This time around, a look at the latest offerings from Montreal-based singer Fran Avni and New York-based groups Pharaoh’s Daughter and Metropolitan Klezmer.
Kulanu: All of Us in Harmony
Kulanu: All of Us in Harmony, the latest release from the Montreal-based Jewish music veteran Fran Avni, is a thoughtful, yet soothing, collection of songs and chants of hope and peace, most of which are based on prayers and biblical and Talmudic texts. Avni, who had a successful career in Israel in the 1970s as half of the duo Susan & Fran, leads a varied cast of harmony singers and backing musicians – including a couple of cantors, a rabbi and a gospel singer – in songs, as the CD’s title implies, meant to be sung together in harmony.
A few of the songs are in Hebrew and a few are in English. Most of them, though, incorporate both languages. Among my favourites are “If Not Now, Then When,” Avni’s folkish setting of Hillel’s famous words from Pirkei Avot; the prayer text “Bring the Peace/Sim Shalom,” which is given a setting built on infectious African-like rhythms; “The Lion and the Lamb,” which includes new verses in English written by Avni along with the biblical text from Isaiah in Hebrew; and the one-repeated-word chant of “Halleluyah” that will surely induce most listeners to sing along themselves as they listen.
On Dumiyah, her latest album leading Pharaoh’s Daughter, singer Basya Schecter presents a collection of Jewish prayers arranged creatively in musical settings in which she draws on the traditional sounds of Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa, as well as contemporary rock – in intention and effect a reimagining of prayers she grew up with as a child in a haredi Orthodox family.
A few of the prayers and sacred songs included here are “Adon Olam,” which is sung at the end of most synagogue services; “Zikaron,” from the Rosh Hashanah liturgy; “Avrohum,” based on the biblical text from Genesis when the angel called for Abraham to stop the sacrifice of Isaac; and “Ribono,” a Yiddish text sung during Havdalah.
Appropriately for this season, the album ends with “Shebishlifeynu,” a verse from “Ki l’olam chasdo,” which is sung during the Passover seder.
Listening to the trance-like rhythms and Schechter’s lovely vocals on the 11 selections, one can get easily lost in the sounds or in one’s own interpretations of these spiritual pieces.
Mazel Means Good Luck
Rhythm Media Records
In our Rosh Hashanah issue, I reviewed the latest album by Isle of Klezbos, an all-woman klezmer band from New York City led by drummer Eve Sicular. Sicular also leads the larger, mixed-gender Metropolitan Klezmer whose new release, Mazel Means Good Luck, is a delightful live concert recording encompassing traditional klezmer melodies, Broadway tunes, Yiddish songs and original material by Sicular and clarinet and sax player Debra Kreisberg.
Among the album’s highlights are the swinging title song; the poignant “Di Fire Korbunes,” which tells of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York in 1911 that killed 146 garment workers, most of them women and most of them Jewish and Italian immigrants; Kreisberg’s impressionistic “Baltic Blue,” an extended composition inspired by various Brooklyn neighbourhoods; and a long medley, “Bonia’s Nigun/Cartagena Chosidl,” which encompasses both traditional Chassidic niggunim and a contemporary piece that fuses traditional klezmer music with South American music.
Perhaps the most fascinating track is the finale, “J. Edgar Klezmer: When Israel Met Jenny,” an excerpt from Sicular’s musical theatre piece J. Edgar Klezmer: Songs from My Grandmother’s FBI Files, based on family stories and her activist grandmother’s FBI surveillance files from the McCarthy era.