Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Sunday, March 29, 2015
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Friday, February 20, 2015
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
I've stopped reviewing mainstream JM albums but I open an exception for Eli's latest solo album. I've bought every piece of music from Lev Tahor and their collaborations - I'm an early fan from the days of Camp Ma Na Vu, where Eli and Gadi Fuchs were always standing out.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Meir Goldberg just released this new version of Moishe Oysher's classic Amar Rabbi Elazar, with a modern twist. It was a cool idea, I give him credit for that, but inevitably he will be compared to Oysher and he will obviosuly dissapoint in terms of vocals. Oysher is one of best cantors of all time and even in the original's classical setting, he brings more energy and excitement than Goldberg in a fresh and modern arrangement.
Friday, March 14, 2014
My good friend Micha just released a new video, featuring a song he adapted from Andrea Bocelli.
For those who don't know, he released his debut album last year, Kesher Shel K'yomo, and with this video he goes a step further in solidifying his musical career. This is a very demanding, unusual and powerful song and Micha carries it superbly. Also the actual video is nice and authentic - it's a footage from a wedding he made in Safra's iconic synagogue in Sao Paulo. All is real, not staged, and this enhances the song in a way we rarely see in Jewish Music videos.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Often times I hear this question. You might get the impression from my last post that all Chazzanut songs are slow and serious, and this is a popular misconception. There are many really exciting and fast Chazzanus pieces, and chief among them are the songs of Moishe Oysher.
This one starts slow but it's a fast song:
He was able to sing playfully, sometimes even carelessly (i.e. In his sheibone, which is sang in short in almost every Chabad shul) and he was able to give each of his songs a character and feel of its own. For him, being a chazzan was very much alike being an actor - interpreting every moment in the right way and impersonating his songs. He aspired to be as popular as Yossele Rosenblatt, who was known in non-Jewish music circles as well, however Moishe Oysher never took off in the music and video industry at the time. However his Chazzanut style was truly unique and a much more upbeat than what the world had seen until then, and until today his songs are studied and performed in many Chazzanut concerts.
Monday, February 24, 2014
The is a lot of history and tradition in the Chazzanut field, and for new comers it's crucial to look back at the classics to at least have an idea of the most important songs of the past century. Thanks to Youtube, today you can see hundreds of original recordings and videos of the great Chazzonim of the past.
1) Moshe Koussovitzky - this is a rare live recording of perhaps the biggest name in Chazzanus, singing one of his most famous songs, Velirushalaim. This is a very old, amateur video but in it you can see Moshe's flawless technique, great intensity and word pronunciation. It's interesting that this is a pure "concert song", since there are virtually no opportunities to sing this song in Shabbat or Yom Tov services (perhaps the only time a Chazzan can sing it is in Hoshana Raba).
2) Yossele Rosenblatt - Yossele was extremely popular not only within Jewish circles but also in the general world music industry. This is not a live video, but it's a song everyone knows and has heard numerous times. Many people don't even know that this Shir Hamaalot is a Chazzanus song, and this song was so popular at his time that it was proposed to be the Anthem of the newborn State of Israel.
3) Leibele Glantz - not at all as popular as the previous two, Leibele was renowed for his creativity and erudition in Chazzanut. His Shema Israel is a classic and a song very often heard in Synagogues around the world. Leibele had a distinct nasal voice, which many disliked but as he famously said "I don't sing for the crowds, I sing for myself".
4) Zavel Kwartin - his Tiheir Rabbi Yishmael is regarded as one of the most powerful songs of Chazzanut. He lived a long time ago, between 1874 - 1952 but this song lives on and is sung in my shul every Yom Kippur.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
So what is Chazzanut?
Perhaps it's better to start with the "what is not Chazzanus" question. This new video is a good example of pseudo-chazzanut, although it's actually sung by a Chazzan. Take a look:
Well, this is not Chazzanus. Helfgott's famous song Kanei is also not Chazzanus. Both these songs are an attempt to sing conventional Jewish Music in a Chazzanus way. Not by coincidence, they are both composed by Yossi Green, who loves to explore new styles and compose Pop Jewish Music with a hint of something else. Think Ki Hatov by Shwekey, a Sephardic song that is not Sephardic.
