You should be able to find these discs with the information given, but if you’re frustrated in a search, ask at Tree of Life Books, at your favorite music store, or your synagogue gift shop. You may also send a note to the paper and we’ll help you track it down. Enjoy!
Kugel: Finger Play (firstname.lastname@example.org; 206-523-9298) Local klezmer Shawn Weaver’s current band (has he permanently taken “Shawn’s” off the Kugel?) gives prominent play to the quick fingers of accordionist Steve Rice. Klez veteran Wendy Marcus checks in with a prayerful “Sh’ma Kolaynu,” while a couple of tracks later, Sidney Bechet’s “Song of Madinah” sizzles like a New Orleans midnight. A few other synagogue tunes get the jazzy touch, and a there’s a funky Weaver arrangement of the Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia classic “Touch of Grey.” Marcus treats David Block’s music tenderly in Weaver’s arrangement of the Yiddish song “Weigele” by poet Ilse Weber. Alas, no lyrics or translations in the booklet.
Susan Bardsley: Amazed/Songs for the Soul (SB0201-2; www.cdbaby.com/sbardsley) Powerhouse of a voice. They’re blessed to have her as the music morah in Temple de Hirsch Sinai’s preschool. She’s the composer on all 13 of these very American-style tracks; lyricist on all except the settings of texts from Reform movement prayerbooks; and singer on many. Her gutsy delivery does tender duets with sister Katy; assorted other worthy sister-and brother-spirited talents pitch in, however. The strength of her sound makes the humility of her spiritual message all the more dramatic. “I Stand Amazed” is a nod to the evidence of divine love all around. “Esther’s Song/I Have the Power in Me” captures perfectly the spiritual moment when the megilla heroine discovers her inner strength. Bardsley’s solo “piano prayer” concludes the disc on the right note.
Back in September this column asked, “What other musical talent is breathing Jewish soul into Seattle?” Here’s the answer:
Tonal Bliss: Electric Divinity (private issue) Spare arrangements in the Seattle rock style from Northwest Yeshiva High School students Josh Russak (drums), Jack Varon (vocals), and David Azose (guitar, vocals) and recent NYHS grad Oren Kaufman (guitar, bass). Recorded at Russak’s house, this earnest collection of seven songs and arrangements contains many original compositions, most on siddur texts. All are sung in Hebrew except “Become of Me” (lyrics: Russak, music: Azose), a neatly built, soulful song pondering the big question: years from now, what will I be?
Craig Taubman: One Shabbat Morning (www.craignco.com) In Los Angeles, they’re underwriting the creation of new Jewish music with money, enthusiasm and talent. L.A. regular Taubman’s latest project is based at Congregation Adat Ari El; its cantor, Ira Biegeleisen, is one of three cantors on this recording. Alberto Mizrachi and Patti Linsky round up the trio. Traditional chant joins rock- and folk-inspired voices and instruments in key prayers from the traditional Sabbath morning liturgy. Lead vocalist Taubman wrote the music and additional lyrics that sometimes translate and occasionally comment on the traditional words. With guitars, mandolin, drums, accordion, percussion, brass, reeds and strings, this disc follows the earlier “Friday Night Live,” a monthly outreach project Taubman did with Rabbi David Wolpe at Sinai Temple in Westwood, California.
Celebrate Jewish Love Songs (www.celebrateseries.com) Another Taubman production, a potpourri of styles from thirteen Jewish artists, from old-world revivalists like the Klezmer Conservatory Band and the Klezmatics, to LA actor-turned-Israeli-rabbi Moshe Schachter; from the rocker RebbeSoul to Judy Frankel, singer/scholar of Sephardic music. No texts; several tracks from the Song of Songs, every Jewish musician’s love song goldmine. Notes consist of a brief bio of each singer, his or her contact information and the name of the CD from which the excerpt was taken. Taubman writes that he issues this sampler with thoughts of the power of love after a year full of hate, and with a prayer for peace.
Sam Glaser: The Bridge (Glaser Musicworks, www.samglaser.com) Another fancy L.A. production from the lavishly equipped studio of a consummate showman and ebulliently observant Jew. Glaser’s sound is huge, loud, classic rock. Israeli organization “Common Denominator” sponsored this disc, which, indeed, builds a bridge to Jews of any — or no — affiliation, with songs that incorporate snippets of verses from the prayerbook, psalms, Talmud and Torah into heartfelt English-language anthems to Judaism. Copious notes ensure that even listeners with a minimal Jewish education can appreciate each song while learning along the way. There’s even a list of “Fifteen [Jewish] Common Denominators.”
The Klezmer Conservatory Band: Dance Me to the End of Love (Rounder Records, www.rounder.com) First, you should know that they’re coming to Seattle for two shows at Benaroya Hall December 9 and 10. These guys have been at the klezmer-revival business for over 20 years now, and they’re really good at it. The title track practically melted me. Judy Bressler’s pure-toned soprano heats up this classic and gives life to other standard klezmer characters, including party-happy jokesters and a tender little boy pleading to his grandma to not yet say the end-of-Shabbos prayer.
Absolutely first-rate feel-good music.
Ellen Kushner & Shirim Klezmer Orchestra: The Golden Dreydl/A Klezmer Nutcracker (Rykodisc, www.rykodisc.com) Speaking of fun? It sounds like a corny concept, but this 2000 release by Ellen Kushner, producer of Public Radio International’s “Sound and Spirit,” really does what klezmer does best: it makes fun with, not just of, the music and culture surrounding Jews. Even if you — adult or child — love that “holiday” classic, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Ballet, or maybe especially if you do, you’ll find Kushner and company’s patient, clever variation a surprisingly satisfying treat.
The Sons of Sepharad (Sefarad Records, www.sefaradrecords.com) The “sons” are Aaron Bensoussan, Alberto Mizrachi, and Gerard Edery, with music that ought to ring some “roots” bells among many Seattleites. This town, after all, has the third-largest Sephardic population in the U.S. Sephardim were prominent among the founders of Pike Place Market. Even the name on our humble symphony hall is Sephardic. And, yes, several tunes on this disc are staples of the liturgical music mavens in Seattle’s Turkish- and Rhodes-rooted synagogues. So is it good? Yep. Gerard Edery, a versatile folk performer with a huge voice, produces, so the sound is great. His regular sidekick, the oud genius George Mgrdichian, provides an authentic Mediterranean accompaniment. Texts but no background notes. This is Jewish music’s answer to the Three Tenors.
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch: Testament (www.ourworld-music.com) Cello playing of the highest quality, and a personal account of how her cello saved one girl’s life in Auschwitz. Evidence of continuity in the aftermath of the Holocaust comes to life in performances by Anita Lasker-Wallfisch’s son, the well-known soloist Raphael, and grandsons Benjamin — also a composer — and Simon. The survivor herself joins on two pieces. Notes, with impressive detail about music during the Holocaust, include a brief bio of Alma Rose, Gustav Mahler’s niece, leader of a women’s orchestra in Auschwitz. Rose plucked little Anita out of the selection line because she needed a cellist — but was herself murdered before liberation. The recorded tracks of storytelling — early diary entries read by a youthful actress; later memoirs by Ms. Lasker-Wallfisch — alternate with the music, including Bach, Bloch, Ravel, and Messiaen. Anyone in this town who’s ever played, listened to, or read about classical music related to the Shoa — and that would be many — should get acquainted with this album.