I can tell, a lot of them are buddies and band-mates.
Is there something about Jazz that is uniquely appealing to the Israeli soul? The youth, the energy, the chaos? Your guess is as good as mine. But check out the big band stylings of rising Israeli star Eyal Vilner and groove on the Holy Land’s latest contribution to American culture…American culture.
It’s programming season for the Washington Jewish Music Festival. Next month I head up to the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference in NYC, but this week I’ve been doing some virtual scouting. And I’m reminded of what an amazing amount of exciting, creative new Jewish music there is today. Check out a few of my favorites–some may wind up in the Festival, some won’t, but they’re all superb in their own way.
–Yiddish Princess offers up Yiddish Power-Pop done right. It’s like Pat Benetar meets Your Bubbe.
–Saul Kaye is singing the Jewish Blues. With a history like ours, who wouldn’t?
–Yael Naim‘s “New Soul” was made famous by an Apple commercial. Her new album features songs in Hebrew and English!
–Moshe Hecht describes himself as a Hasidic indie-folk artist. Perhaps he can help us survive in the post-Hasidic-reggae-superstar era.
One of the less expected, and thus one of the more thrilling fusions of American and Jewish music comes to the Washington Jewish Music Festival Sunday night courtesy of Jeremiah Lockwood and The Sway Machinery. Imagine David Bowie channeling Robert Johnson as your cantor. Better than that. Imagine your cantor kicking it old-school, which means the old Ashkenazi Hebrew (with the “t” sounds pronounced like “s” and the “a” pronounced “oy”) backed by a funked-up horns section, blues guitar and a bass line that recalls the religious origins of the word “awesome” (Expressive of awe or terror). Imagine rock ‘n’ roll percussion crashing on-top of it all creating a tension that always seems ready to break into chaos but never does, like rocking backwards on a chair that never quite falls.
I could wax poetic for another twelve paragraphs and never capture in words the unique sound of The Sway Machinery: traditional Hebrew liturgy chanted over urgent music that (dare I say it) combines the transcendant potentials of both rock and prayer. Cynics who believe in neither might not be impressed by that, but if either one has appealed to you at any time in your life, then The Sway Machinery connects powerfully. I’ve had moments with both, more with the former than the latter. Normally I find liturgical music either sterile or self-sanctified. I pretty much always assume that if someone’s singing about God they’re trying to convert me to something. But there’s an intimacy and power to Lockwood’s vocals that lend them authenticity, and he seems less interested in impressing the listener than in expelling the burden of these prayers from his body. He’s not trying to convert you. In fact, fuck you. This is just something that has to come out and come out now. It’s powerful stuff.
The following track Anim Zemiros is from their “Hidden Melodies Revealed” (JDub) release. The lyrics are a liturgical poem believed to have been written by a 12th Century rabbi and kabbalist. The prayer is commonly recited in congregations at the end of the service, usually by a child. There isn’t really a good translation that I could find on the web, but there are a fewimperfect ones. Perhaps its better not to stress the literal meanings (the title literally means “I shall sing sweet songs”) so much as gather the tone. More important, don’t miss The Sway Machinery on Sunday night.
What more perfect way could we choose to kick-off the 10th Annual Washington Jewish Music Festival than with Andy Statman, a giant in the alt-neu Klezmer movement. His return to perform at the Festival is more than an opening night, it also serves as a keynote to the other performers that make up this year’s lineup. For Statman is an artist who has never stopped evolving, never stopped exploring new forms of music and meshing them together into deeply personal compositions and performances. He is the rare musician as devoted to his Judaism as he is to the craft of musicianship and brooks no compromise in his simultaneous devotion to each. Even rarer is his authentic aesthetic commitment to tradition and experimentation. His work provides by turns the comforts of the old world followed by sonic explosions and staccato riffs that break down traditional forms and morph into something like jazz before returning full circle to pulse thumping, foot stomping jams. For all of the subsequent acts in the Festival that combine forms into a new Jewish medium — a capella, funk, hip hop and classical — Statman provides inspiration at both ends of the spectrum between experimentation and accesibility.
The title track from his recent album East Flatbush Blues is a great example of both Statman’s virtuosity and broad musical vocabulary.
East Flatbush Blues (Andy Statman, Oceana Music, ASCAP)