Sunday, December 30, 2007

HASC 20 - Review

Here are my thoughts on Hasc's 20 album. It's much more difficult to review a concert than to write about a regular album - HASC is a live concert and, as such, there are always mistakes and tuning issues here and there, so I can't be very critical. But I do have some things to say.

This concert starts with a Dveykus-style instrumental overture. I think Dveykus always has an overture so people can play it in dinners and other occasions when you need something in the background, but if I would be in a concert I would be bored to hear this intro. But that's just me, I'm sure some of you liked it.

Shalsheles Junior was without any doubt the sensation in HASC 20. Unlike MBC or YBC, Shalsheles Junior is a group of just four kids, like the original Shalsheles. That's much more appealing for a concert, because you can see who's singing and who's doing harmony - I like that. In the HASC 18 there was YBC and although they did well, I was much more impressed with the musical talent of these four kids - they sing, they do great harmonies and they even play instruments. It's extremely hard to sing Modeh Ani live - the harmonies are complex and there are three parts to this song - but they nailed it. I still remember saying to a friend I wasn't planning to buy SJ, because I was tired of kids choirs. But I can't get tired of SJ. They do better harmonies than many leading JM singers out there - listen to 4:16 and you will surely agree. Hisoreri is a good song but it's not very energetic, so it gets stale towards the end.

Vezakeini was easily the hit of the year to me. Boruch Levine usually composes remarkable slow songs to Yehuda! (i.e. Haleluka) and Dveykus (i.e. Yehi Shalom), but this time he did everything by himself. He no-doubt deserved to be in this concert.

After that we have the "wild-card" - Dedi, which made me happy and sad at the same time. I love Dedi's energy and stage performance, but to hear him in this HASC makes me remember the good old times when he was THE man in JM. In this concert I see a Dedi that was left behind in time and that is fading away - that makes me sad. Without any hits in the past many years, Dedi had no choice but to sing oldies and Carlebach's Neshomole Niggun. I really hope he comes out with something new soon, he's has got the talent (perhaps partnering with Yossi Green again at last?).

Gabay and specially "Lipa's Diet Song" further took away the concerts' energetic start.

But then came Ohad, the sensation. I don't know why he sang Shalom - one of his weakest songs - but he proved to be a master of the languages in the International Medley, singing even Arabic.

The best part of this night was surely the Fried/ Helfgot duet. That was probably A. Fried's biggest dream - we all know he has a thing for Chazzanut. And Helfgot is not a typical Chazzan, he's more "pop". This combination was perfect, and there are some unforgettable moments of the two, like Helfgot’s “messianic” V’hu Rachum and Fried truly magnificent falsetto in 5:48 (you can’t miss this one). It was comic to hear Fried melodically ask, “Who will sponsor (the seudas hamashiach)? I think it will be J & I” and after that Helfgot sings, “And I also sing like thaaat”. Ha!

I think Sameach arranged a great line-up for this concert, probably the best of the past five years or so. In my opinion, this album is better than HASC 18 and United We Stand, two other HASC albums I own.

Well done!

The Inside Man - Post from Sruly's Blog

Sruly, from Sameach, has a very interesting post on the inner workings of the JM industry. It's worth reading it - I specially liked this:

"If you want the album to sound truly magnificent you have to spend real money. I know technology has come a long way and it’s easy to do it in your friend’s basement. But to make a good album you need all the right ingredients. Sometimes you have to shop at a few different stores to get everything you need to prepare a proper gourmet meal."

Thanks JBlogmeister

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Yemenite Music and Pronunciation

I saw this video (UPDATE: it was taken down from youtube for some reason, but the guy has another great one here) and I was very impressed. Numerous times I've heard about the distinctive "havara" of the Yemenite Jews but this is the first time I hear and understand what's being sung.

We have all heard that the Yemenite pronunciation is probably the most correct and precise from all Jewish sects. Evidently, the Ashkenazim have a very strong European flavor to their (our) liturgy and it's quite amusing to hear such a different reading.

