Short notes about some releases I think you might enjoy..
There’s quite a bit of good music being made these days, which is strangely paralleled by the boat-loads of egregious pap that seems to clog the traditional media outlets. Public radio, at least in my hometown, has decided to become “what 50 year old men think 26 year chicks would like in the vain hope to make themselves look cool and maybe get laid” format, ground out by post –ironic hipster d-bags in skinny jeans and assorted ridiculous moustaches. Country radio gave up on trying to make substantive music many years ago and though there seems to be a vibrant and happening “urban” (the accepted term for “black people”) music scene, it’s just not my cup of tea. I rely almost entirely on the many radio stations set up to support the burgeoning Mexican immigrant community (3 count ‘em 3 whole stations devoted to Banda,) and the always reliable TRUE community public radio like KOOP and the renegade stations that skip around the dial evading the FCC here in Austin.
So here’s a few CD’s that you might not encounter normally, but I think maybe you should give ‘em a listen.
When my friends hand me their new CD and then ask me what I think of it, I usually cringe. I have some mighty talented peeps, and they all make interesting art of varying accomplishment. However, I’m so set in my own freakish prejudices about music that it’s a good policy for me not to comment critically on my co-horts efforts, lest some one’s feeling get hurt. But they handed me the CD and bade me give my opinion. Here goes:
Pretty damn great. Maybe the best 1st CD anybody’s ever given me actually.
Loves It is comprised of vocalist/song writer Jenny Parrott and her beau Vaughn Walters and together they have crafted a set of tunes which is at turns precious and poignant, without ever falling into self parody or overly contrived “quirkiness” which I reckon will be a term used to describe this music in reviews to come. Held aloft by Parrot’s imaginative songs about dinosaurs and Bobby Kennedy, the instrumental backing is as creative as the lyrical content which though clever, is never fey. “Pop” music is not often on my iPod, but “Yay” has stayed in rotation in my car disc player and that’s has high a compliment as I can give ultimately.
Benjy is a fine bassist and wonderfully vocalist gifted with a lithe, high tenor voice. His latest CD “Tick-Tock” marks, for me at least, a bellwether mark in modern Jewish music. (This is you hint that this is a klezmer CD, but hang in there, it’ a great record.) Sung entirely in Yiddish and featuring a band made up entirely of the best klezmer players of his generation, Fox-Rosen simultaneously references the great Yiddish song writers and vocalists of lore completely unencumbered by nostalgia or artifice while still sounding entirely fresh and personal. If 25 years ago groups like the Klezmatics re-invigorated and re-constructed Yiddish music to reflect a contemporary experience, then “Tick-Tock” simply carries the narrative to the even more present, using reggae and even avant-guard musical motifs to propel his remarkable vocal skill, which is capable of communicating the lyric quite effectively despite the listeners not understanding the language. With artists like this afoot, Yiddish music and culture are assured at the very least a creative and vibrant future. Flowery praise maybe, but deserved.
Of special mention here is the clarinet work of Michael Winograd (who also shines brightly on Daniel Kahn’s latest CD “Lost Causes,” a CD which neatly bookends “Tick-Tock” only with more of a besotted, labor-union rabble rouser outlook fronted by Kahn’s whiskey and smokes vocals, best experienced in his re-imagining of the Yiddish labor song “March of the Jobless Corp.” Worth the price of the download.)
CAVEAT: I’m on the next 2 CD’s so bare that in mind.
In 2006, myself and a group of fellow instructors at Living Traditions annual “Klez Kamp” got together in an unused hotel room and recorded a CD’s worth of material with our mentor and friend, Moldavian-Jewish clarinetist German Goldenshteyn. We had been lucky enough to spend many years learning his repertoire and his style, a truly European style of Jewish music that none of us had ever been exposed to, and we thought it was high time to get him on tape. With no rehearsal, and no more than two takes, we recorded enough material to release “German Goldenshteyn: A Living Tradition.” It was a good thing to, as he died quite unexpectedly not but months after. So happy to have his music immortalized, the family actually placed a copy of the CD in his casket.
