Shanir Blumenkranz’s extensive contribution to the world of radical Jewish music can only be compared to Robbie Shakespeare’s formative influence on reggae. Blumenkranz plays on numerous projects issued by the Tzadik label — so many of them, in fact, that his recognizable style of bass playing is virtually inseparable from the sound has come to define so many of Tzadik’s Radical Jewish Music projects, including Pharaoh’s Daughter, Pitom, Edom, Rashanim and Kef, among others. He has closely collaborated with label’s producer, John Zorn.
Unlike their pudgy, cherubic, church-tending counterparts, in Jewish mythology angels are not what you’d call angelic. Ominous and conflicted, with a penchant for irony and obscure turns of phrase, they are messages from the personal and collective subconscious for us to wrestle with. These angels create the parameters of our formative and deformative moments. Perhaps it is in such a context that one might understand “The Book of Angels,” a collection of scores penned by avant-garde composer and saxophonist John Zorn. A number of musical groups have tackled these compositions; the latest encounter is David Krakauer’s “Pruflas: The Book of Angels Vol. 18,” released on Tzadik Records earlier this year.
Jamie Saft is far from the only musician who questions and complicates notions of cultural, musical and ethnic identity. That’s bread and butter for many of the artists featured on the Tzadik label, which has now put out six of Saft’s albums, including his latest, “Borscht Belt Studies.” Neither, on this release, does Saft clash, counterpoise, or remix musical styles. Fluid movement in and out musical paradigms and approaches, an approach already familiar to his fans, is not the point. Rather, the album appears to be, indeed, a study — an exploration or rethinking.
Tzadik Records’ Radical Jewish Culture releases often split the difference between jazz and klezmer. Both genres drag long canonical histories behind them like the train on a wedding dress. Both are easily innovated upon, prone to flights of improvisation, and adept at locating individual musicians in the midst of a vast history. Joel Rubin and Uri Caine on “Azoy Tsu Tsveyt” rarely stray far from the most essential trappings of their respective genres.
“Rockets on the Balcony,” Omer Klein’s fourth album and his Tzadik Records debut, is also his first self-consciously Jewish record. In the liner notes, Klein explains that when John Zorn first approached him about the project, he was reluctant to make “calculated evaluations as to what counts as Jewish music and what doesn’t.” But over the course of working on the album, Klein developed a knack for labeling each of his pieces as either “Jewish” or “not-Jewish.”
In 2006, when the MacArthur Foundation bestowed its “Genius” award on John Zorn, the panel of judges only underscored what many fans already knew. Zorn’s extensive output as a composer of avant-garde music, a first-rate saxophone player, and a leader of a group of downtown New York musicians, has been vastly important and influential.
On the new record by the Israeli quintet Fogel and the Sheriffs, Jesus packs a gun, the Pope is a woman, and the Second Coming occurs in the bedroom. One song calls the Holocaust a “soiree”; another orders a Muslim woman to “put on a burka, baby” to hide her body, from her head to her clitoris. Long before the album’s final song declares, “I was crucified inside my mama’s womb,” the point is clear: nothing is too sacred to satire.
Gabriele Coen’s “Awakening” is a dark, moody collection of pieces built around complex, syncopated rhythms and long, spinning melodies in minor modes. Coen and his band mates are clearly accomplished jazz musicians, and together they produce moments of understated elegance. But don’t think of playing this album at your next cocktail party — your guests would likely take their conversations into another room. This is music that not only demands active listening, but also seems designed to engender anxiety.
Crossposted from Haaretz