Chazzanus per se is ruled by Nusach, a set of moods, styles and singing techniques that are omnipresent in all great Chazonim and classical cantorial hits. The Nusach, combined with pieces found in Siddur prayers, is what sets Chazzanus aside from other musical styles, and is what gives this niche a life of its own. Nusach is the canvas that allows different Chazzonim to create new songs and improvise according to what they feel.
However Nusach is something difficult to master, and few Chazzonim today have this knowledge. Many know singing techniques and how to read notes, but few have the capability of innovating and composing new songs within the realm of Nusach.
The more you listen to the Golden Age chazzonim, the more you will understand what Nusach is. Look at what Wikipedia says:
The whole musical style or tradition of a community is sometimes referred to as its nusach, but this term is most often used in connection with the chants used for recitative passages, in particular the Amidah.Shlomo Carlebach used to say that the melody we sing in Yamin Noraim while starting Maariv and Hamelech in the Shacharit come from the songs of the Leviim in the Beis Hamikdash. These specific melodies are "Nusach", the standard way of reciting these prayers, and perhaps that is a colorful way of explaining where Nusach came from.
Many of the passages in the prayer book, such as the Amidah and the Psalms, are chanted in a recitative rather than either read in normal speech or sung to a rhythmical tune. The recitatives follow a system of musical modes, somewhat like the maqamat of Arabic music. For example, Ashkenazicantorial practice distinguishes a number of steiger (scales) named after the prayers in which they are most frequently used, such as the Adonoi moloch steiger and the Ahavoh rabboh steiger. Mizrahi communities such as the Syrian Jews use the full maqam system.
The scales used may vary both with the particular prayer and with the season. For examples, there are often special modes for the High Holy Days, and in Syrian practice the scale used depends on the Torah reading for the week (see The Weekly Maqam). In some cases the actual melodies are fixed, while in others the reader has freedom of improvisation.
Or in the words of Cantor Malovani:
Nusach is sanctified,” says Cantor Joseph Malovany, “just as the reading of the Torah is sanctified.”Malovany said it is extremely important for those who pray to become aware of nusach, the musical motifs that determine how one is to chant a given prayer.A classic song that highlights Nusach is Zevulun Kwartin's famous Tiher Rabbi Yishmoel, from Yom Kippur service. See below
A lot of this song is just reciting the words of this powerful piyut, but Kwartin manages to capture the essence of the words and create a song, which is sung in many shuls on Yom Kippur. If you want a more contemporary rendition of this song with full orchestra, see Chazzan Benjamin Muller's version, alongside Maestro Sobol:
Sometimes a Nusach song can be upbeat too, if that is the mood of the words being sung. But I will leave this for another post.
Monday, January 20, 2014
Somewhere in 2011 I wrote that I was losing interest in the Jewish Music field, and that I wasn't sure if I would continue blogging. Since then, a lot has happened - I started a Safrus blog, I moved to Belgium, I moved two times between flats until finally settling in my new house and most importantly, I was blessed with the arrival of a set of twins to my family.
Interestingly, if I look back I was not losing interest in music but shifting to another niche - Chazzanut. It turns out that in the last couple years I bought few mainstream Jewish Music albums but many chazzanut CDs. So in the next posts I will be spending some time sharing info about Chazzanut and going through the basics of it, since I believe the rebirth of Chazzanut in the past decade has everything to do with the decline of mainstream Jewish Music.