We had planned on another recording session, and German had even picked out the material this time expanding to include Moldavian music popular with the Jewish community that he played for as a young man. But devastated in grief, it took quite some time for all of us who played on his only CD to collectively come together and finish the project that he was unable to. The result, again recorded live in an unused recreation hall in a Catskill resort during Klez Kamp, is The Tradition Lives: Yiddish-Moldavian Music of German Goldenshteyn. Rather than try and re-create a version of the modern, fashionable Moldavian music, we opted to try and intone the way that German played the tunes; better suited to Jewish dance traditions. The result is a project of pure love. There are very few releases that I play on that I actually listen to for fun. This is one of those records. See if I’m not lying and pick yourself up a copy. (A portion of all of the sales go to support Mina Goldenshteyn and his family.)
I am a lucky, lucky dude.
When I was but a lil’ wee child, my parents would take me with them on a off-season trip to New Orleans so my old man could see Billy and Dee Dee and George Lewis play the Preservation Hall. That’s when I first saw a man playing the tuba, all by himself, out in the street. My dad pulled out a crisp $20 bill and put it in his tip jar, he and I the only people who stopped to listen to his music. It was a profound experience for me; it inspired me to be a musician in fact. Not just any musician either, but a tuba player playing in the street in New Orleans (like Tuba Fats, I was to learn later was the man who first inspired me.) We came back home from these trips laden with LP’s which then got played all year long, trying in vain to recreate that experience in a Stillwater Oklahoma living room. The LP that got played the most was a thick vinyl 12” on the Atlantic label by the Young Tuxedo Brass Band called “Jazz Begins.” Recorded live and literally in the street, side one was marked “to the cemetery” and side to “from the cemetery.” Has joyous and raucous as the pumping second line of tunes like “Joe Avery’s Piece” and “Joy Joy Joy” were, it was the dirges on side one that held my wonder. The unabashed sadness and mournful cries of the clarinets and trombones sounded not terribly removed from the hegemonic polyphony of the old school davening (vocal praying) of the old men in our synagogue in OKC, OK. I was transfixed.
Zoom forward about 35 years and there I was. Thanks to my friend Ben Schenk of the Panorama Jazz band I found myself standing in the streets of New Orleans, playing the tuba. For Mardi Gras no less. Ben had reconfigured his working jazz band as a brass band to pick up work for the carnival season. I had the great fortune of producing a CD for him (“Panoramaland,” which is an amazing document on its own right) and this season he found himself shy a tuba man. I’m not really sure how the other cats came into the project, or who actually “leads” it per se, or how I ended up on baritone horn (my fathers instrument actually.) But whatever it is the Panorama Brass Band is a mighty and unlikely, 24/7 juggernaught of good music.
There’s really not much I can say about this record as my contributions to the music are minimal really; I’m the 3rd chair baritone player, just a section musician playing my part. But there’s some incredible moments all over it; Aurora Nealand’s solo on a brass band arrangement of Ornette’s “Lonely Woman,” a burning bari-sax solo on a Serbian number from Dan Oestreicher, Schenck’s heartachingly austere take of a melody by Franz Josef Haydn just to name a few. Recorded last Carnival season all live and heads up, one or two takes in a rent house in the Mid-City, the recording engineer and producer were also playing on the tracks, the band had already marched in several parades and the feel of the streets are present throughout.
But I have yet to get past track one. When I first heard it, I didn’t recognize it. Instead I was propelled back in time, sitting eyes closed with my back wedged up against the big Magnavox stereo system so I could feel the vibrations of the music through my whole body. I saw in my mind the Young Tuxedo’s, gathered out in front of their social and pleasure club pouring their hearts out for the recording crew through their horns, expressing the combined inequities and injustices of the experience of the systematically disenfranchised in the only acceptable manner allowed by the powers that be. It was for a single sliver of the moment when music allows the individual to be connected to the arch of history, hoping to see but a fleeting glimpse of not only what is but what can be, in other words in the presence of the ineffable. Then I envision my old man, standing there on the curb, clapping alone as the band marches past. “How else will they know we appreciate them?” he would tell me when I was embarrassed as he clapped loudly when no one else around us paid any mind.
But it’s not the Tuxedos’coming out of the speakers. It’s actually the Panorama Brass Band playing the old hymn “Nearer My God to Thee” and recognizing it, I cried. I’ll hear it again, and I’ll cry again. Somewhere I can only hope, my old man is standing on the curb somewhere, clapping.