One thing we got it right, it seems, - the "Kometz" pronunced as "shOlom", opposed to the Sephardi/Mizrachi version "shAlom".

I was once in Amsterdam and there's also a very unique havara there, quite similar to the German Jew's (Yekis) pronunciation. What stroke me in particular was the way the Baal Koreh pronounced Shevi'i (i.e."the seventh day") - he said SheviNi.

In the US (and UK), the Jews have also been heavily influenced by the English accent. So if the European havara was quite far from the original, so much more the English one. And so on.

When we "import" other music styles into Jewish Music, for instance, I think we are contributing with this phenomena and pushing our music further and further away from what it was. Possibly, that's a process we can't stop and it might just be part of life. But I surely hope my children will be listening and enjoying the same Nusach I sing every day.

But what's most important to keep in mind, and that's the reason I'm posting this, is to remember that there's no single truth when it comes to Havara. All of the different pronunciations are valid and should be carefully preserved.

You can listen to another Yemenite mizmor here.

PS: I once heard that one Ashkenazi Rishon hired a private tutor to learn the Sephardi havara after hearing that their Havara was more authentic. Anyone else heard this? Anyone knows the name of this Rabbi?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Someone emailed me this concert ad:

"What’s a Jew to do on Xmas Eve?

If they’re into great Jewish bands, they come to midtown.

B.B. King’s Blues Club
243 West 42nd Street
New York, NY

(212) 917-4144

December 24th, 2007
Doors open at 5:00 p.m.
7:00 – Yuda Piamenta and Rock of David
8:00 – Six13
9:00 – Zeke Decker and the Homewreckers
10:00 – Heedoosh
11:00 – Blue Fringe

That’s five incredible acts, one legendary venue.

Check out the newest in a long line of Piamentas to carry on the family tradition of fantastic, spirited Jewish music. Curious to see if Six13 can pull off the amazing sounds of their album live, without a single musical instrument, as they claim? They can. Zeke Decker, an outgrowth of Schechter High School in New Jersey, is shrouded in mystery. Unique and original, Heedoosh is moving to Israel and this will be their FINAL U.S. PERFORMANCE. Dov Rosenblatt and Blue Fringe have become an institution in Jewish rock in just a short time, and never disappoints.

Tickets are $25 at the door, and you can reserve yours online for $20 (that’s a 20% discount):

See you Monday night!"

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Guest Post: Joel's Review of Lapidot's Album

Joel, a loyal reader of this blog, reviews Y. Lapidot's latest album in this post. Yishai will ii"H sing in my wedding, which will take place soon, so I am obviously a fan of his music. I tend to prefer his fast songs, but he has many solid slow hits such as Pio Poscho and Bati. I didn't have a chance to hear this new album - I will try to post a review of my own in the near future. If anyone else wants to guest post, please let me know. This is a democratic blog, anyone can be on the spotlight. Here is Joel's review:

Lapidot recently released a solid debut solo effort "Vaani Hamanginah Shelachem", distributed by Gal Paz, which received very little publicity on this side of the Atlantic. Since it was not distributed by Sameach or Aderet it wasn't on any podcast or blog, and went by largely unnoticed. Thats why I'm attempting to write a review.
Most people know Yishai Lapidot from his boy band/rock group Oif Simchas, but he is also a talented composer. Two of his huge hits are Dedi's "Hu Yigal" and Avraham Fried's Modeh Ani. Another one of his credits is the creator and producer of the "Kinderlach".

The mood of the new album is a bit softer than his previous Oif Simchas efforts, but it has a few flashbacks as well. The musical styles on this album are diverse and eclectic ranging from dance techno to yeshivish freilach to power ballads to even rap.

He starts of the album with the title track "Vaani Hamanginah Shelachem", a mid tempo synth-pop song arranged by his long time collaborater Ron Tichon. Its a nice mellow uplifting start to the album. The second song Vlifamim, was the first single of the album released late this past summer. It has a standout saxaphone solo half way through the song. It is the first of a few steady power ballads on the disc. The third song "Yeled Tov Yerushalayim" is the first Oif Simchas dance style track, and perhaps the liveliest on the album. It has a middle eastern sephardi feel to it and is reminiscent to "Haalo Yeled" from his third OS release. Yeled Tov is a great dance number that was very catchy and has great hooks.