Not that I mean to trash all mainstream JM - there's good stuff out there. But what I see happening for quite some time already is an attempt to make Jewish Music sound just like another goyish pop album - the instrumentization, the vocals and songwriting mostly go this way today. In general, there's too much focus in the rythm and catchiness, and too little real creative output. I will be more specific; JM is still stuck in the high part-low part structure, repetitive chords and simple harmonies. That's the exact opposite of Chazzanut, where there is loads of dissonant notes, unusual scales and 7 minutes songs that have a beggining, a middle and an end. In mainstream JM, or what I will start calling "pop JM", a 7 minute song is 99% of the time a song that is too strecthed and too repetititve. In Chazzanut, that's the actual average song length and most of the times it's long simply because the piece being sung is too long; in other words, Chazzanut is not stuck to 5 or 10 words; it usually has double that amount of lyrics or more.
In the next posts I will go through some of the classics. And maybe I will do some reviews too.
Monday, March 4, 2013
Video of my good friend Micha, a very talented singer who just released his debut album. Recorded in Rio de janeiro, this is a spinoff of the Gummy Bear song but it's an easy wedding song hit. Also nice to see Ohad in a music video, he rarely goes for it.
Friday, December 21, 2012
Even today, the Lowell Milken Archive, a leading force in American Jewish Music features Rosenblatt as one of the early dominant elements of American Judaism. Many of his most famous pieces, including Ram Venisa and Yevorech, are to this day extremely popular and often times heard in many synagogues around the world.
Sunday, December 9, 2012
Leiner has already a hit song - Kol Berama - and he now released a second song with the same concept. I rarely comment on individual songs, since I like to review a complete work like a CD, but both Kol Berama and this song showcase Leiner's style and good composition skills. Both songs stand out, while in the other hand the next thing to do is to get a top producer and work on a proper album. Mimamakim is not very well produced but it shows the potential of this song - add some good choir arrangements, a better instrumentation and holding back from excessive screaming he will soon be in the right track to fame. He has a great voice, great composing skills and an unusual range.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
But the more important question is not whether this album is better, worse or as good as the first - the question is if the music is good. So here we go.
Yesh Tikva - Benny released not long ago the single Mi Shemaamin Lo Mefached and this song follows the same concept. It’s in Hebrew, folksy and I specially like the subtleness of the bridge in 2:22. It’s a cute song; the ending was poor. ****
Haboicher - I would rather choose this song as the album’s opener. Energetic, original and in line with Benny’s style. It’s always nice to see Spinner doing the vocals - I’m a big fan of him - and Benny nailed it with the modulation note in 2:07 and with the subsequent improvisational skills. *****
Beshem - A powerful, subtle composition, this song is what I label “alternative JM” style. I’m happy to see Benny going for it and also letting the composer sing, which adds to the song’s authenticity. Rigler’s arrangement is perfect - actually, all is perfect until the modulation, when Benny goes for the higher octaves. I think that was the wrong decision - I would keep the mellow, low key feel of this song until the end. That’s a common problem in Jewish Music - the lack of restraint (think Eli Gerstner) and the urge to rock every song to its limit. Lipa’s Achron Choviv (Meimka DeLipa) is a rare example of a song done with the proper restraint, when Lipa did let the song shine without too much screaming. Benny overdid it here but the song is excellent. ****
Maale has a unique first part and a lot of room for improvisation; its not a blockbuster but a very pleasant and well-rounded song. I thought Benny’s vocals were fantastic here, specially in the composition’s first part. Kunstler’s acoustic guitar-centric arrangement really helped set the mood of this song. ****
