Jewish MusicFest Opener, Andy Statman- Bluegrass, Jazz and Klezmer

statmanWhat 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 music-festival-cover-for-webstomping 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)

Washington Jewish Music Festival Sound Byte: The Afro-Semitic Experience

A lot of lip service gets paid to the historic alliance between African-Americans and Jews. The actual experience of that history is a lot more complicated. All it takes is something like the recent media circus surrounding Reverend Jeremiah Wright to remind us that tensions below the surface can come gurgling to the surface with an intensity that evokes strong reactions and escalating rhetoric. By the time the shouting dies down, the gulf of misunderstanding has grown that much wider.

Warren Byrd and David Chevan of the Afro-Semitic ExperienceEnter The Afro-Semitic Experience on June 5th as part of the Washington Jewish Music Festival to narrow that gulf, if only a little. Led for nearly a decade by Warren Byrd and David Chevan, TASE not only talks the talk, but walks the walk by responding to racism and anti-Semitism with its unique fusion of Gospel, Klezmer, Jazz, Niggunim, Spirituals, Swing and straight-up Funk. Granted, the premise seems tailor-made to produce cheap warm fuzzies of racial tolerance–but TASE brings the chops that imbues their polyglot sound with artistic validity that is impossible to deny.

The only way to become a believer is to take a listen for yourself. The track below is “Nefesh” from This Is the Afro-Semitic Experience.

Tickets are on sale May 1 for the Washington Jewish Music Festival. The Festival begins June 1 with the Capital Celebration of Israel @ 60 on the National Mall featuring Regina Spektor, Mandy Patinkin and Mashina.

Jim Zorn, You Belong Here!

We’re taking Sally Jenkin’s advice and getting excited about Jim Zorn coming to Washington. Yes, we were disappointed to see Joe Gibbs re-retire. And sure it would have been nice to have had a head coach like Gregg Williams take the throne as the heir apparent and player-favorite, or alternately one with a proven record of winning like Jim Fassel, or even a rising assistant with the glow of a Super Bowl victory fresh on his resume like Steve Spagnuolo. But no. We got Zorn.

And frankly we’re fine with that.

You see, here at the 16th Street J we’ve done pretty well by Zorns over the years. Our immediate past president is Francine Zorn Trachtenberg, and while she never threw for over 21,000 yards in the NFL, she did oversee the J’s wildly successful tenth anniversary celebrations last year.

We’ve also benefited from a longstanding association with radical Jewish music pioneer John Zorn, who conducted his Masada String Trio on the opening night of the Washington Jewish Music Festival in 2005. And before there was JDub — the innovative music label that launched Matisyahu — there was John Zorn’s label Tzadik leading the modern klezmer revival. If hip hop is the driving cultural force behind JDub, then Tzadik was driven by Punk. Continue reading

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