Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Alternative Jewish Music

We have witnessed an incredible boom in the alternative Jewish music segment in the past decade and today there are dozens of “new” genres within JM. Until the 90’s, a few yeshivish singers dominated JM and there wasn’t much action in the alternative genres. Today there’s JM for all tastes – rock (example: Blue Fringe), acapella (Six13), reggae (Matisyahu), mizrachi (Chaim Israel), techno and many more.

I think this phenomenon is great, since we can now listen to music that is more contemporary and original, rather than just listening to the same old sound.

But I wonder where you draw the line between what is acceptable as JM and what’s not. Someone emailed me a video clip of JewDa, a hip-hop singer that made teshuva through Chabad not long ago. He was a hip-hop aficionado since his teen’s and although he made teshuva he still wanted to continue his path as a hip-hop singer. The result can be seen in the clip, and I must say I was open-eyed after I saw the video. He looks exactly like a rapper, with a Miami Heat shirt, rapper cap and dancers jumping all-over the screen. I couldn’t’ understand a word of what he said. So I wonder – is this Jewish Music?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a close-minded JM fan who only listens to MBD and Shwekey. I like Matisyahu and many other “alternative” singers like Aron Razel and Chaim David. I like good music, even if it’s not what I’m used to hear. But JewDa for some reason sounded over the fence to me.

Which brings me to my next question, what is the definition of Jewish Music? How can you determine if a song is part of Jewish Music umbrella?

I don’t really now the answer, but I just feel that there’s a limit of how far can a singer go when singing a Jewish song. And JewDa seems to be just past it.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Mike Boxer's email

I made three corrections in the Encore review following an email from Mike Boxer.

The inaccuracies: I thought he was the vocalist in "Son" - it was Alan Zeitling; I thought he composed Gadlu - it's an Beat'achon oldie; and I thought the soloist's voice in "Lo Issa" was digitally altered - it was real (Unbelievable!).

One of the problems of buying music in iTunes is that I can't see the album cover and know who sings and composes the songs..

Monday, November 12, 2007

Six13's Encore

I really enjoyed Six13’s first album, featuring some great songs like Lecha Dodi and Yigdal. So without thinking twice, I went ahead and bought Encore in iTunes for U$9.99, relatively cheap. We should start a petition for more JM in iTunes, to the chagrin of Sameach and Aderet.

Al Hanissim is not my cup-of-tea. Musically speaking, the arrangement and vocal percussion are great but I don’t enjoy this song very much most probably because of the lyrics. I don’t really feel they fit well in this song, so I’m not very excited about this one. **

Six13’s choice of songs for the MBC Mix was perfect – Yaale, Adon Olam and We Need You -, MBC’s best songs ever. Throughout the song the vocal arrangements are creative and interesting – Mike Boxer jokingly throws in “What did you say?” in 2:48 and “We are not done/Yes we are/ Oh that’s right” at the very end. This reflects Six13’s laid back and informal approach to music and I didn’t think it was inappropriate. I specially loved the arrangement in 5:32. *****

The song Son starts like Yigdal started in Six13’s album, with the march percussion theme. Like Al Hanissim, I think musically the song is great but it’s not a style I love. When Alan Zeitlin sings a song like this one, in English, it becomes clear to me that he’s not a great soloist. Otherwise, the song is well built and quite energetic. ***

Gadlu is by far the weirdest and original song in the album. I think Boxer did an outstanding job as the vocalist – I can’t see anyone else singing this song decently and with the twists he does. In 2:42 he does one of those interesting shticks (I must say it feels weird to speak Yeshivish when talking about Six 13). The closing of the song is exceptional – great chord used there. Musically, the song is nearly perfect. And I like the originality (I’m assuming Mike Boxer composed it)[He didn't; it's an oldie from Beat'achon, so I instead of five stars I give four]. ****

Many in JM try to throw in a middle-eastern song in their albums, but few have nailed it like Six13’s Dror Yikra. Without any instruments, just with clever vocal arrangements, Six13 found a way to convey a truly middle-eastern feel in this song. I loved the harmony in 2:40, it’s a harmony I always try to do when I sing. *****

Acheinu is a slow song that sounds more like the JM music I’m used to hear. The soloist is good, the song keeps becoming interesting – first with the Lev Tahor-style harmony in 2:09 and then with some great improvisation until 2:32. Good stuff. ****

Shaalu is the second weirdest song in the album and in songs like this, Mike Boxer excels as a soloist. The song becomes even weirder after 3:10, when Boxer does some slow-tempo improvising that I didn’t particularly enjoy. ***

Kol Achai came out with a solid accapella-style Cracow Niggun not long ago that is quite similar to this one. Out of hundreds of Carlebach songs, I really don’t understand why Six13 choose this one. Why not choose another song and make something more original? The only thing that’s stands out in this song are the dissonant harmonies between 0:30 and 0:42, which are really outstanding. Other than that, Six13’s Cracow Niggun is nonsense to me. After singing Adir Hu, they did a cool shtick in 4:07, meshing the two songs – Cracow and Adir Hu – together. There’s no connection between these two songs, but it’s fun to hear them trying to fit them together. Because of Adir Hu, I give this song three stars and not less. ***

Lo Issa has only one-part, posing a challenge to any group trying to sing it for more than two or three minutes. Not much action in this song, except for the lowest tone I ever heard in a Jewish Music song – both in 1:44 and 3:15. I know it was digitally manipulated [Correction: it wasn't! It's unbelievable, but that's the guy's real voice], but still, that was quite cool. **

The last song of the album is the classic Lev Tahor, but there are many innovations in this song. The shtick here are the cool “bridges” between the two parts of the song, which modulates the song to another sister musical chord – see 1:14, 2:22 . I haven’t seen anyone doing this in JM as good as Six13 did here. In 1:24 you can hear a very exquisite low harmony that I loved. Thumbs up for originality. (I’m so used to a bad last song in JM albums, so this great last song was unexpected for me). *****

-> When I first heard this album, I thought it was too different, too weird. But I was wrong; it is different and it is weird, but it’s a delight to listen to Boxer’s music. In my view, after two consistent Six13 albums, he’s definitely in the forefront of JM today, not only in the acapella niche. His music is fresh, original and well thought. If you liked the first album, I’m sure you will love this one. If you only enjoy yeshivish and chassidish music, it will be hard to digest the modern shticks of this album. However, if you are more broad-minded and enjoy listening to something that is a bit different, Six13 will prove to be one of the year’s best albums.


PS: I made three corrections following an email from Mike Boxer. The mistakes: I thought he was the vocalist in "Son", I thought he composed Gadlu and I thought the soloist's voice in "Lo Issa" was digitally altered.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Soon: Six13

I'm again in a long trip but I will start working in Six13's album review soon. Stay tuned!

By the way, I'm posting this line, which can be found in the Music & Lyrics discussion thread:


"A good tune can take you far, and good harmony can take you further, but a song is not great until it is in harmony with its words as well", by C Yehuda.