Shalom Aleichem - interesting intro, with two traditional Friday-night tunes. I like this song a lot, the only throwback is the fact that MBD came out with a solid Shalom Aleichem not long ago so it’s a little difficult to give these lyrics another chance. But if you do, you will enjoy the song’s great vocals, energy and arrangement. ****
Mamleches is a very simple catchy slow song - but I do feel like the composition reaches no real momentum; it seems to go in circles, if you know what I mean. I think that it would’ve been smart to a add a bridge niggun to create a more solid structure. As it is, the song is missing something. Musically speaking the song is well arranged, and the choir is sublime.. ****
Ivdu - a good mid tempo song, the first part is not really original however it blends well with the second part, which I’m almost 100% sure it was the part of the song composed by Benny (whoever knows the facts please speak up!), as it really sounds like his groove (the song was co-composed with Y. Eliav, who probably did the 1st part). I felt Benny could have done a better job in the vocals and I would specially point out that would be smart to switch to Mizrachi pronunciation somewhere in the middle of the song in order to change the No No play to Na Na. As it is, the No No shtick gets overused. ***
Dor Acharon is a song I don't get. I did understand what Benny was going for in the other songs, and although they are not really blockbusters it’s clear he was trying to recreate the unique sound he successfully created in his debut album. However this is a Hillel Palai-ish midtempo song like the ones that were sung in each and every album for a few years after Yeedle’s hit song Ato Bonim- it was “in” then but now is not. So it’s like going back on time, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but the composition is very weak - I see no connection between the words and tune, and the “dor acharon” repetition doesn’t makes sense to me. Add that to very simplistic vocal arrangement and harmonies, plus the long 5 minute count and you have the full picture: this is a pointless song and should’ve never been here. *
Vahaviosim is the album’s grooviest song, a beautiful piece by Waldner, who in my opinion is today JM’s best composer after YG. This type of song showcases Benny’s strengths and is to me on par with what we heard in his first album. Freitor’s arrangement is superb, one of the best I’ve heard lately, and the vocal arrangement concept is interesting but could have been a little more subtle, and this lack of subtleness is costly in the song’s end, which is terrible. Except for the ending, this is a 5 star song. Very well done! *****
Dawn of Mashiach is a risk taking song. Very demanding for Benny, he really does his very best to bring this song to life. Although it’s not my style, the song is good and well-rounded, with special mention to Spinner’s genius vocal arrangement in 3:46 and Benny’s Matisyahu-ish freestyling - great idea. But the song drags and is too long, 5:40. *****
Berachamim is a song that was released as a free single some year and a half ago. I’m a big fan of Ari Goldwag’s slow compositions, going back to Ethan Leifer’s album which featured two of Ari’s masterpieces and Ari’s own albums - I pretty much bought all of his musical works just for his slow songs. Berchamin is a blockbuster song, from beginning to end, and Ari was smart to do it together with Benny, who brought star power vocals and transformed this song into a classic. Ari’s vocals are not bad, but with Benny this song went to the sky. I can't give enough compliments to the song's overall production, arrangements and vocals. *****
Bottom Line: Although not a home run like his debut album, Benny’s second CD is very good and with great production value. Until very recently I always had Benny and Lipa as the two strongest innovators in JM, two singers who push the envelope and try to deliver new material and originallity. Lipa is clearly ahead, at the top of his game and not afraid of doing every single idea that comes to his mind (see my review of his latest album). But Benny is also up there too and this album was worth my money.
Monday, November 12, 2012
Thursday, October 11, 2012
To my great surprise, more and more JM albums continue to find their way into Spotify and Lipa’s latest Leap of Faith is up there now, so I have no excuse not to write a review now. The big downside is not having access to the album artwork, which means I can’t really know all the details about the composers, arrangers and all.
