Shabbat in Liverpool: New CD adapts Beatles’ tunes for services


When is it kosher to listen to the Beatles on the Sabbath?

When your chazan adapts the Kabbalat Shabbat Friday night service to the melodies of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Lenny Solomon, the founder of the song-parody group Shlock Rock, employed “nusach Liverpool” for a service in late December at the Young Israel of Hollywood, an Orthodox synagogue in South Florida.

“I’ve never had more pride in anything else that I have ever performed,” said Solomon, who has been in the Jewish music business for 25 years. “I had created something new that could be sung in the shul. This is something that I had never done, and I was beaming by the time the services ended.”

The service was the culmination of a years-long project for Solomon that has included the release of a CD with 21 Beatles’ songs set to various parts of Shabbat services and liturgy.

On the CD, “Shalom Aleichem” is sung to the tune of “With a Little Help from My Friends”; the “V’Shamru” portion of kiddush is set to “The Long and Winding Road”; “Ein Keloheinu” sounds like “Let it Be”; and the Havdalah service is set to “Imagine.”

The story of the CD began in 2004 when a friend and neighbor asked Solomon, who lives in Israel, for the 40th birthday gift of a CD of the songs of Kabbalat Shabbat set to Beatles music. Solomon was skeptical but the neighbor, Allen Krasna, sent him an Excel spreadsheet with the Beatles’ songs in one column and the prayers and songs of the Shabbat service on the left.

Solomon went to work.

Working on and off, he needed nine months to take the 35 tunes and incorporate the melodies to the words of the Shabbat prayers.

Solomon recorded the CD, “A Shabbat in Liverpool,” in 2005, but it took another five years to obtain the proper licensing to release the project. The collection finally was released publicly last November as a 21-song CD, which is available for sale at Amazon and other retailers. (Samples of the collection are available at shlockrock.com.) Solomon was in the United States promoting the CD.

Dec. 24 marked the first time that Solomon actually used the songs in a real service. The reaction at the Young Israel of Hollywood seemed to be mostly positive.

“I enjoyed it and sang along with Lenny,” said congregant Avi Frier. “I think it will take awhile, though, for something like this to really catch on and became mainstream, like the Carlebach minyanim.”

It was hardly the first time Jewish services have been set to secular music. Some of the most popular Shabbat tunes originally were secular songs, such as “Erev Shel Shoshanim” (“Evening of Lilies”), a Hebrew love song written in 1957 by Yaffa Yarkoni.

“Every song that comes into this world has a holy spark,” Solomon said. “It is the obligation of the Jewish musician to take the best melodies of the secular world and bring them from the side of darkness to the side of light. This will cause the Jewish people to get closer to God and hasten the redemption.”

Krasna, whose request spawned the creation of the CD, agrees.

“I’m in favor of anything that is done in the service that elevates one’s spirituality,” said Krasna, a lifelong Beatles fan. “Certainly, Conservative and Reform synagogues may embrace this kind of thing more easily, since they always look for ideas to make their services more relevant to the times. But I believe there is a place for these tunes even at Orthodox synagogues.”

Solomon sees the Beatles service as a work in progress.

“My first effort at leading the service was not perfect,” he said. “I do hope I’ll have the opportunity to do this again, so that other congregants can learn the service and appreciate the rich Shabbat liturgy in a brand-new way.

“I’m also convinced that there are many people who ordinarily do not attend a synagogue but who can be introduced to the holy words of our Shabbat prayers through this music.”

Documentary goes behind the music video with Chutzpah


Tor Hyams was startled to discover that his Jewish rap group, Chutzpah, had become the subject of an arty short documentary — Juliet Landau’s “Take Flight” — which will be the centerpiece of The Hollywood Hill’s inaugural BigBrainBoy Mobile Media Summit that takes place on Sept. 12 and 13.

“But at the same time I also wasn’t so surprised, because there’s something very strange about our group: We call it ‘The Legend of Chutzpah,'” he said. “Wacky things have always happened to us that we never planned — and that we didn’t particularly try for because Chutzpah is a pet project, not the main part of our lives.”

