December 11, 2009
Fun sounds, no spirituality
Three CDs arrived at the Jewish Independent this holiday season. Halifax-based Gypsophilia sent Sa-Ba-Da-OW!, which was nominated for five Nova Scotia Music Awards, including Album of the Year (2009) and Group Recording of the Year (2008, 2009). Los Angeles-based Craig 'n Co. sent the compilation My Very First Jewish Celebrate CD Vol. 1: A Collection of Jewish Music for Young Children and Holy Ground, a recording of music by Craig Taubman.
Sa-Ba-Da-OW! is by far the best of the bunch. It's original, energetic and fun. It mixes several genres, including jazz, klezmer, bebop, big band, reggae and classical. The song "A Oha" alone seems to capture most of these styles and adds a Latin beat.
It's hard to pick a standout musician, as each song seems to highlight at least one of the seven performers that form the band: Alec Frith, Nick Wilkinson and Ross Burns on guitars; Sageev Oore on piano and keyboards; Matt Myer on trumpet; Adam Fine on bass and Gina Burgess on violin.
The title track "Sa-Ba-Da-OW!" features some of the new sounds that the band apparently has added to its repertoire since its CD debut record Minor Hope (2007), like backbeat handclaps and a slide whistle; it maintains an edge even into its grooving dance rhythm. The "Jewish Dance Party!" is actually one of the least enjoyable songs on the CD, as the vocals aren't near the quality of the instrumentals, but lucky there aren't many of them. "Hietzing: The Lightning Round" sounds like the musical accompaniment to a cartoon or vaudeville chase scene, "Melostinato" is "Fernando's Hide-Away"-esque and "Coming Soon" does seem to invoke the days before talkies, when a pianist would play in the theatre as the silent film screened.
Gypsophilia did a national tour after Sa-Ba-Da-OW! was released. They came as far as Vancouver and Victoria, so they will no doubt make it this way again and, when they do, it would be a concert worth seeing as they are the kind of performers who would put on a great, high-energy show.
The next best CD received by the Independent last month is the compilation of Jewish music for kids, which is part of Craig 'n Co.'s award-winning Celebrate Series. With songs from musicians such as Judy and David ("Hinei Mah Tov"), Debbie Friedman ("Alef Bet") and Josh Nelson ("David Melech Medley") you can't go wrong. My Very First Jewish Celebrate CD is a great introduction to what's available in Jewish children's music.
Holy Ground is a different story. It's Taubman's first CD in five years and many people will have been eagerly anticipating it, as Taubman is very popular, at least in the United States. He has been composing and performing for more than 20 years and has made quite a name for himself – and he knows it, or at least his friends do. The liner notes for Holy Ground were written by Rabbi Ed Feinstein, a close friend of Taubman's, according to the press material accompanying the CD. The rabbi begins, "Craig Taubman is proof that God hasn't given up on our Jewish community. God isn't finished with us. All the demographers and sociologists tell us that the North American Jewish community is declining toward extinction. But a declining community doesn't produce a spirit and a voice like Craig Taubman." And he continues a while longer in the same vein, concluding that Taubman "truly does stand on holy ground."
The material on Taubman's website is similarly flattering and hyperbolic. Perhaps this knowledge colored this reviewer's hearing of Holy Ground, which, frankly, seems superficial and uncomplicated, like the mix of sounds and beats that one can get with the press of a button on a synthesizer. Though many of the songs are simply adaptations of well-known and oft-sung prayers, like Yishmechu, L'Cha Dodi, V'Shamru and Aleinu, the CD didn't evoke any deep spiritual feelings. However, it is easy to imagine that Taubman's melodies would be infectious in a crowd or emotionally moving in an intimate setting of friends – as a CD, they are much less satisfying.
Holy Ground exhibits the same affinity for and knowledge of Jewish spiritual music that Taubman has displayed in his other recordings, such as The Passover Lounge, which received a positive appraisal from this reviewer a few years ago, but it lacks the originality.
Listening to these three CDs brought to mind some of the incredible Jewish music that is now available on the Internet. Some sites require knowledge of Hebrew or Google Translate, which is an amazing, if imperfect, tool that can help visitors to then navigate the Hebrew sites for the music. Try exploring piyut.org.il (piyutim are poems usually intended to be set to music and sung) and zemer.co.il, which features songs from the period leading up to the establishment of the state of Israel (saved from decaying recordings or recovered from people who remember the songs from childhood).
As well, YouTube has tons of great videos of Israeli and other Jewish performers, websites such as iTunes and amazon.com carry music ranging from the songs of Jewish-Yemenite women to David Broza to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and hebrewsongs.com is where you can find many translations and transliterations of many Jewish (Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino) songs.