Chatzotrois - Not really groundbreaking, this song is pretty much a conventional and sounds a little familiar, probably because of the trumpet-filled arrangements a la Yisroel Lamm. The song does get more interesting after 3:00 thanks to Lipa’s great improvisational skills but the song itself is average and much too long. ***
L’Olam - this is probably the first JM song to use Portuguese and Dutch in its lyrics - tudo bom? tudo bem? - meaning all good? all well? (yes I speak Portuguese). This is one of Lipa’s signature lighthearted songs and although I have not much to speak about in terms of musicality, I do appreciate the risk taking and his efforts to make this structure-less song work. Reminiscent of Shlomo Simcha’s multi-language song (forgot the name) with even more languages.****
Yigdal - Beautiful Yeshivish song, just enough interesting to stand out and be memorable. The first and second parts mesh well, and the choir arrangements are subtle, smart and add a lot here. The actual arrangement is rather boring and could be more interesting - again it sometimes brings us back to Moshe Laufer-ism but all in all this is a solid slow song. However the song could stop at 5:00, sparing us the last minute of boring piano solo. ****
Kvodo - Best song so far, from beginning to the end this song is complex both in the vocals and arrangement. The choir is perfect, again subtle and smart as it should be, enabling Lipa to interpret this song marvelously. This is Lipa at his best and the lyrics choice is ngood too. *****
Vayehi quickly topples Kvodo as the best song so far, a song that is musically groundbreaking with a lot of dissonant notes and a package of perfect arrangement, choir and interpretation by Lipa. He is somehow equally comfortable singing a slow Yeshivish, a funky feel good song and an unusual composition like this one - great versatility. This song reminds me of Yossi Green’s chant song in his last album Hipsh (review here). Special mention to the falsetto at 3:40 and on, which closes the song well. *****
Hang up the Phone should be viewed in Youtube, where the video has a staggering 150,000 views so far.
For this song Lipa has been called the Jewish Lady Gaga in the web, among other comparisons, and nothing describes this song better than Jewish Pop, something we rarely see out there. This song normally would get many Cherem’s but after the Big Event fiasco, Lipa seems to be vaccinated and ready to explore his musical instinct. For the whole package and for the Chassidish twist at 2:40 this is a 5 star song. *****
Vedabkeinu stands in stark contrast with the previous song with its distinctive Chassidish feel. Almost like saying “don’t kill me for Hang up the Phone, here is a normal song”. Bottom line, not really anything special here. **
Yeled Katan - unusual to see a Chassidish guy like Lipa singing a Hebrew song a la Yishai Lapidot. Lipa is all over the place! 4:10 is a really good moment of Lipa, a great vocal shtick but this song seems to mimic Aleh Katan of A. Fried, without the same success.
Leap of Faith - great song name, this falls into the typical Lipa Yiddish song, a genre that is not really my cup of tea. **
Rochel - boring slow song, with a theme that was explored so many times by the likes of Shwekey (journeys), Shloimy Gertner (rochel), London Boys Choir and others. **
Mizrach - another song which should be viewed in Youtube (here). Great concept, very catchy song and a well crafted video. Bingo. Special mention to the Michael Jackson-ish “Ah” sung between Mizrach/Maarev etc..*****
Shul - Didn’t really get the point of this song *
Clearly Lipa’s music continues to develop his skills and grow musically. He is popular, cool and his music is distinctive and innovative. And even more important, he doesn’t seems to be afraid of the skeptists and the Kanoim who find modern music an abomination. He is a risk-taker and if you know me I always say this is the single most important attribute in a performer. This album is as good or better than Meimka DeLipa, with very solid 11 songs and virtually no “fillers”, those pointless songs most singers fill theirs albums with to get to the holy 10 song mark. Even though I heard it for free in Spotify I will buy a copy soon. Why? Because I want to own this album. It’s really good.
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Without any doubt, Lipa today is what's really cooking in Jewish Music. He is cool, original and fearless and as seen in this video, that's a powerful combination. Lipa broke out from the Yiddish-speaking niche a long time ago and today he goes out of this way to appeal to everyone everywhere, with a much bigger reach than the previous heavyweights, namely, MBD Dedi Shwekey and A Fried.
Yishai Lapidot used to always be the crazy guy in the block and still remains very popular specially in Israel but Lipa is more exotic and possibly crazier, with a potential to literary be the biggest thing in JM in the past decade - and it looks like he is not far from that now.
I will be reviewing his latest album sometime soon so stay tuned.
Thursday, July 5, 2012
I will be the first one to admit I was late getting to Lipa's boat, but every year that passes it becomes clear how big of an impact he's having in Jewish Music and how that has propelled him to become the #1 singer today.