The next song is the ballad "Vesigar beyaitzer" has Dudi Kalish on the background vocals. It is a relatively typical ballad with no real memorable parts. The next track "Achshav Ze Tov" is a swing bluesy number with a great drum intro from Avi Avidani. I just didn't like this song very much. I'm just not very interested in this style.

Lapidot's next song, another arranged by Ron Tichon, is a remake of the classic "Bilvavi". It has a heavy synth beat to it. Yishai has proved before that he can take an old song and remix it well like he did to "Am Yisrael Chai" on the third OS album. This is, like before, a great cover.
Next is "Aleh Katan" which was previously released by Avraham Fried as a single. I enjoyed it with Avraham Fried and I like Yishai's version which is similar just with a different arrangement. It is a song of hope during the despair of the recent intifada that has become an anthem, and huge hit in Israel. It still resonates as the Magen David Adom theme song from a concert I was at this past summer.

The next song is my favorite on the album. "Shir Hachasidim" is exactly what it sounds like, an enthusiastic ode to every sect of chassidus or atleast every sect Lapidot can think of. I was singing along with it instantly like I was when I heard Lenny's "We got a Strong Desire". Lets just hope they don't ban it.

Next is another ballad "Boi Veshalom" which is saved by a guest appearance by the Kinderlach turning a plain chuppah number into a very good song. Next is the first real techno song album "Rack Itcha". It sounds a bit like "Na Na Na Hey hey hey goodbye" that Nancy Faust made popular back in the 1970's with the Chicago White Sox.

After the Techno club song comes a huge change of pace with "Vein bi Hakoach" a mellon collie ballad about someone who has lost all hope seemingly on his/her deathbed. I don't really understand the meaning of this song. Like Josh Baskin, I dont get it. The next song "Al Yedei Nigunim" is one of two songs on this album not composed by Lapidot, but by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburg. This is the most yeshivish song on the album that can easily fit in to any wedding first dance. It is a catchy song that you would see on any shiny shoe album.

Finally the last song "Ana Hashem" is an ambitious rap number which is actually one of the more catchy songs on the album. The only problem I have with it is it's mostly in French. The chorus is really great I can see myself waving a lighter during it at a live show. The song is highlighted by Avi Singolda on guitar and Avi Avidani on the drums.

-> In conclusion I think this album was a great listen, and very entertaining. The arrangements were done by Ron Tichon, Ken Burgess, Amiran Dvir and Yishai which contributed to his signature sound. If you like Oif Simchas like me, you will love this album as well. Yishai continues to put out quality material. Most of the fare on this album is similar to what we've heard before. Yishai's solo perormance sounds like a more fine tuned evolved version of Oif Simchas. His music seems to have grown up a little without letting down his OS fans.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Spinner's You and I Review

You and I is Spinner's debut album. Firstly, the cover art is one of the nicest I've seen in the past years - it reminds me of Lev Tahor's Watch Over Me cover art, which as also nice. The production is first-class – with a list of great musicians that include Mike Boxer, Yaron Gershovski, Leib Yaakov Rigler (who arranges Lev Tahor's albums), the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra and.... Steve Bill. I never heard of Steve Bill in JM and I look forward to hear his music. Let's go to the review:

Tzur is great opening song. I really like the low part and high part is not bad. The song has good energy and Spinner does a good job singing it. In the background there's a lot going on - a full horn section and the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra - and I specially liked the horns responding to Spinner in 1:50. Although I really enjoyed Spinner improvisation in 3:40 I thought the ending of the song was too usual - it could've ended just after Spinner in 3:45. ****

Acheinu, originally featured in Six13's Encore, is smooth and well done. Mike Boxer did a terrific job in the vocal arrangements and he carries the song further and further with his well-tuned and "consistent" choir. Six13's arrangement concept was borrowed by the string section in 2:33. The ending is interesting - in 5:33 Spinner swings to a major key very skillfully and the choir closes the song softly. ****

