Mandolinist Eric Stein is best known in Jewish music circles as the leader of Beyond the Pale, one of Canada’s finest klezmer ensembles, and as artistic director of Ashkenaz, the festival of Jewish culture that takes place every two years in Toronto.
Stein also leads Tio Chorinho, a group of Jewish and Brazilian Canadian musicians in Toronto that performs choro music – a style that originated in Rio de Janeiro in the 19th century – which blends European, African and South American musical influences in a delightful stew of infectious and often complex rhythms and melodies.
Much of Tio Chorinho’s repertoire draws on the compositions of the late Jewish Brazilian mandolin legend Jacob de Bandolim (1918-1969), a musician and composer who was also influenced by the Yiddish folksongs he learned from his Polish-Jewish grandmother
Half of the 12 pieces on Chora Brazil, Tio Chorinho’s debut album, are Jacob de Bandolim compositions. Among the de Bandolim highlights is “Bole Bole,” the bouncy opening track, which features Stein’s mandolin weaving in and around the rhythms laid down by the guitars, percussion and flute. Another is the quieter, but very pretty “Vibracoes.”
While most of the compositions are instrumental, another of the album’s highlights is “Naquele Tempo,” featuring guest vocalist Flavia Nascimento. It is one of two pieces drawn from the Brazilian flautist and saxophonist Pixinguinha.
Throughout the album, the five core players of Tio Chorinho, and the four guest musicians who variously appear on selected tracks, repeatedly display a deft combination of virtuosity and great judgment in knowing when not to overplay.
Lenka Lichtenberg Yiddish Journey: The Music of Lenka Lichtenberg
Toronto-based singer Lenka Lichtenberg, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, grew up in Prague. As a young adult, she arrived in Canada and studied ethnomusicology at York University, writing her MA thesis on Yiddish songs of the Holocaust. Over the years, she has recorded numerous albums, as a solo artist and fronting several groups, several of which I’ve reviewed in these pages.
Yiddish Journey: The Music of Lenka Lichtenberg is an 18-song, 78-minute compilation of Yiddish material drawn from Lichtenberg’s earlier albums that showcase a singer deeply committed to both the traditions from which the songs come and to an artistic vision that seeks to take some of them in new directions.
One of the most interesting songs is “Es Khlipen Di Malokhim (Weeping Angels),” Lichtenberg‘s setting of a Yiddish poem by Beruriah Wiegand with an English verse by Lichtenberg. With a vibrant rhythm laid down by Ravi Naimpally on tabla and George Koller on bass, and set against Alexis Basque’s piccolo cornet, Lichtenberg sings about angels, forbidden love and sin.
Another highlight is “Zing,” Lichtenberg’s setting of a poem by Simcha Simchovitch, which she performs with guitarist Brian Katz. With its bright melody, the song looks forward to springtime and to better days ahead.