While his music is too pop for my taste and, for the most part, not really singable, he's undeniably extremely original and not afraid of breaking new ground in music. This video is a great example, with a clear Lady Gaga feel to it but still original, somewhat heismish, and stylistically cool.
That's very rare in JM; actually, almost non existent. MBD, A. Fried and Shwekey always stayed away from this commercialism which is so present in Lipa's career, but people seem to appreciate it and follow Lipa's every next move. While Shwekey has become boring, Lipa has managed to bring a fresh air of creativity and coolness to our ears (and eyes). Litvish boringness vs. Chassidic heimishkeit. Granted, both Shwekey and Lipa have a very strong following but Lipa is clearly more original and more musical, often times composing very unique songs and also performing the way he did in this video. It's the first time I've seen this kind of dancing in JM and it comes in a good time - kudos.
I never did a review of Meimka DeLipa, but that's an album that I'm listening a lot lately. While I still think his Yiddish songs are too niche-focused and take away from his appeal, I fully appreciate his boldness and musical talent, which is evident in this album. He's not afraid of using unusual, dissonant, scales and he is very into building a story for every song. Almost every song has a beginning, middle and end - remarkable. My favorite is the rock song Mizmor Letoda, a true masterpiece he composed by himself.
Thursday, May 24, 2012
Now available in the US for a few months already, the much hyped Spotify music platform offers what is the very best Jewish Music subscription out there now.
Spotify has a freemium model - you can actually listen everything for free but for 10usd a month you have mobile access and no ads. I opted in without knowing that there was such a large selection of JM in it - really surprising.
You can find there A. Fried, Ohad, MBD, Gad Elbaz, Chaim Israel, Shlsheles, Chevra, Carlebach and even some lesser known singers like Gershon Veroba, Menachem Phillip and many more.
Notable exceptions I noted were Yaakov Shwekey and Lipa but I'm that will not be for long.
All in all, the ease of use of Spotify plus all the JM content is irresistible - you can use it in your PC, iPad, iPhone and Android.
For many years it seemed like Jewish Music would eventually have to succumb to the iTunes model, although the JM producers did their best to prevent that. But now it's clear to me that the real game changer is Spotify, with its cool social-sharing featuers where you can share your playlists with your facebook friends.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Hashiveini has unnoriginal lyrics and the compositon is very weak, so MBD needed some magic to make this song fly. Mission not accomplished and this song is an unnecessary "filler" in MBD's farewell album *
Nichsefo is the typical Moshe laufer song - Midtempo, easy to sing and not particularily original. But it's fun and interestingly, not arranged by laufer. I guess they wanted to maintain the folk feel that we have throughout the album, something laufer would probably not do if he were to be the arranger. ***
Kisufim is a yiddish song composed by mbd himself with Lipa lyrics. The tune is actually ok but it has no climax, leaving us with the feeling that something is missing. I guess it's more about the words....***
Simchas toireh - see Chabad niggun comment above. By now it's pretty clear MBD is going to a strange direction here. Nothing wrong with the niggun but it's just flatly boring and not only this adds nothing to the album, it actually takes a lot away from it. And the arrangement here is below the quality of the rest of the album. *
Ani maamin. Worst possible choice of lyrics, unnecessary child soloist and nothing new.
Yibone. Actually a great classic i did not mind to hear again. But what's the point of squeezing two distinct songs in one track?
Impecably arranged by M. Hershkovitz, Ashreini is another song composed by MBD and it features among the best in the album. I wish we would have more of those.
Bottom line, do I like this album? I prefer to put it like this - I don't dislike it. The arrangements are simple and groovy, with a common theme: strings, more strings and a great choir. As a result, Kisufim does have a very unique sound but the problem is not the production. I think MBD played too safe and tried to say goodbye with a Kumzits album that is not as good as the Kumzits album. The album lacks innovation and courage, two things that that every album should have and that could have made this album a masterpiece. That's why I didn't like this album too much. Efshar letaken was much better.
With that said, my big kudos for MBD for giving us so many great moments throughout his remarkable Jewish music career.