Among the recent CD releases is a terrific album of Chanukah music by Yale Strom’s Broken Consort and singer-songwriter Ben Fisher’s songs about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Yale Strom’s Broken Consort
Shimmering Lights: Hanukkah Music
Arc Music Productions
On Shimmering Lights: Hanukkah Music, violinist Yale Strom – a long celebrated innovator in Jewish music – along with singer Elizabeth Schwartz and an ensemble including guitar, oud and string players, offers a fascinating, multilingual musical tour through Chanukah musical traditions and songs from Jewish cultures around the world.
The album opens with a version of “Maoz Tzur” from the Moroccan tradition featuring some outstanding oud playing by Amos Hoffman that contrasts beautifully with Schwartz’s vocals and the string ensemble before shifting into a joyous klezmer-style version of “Khanike, Oi, Khanike” with verses sung in both Yiddish and English.
From there, we hear an extended version of “Kita’l Tas,” sung in Ladino and played in the Turkish Sephardic tradition, and “Latkes,” a Yiddish original by Strom based on the traditional Yiddish song “Bulbes” (in the 1960s, “Bulbes” was the template for “Nothing,” one of the best songs by the Fugs). Early in its nine-minute playing time “Latkes” is quite beautiful, as sung by Schwartz, before shifting into an exciting, Roma-influenced romp by guitarist Fred Benedetti, violinist Strom and the other musicians.
Some of other highlights include a jazzy version of “Akht Kleyne Brider” in Yiddish and a beautiful interpretation of the traditional Sephardic song “La Fiesta de la Hanukia” in Ladino.
The album ends with “The Fool Over Yonder,” a new song written by Strom and Schwartz in English that celebrates both Chanukah and a universal message of tikkun olam.
Most of the pieces on Shimmering Lights are quite long allowing the terrific musicians in Yale Strom’s Broken Consort lots of opportunities to stretch out soulfully. This is my favourite Chanukah album since the Klezmatics released Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah a dozen years ago.
Does the Land Remember Me
Ben Fisher is an American singer-songwriter who recently spent three years living in Israel – on the seam dividing East and West Jerusalem – where he worked as a writer and editor for the Jerusalem Post.
On Does the Land Remember Me, a collection of 17 songs – 16 original compositions and Anaïs Mitchell’s “Why We Build the Wall – Fisher explores the history and people of the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories from a variety of points of view in what must be seen an effort to explain, to understand and to humanize.
Some songs, like “The Shell Lottery,” about the founding of Tel Aviv, or “Heavy Gates of Gaza,” based on a 1956 speech made by Moshe Dayan following the murder of a young kibbutznik by Palestinians from Gaza, are sung from Israeli perspectives. Others, like the title track and “Yallah to Abdullah,” are sung through a Palestinian lens reflecting on places Palestinians left or were expelled from.
Other songs bridge the divide. In “1948,” Fisher shows that on purely personal levels, the hopes and dreams of parents and children on both sides of the War of Independence were more similar than different. And in “Day is Done,” a song about a terrorist bus bombing, he leaves us to ambiguously wonder if the mother mourning the death of her son in the last verse is the mother of a murdered Israeli or of the Palestinian bomber.
Among the most poignant songs is “For Petr and Ilan,” inspired by the 2003 death of Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, in the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion, and by the death of a boy named Petr Ginz at Auschwitz during the Holocaust. Ramon, whose mother survived Auschwitz, carried a drawing by Petr with him into space.
Does the Land Remember Me, which was supported by a small grant from the Israeli Ministry of Culture and Sport, is a well-researched set of songs in folk and folk-rock settings that offer much food for thought.