The choir in Mi Sheshiken was not arranged by M. Boxer and this has a very negative impact in this song. Spinner is not an experienced soloist and he needs a good choir to assist and respond to him, and since the choir here was arranged by Spinner himself, this song doesn't flows well. Although I liked the cool jazz digression in 3:20, this is an average song. ***

The featured English song, You and I is way too long - almost 7:00. A song like this shouldn’t go over 5 minutes. Because the song is so long, it's a huge challenge to keep this song interesting – you would need a singer who’s great at improvising, but Spinner is not great at it yet - he's not a seasoned soloist. I don't understand why he chose this song to be the album's main song; in my opinion, this song fails to fly. *

Like the first song, L'maan is a good fast song and unlike Mi Sheshiken Spinner comes out well in the vocal arrangements. Avi Singolda has some time to show off his skills in the guitar and Spinner carries the song well. ****

Mike Boxer is back in Lefonai and you can notice him right away, as his choir does the (great) opening of this song. This song is unique, different than what we are used to hear in JM, but it's great and very original. ****

Peeha is my favorite song in this album. The arrangement is nice, the harmonies are very good and Spinner excelled in this song. This song has three parts, but I found the last one to be a bit forgettable - it wouldn't be easy to sing it in a Chupa, for instance. Still, everything falls into place in this song. I love the flat note sung by Spinner in 2:30 and the choir right after that - incredible! *****

The arrangement in Modeh is very different - it starts with the sound of the sea and then with a piece that reminds me of Disney's Under the Sea. There's a classic mistake in this song - the comma in this passage is after "Behemlo", not before it. However, Spinner composed this song considering that the comma is before "Behemlo", so he sings "Behemlo Rabo Emunosecho", which is very inaccurate. This is a very common mistake and it shows that the composer paid little attention to the actual words of this song. Besides this issue, it's a decent song. ***

Once again, we have a very unique arrangement in Shalom Aleichem. This is at best an average song, but both the arrangement and the choir keep this song moving. I liked when the choir sang "Shalala" in 1:47 - it reminds me of Yishai Lapidot's Pio Poscho, where the choir does the same shtick. **

The arrangement in Neshomo is contemporary and pleasant to hear. This song is similar to Ari Goldwag's compositions (similar style) and it's really nice. ****

Oseh is another of these middle-eastern songs that aren't really middle-eastern. You do have the typical instruments, the choir and some singing that resembles a middle-eastern song - but the composition itself is not really middle-eastern. With that said, this a fun song to hear - Spinner does a great shtick at 4:10 and right after that the choir guys do some arabic screaming for us. Fun. ****

I don't have much to say about Avraham Yagel. I think this song should have been arranged as a techno song, a la Ron Tichon. We can hear Yaron Gershovsky's great piano shticks, especially in 2:02, and the song is quite good. ***

-> Conclusion
: We must keep in mind that this is Spinner's debut. He's not the best soloist yet but he has a good voice and a potential to become a top singer. With some more voice coaching and experience he will improve a lot - the same happened to Yehuda!, another talented musician who composes (and arranges) his own songs, after his debut in the mid 90's.

Steve Bill did a great job in the arrangements, bringing us a full array of different musical styles and instruments. But to me, the star in the musical background was Mike Boxer, of whom I became a fan after Six13's two albums. He added flavor to this project and his music is always original, creative and interesting - I hope he continues to participate in mainstream JM projects like this one. It’s a great album.

Other three fellow JM bloggers posted about this album - Aryeh, Chaim Rubin and JBlogmeister.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

HDTV Ad in Israel

Following countless bans in the past years (like this one and this one), this ad came out in Israel just now. Only Jews could make such great fun of other Jews.

Benny Friedman’s Kulanu Nelech Album Review

Benny Friedman’s latest album, Kulanu, is out on Spotify, and as a paying subscriber I enjoyed listening to this album quite a bit, to the e...