Hyams, a veteran TV composer and record producer, was working with artists such as Lisa Loeb and Perry Farrell when he began writing Jewish rap on a lark back in 2005. Within months, Chutzpah had released “Eponymous,” its debut CD; a DVD “hip-hop-u-mentary,” featuring celebrity cameos by Gary Oldman and Sharon Osbourne, which screened at the HBO and Aspen comedy festivals; a music video, “Chanukah’s Da Bomb” which played on MTV, and write-ups in myriad publications (The New York Times calls it “a cross between Eminem and Woody Allen”). Now a second album, “Hip Hop Fantasy,” is slated for release Nov. 11, along with a new music video, for the song, “Red Rover,” directed by Oldman. And that video is the subject of “Take Flight,” which is already earning buzz in media circles.

Hyams, who is originally from Larchmont, N.Y., said he was “working on five projects at once” several years ago when a friend asked him to help write a Yiddish rap song.


‘Take Flight’ trailer

“I absolutely loved it,” he recalled. “It was like I was possessed, and I started creating hip-hop beats and writing lyrics.”

Hyams enlisted the help of his cousin, David Scharff, and together they “busted out five tracks” in just two weeks in the producer’s Los Feliz studio. The songs included “Old School Jew” (“I was going really ‘old school,'” he says of the rap term. “We’re talking an abridged history of the Hebrew bible.”) and “In the Shtetl,” a riff on “In the Ghetto” by Oakland rapper Too Short.

“My big idea for the CD was, ‘Let’s give this to our families for Chanukah,'” Hyams said. “I never thought we’d get a record deal, because I figured ‘This is stupid and Jewish and no one cares except us.'”

Later, during a tense business meeting, Hyams joked that if the deal at hand didn’t work out, the executives could sign his Jewish rap group. “Everybody laughed,” Hyams recalled, “but when I got home, there was an e-mail saying that if I was serious, I should contact this new label, the Jewish Music Group [JMG], which was looking for talent.” Shout Factory’s JMG signed the group on a handshake.

When the company ordered a music video, Hyams played lead rapper “Master Tav,” Scharff was the Jewish rastafarian philosopher and an actor friend, Jerran Friedman, portrayed the deranged MC Meshugenah, who often appeared in a straightjacket.

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2006 music video ‘Ask the rabbi’ — note straightjacket

Many reviewers subsequently lauded Chutzpah, which billed itself as “the first Jewish hip-hop supergroup” (never mind Matisyahu or 2 Live Jews). But some described it as a novelty act — a label that chagrined Hyams. He said he intends his music to be serious and that he is inspired by rap greats such as LL Cool J and Snoop Dogg.

Chutzpah’s second CD, he added, is a “concept album” in which each song describes the saga of how the bandmates have unexpectedly lived out their hip-hop fantasies. Oldman — who has been Hyams’ friend since their children attended the same preschool — raps on one of the songs and asked to direct Chutzpah’s new music video. “Gary thinks being Jewish is cool for some reason,” Hyams said. “He’d always say, ‘You know, Tor, I could be Jewish; I could change my name to Larry Goldman” (which is how he is credited on the new music video).

The video is shot entirely on Nokia cell- phones and features the song, “Red Rover,” a “battle rap” challenging Chutzpah’s critics (including Matisyahu, who reportedly told Hyams that Chutzpah disgraces Judaism.) It depicts the group members wearing Speedos and Jewish bling while playing the children’s game red rover with bikini-clad babes. Hyams dons a clown nose to dis Matisyahu, and MC Meshugenah attempts to snorkel in a wading pool emblazoned with a Star of David.

While Oldman was shooting Hyams et al, Landau (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel”) was filming a “making of” documentary about the video — which turned into a lyrical film about Oldman’s creative process. “I could see Gary coming up with ideas and carrying them out with great precision,” Landau said. “I wanted viewers to feel like they were inside his head.”

For Hyams, watching the film brought one more surprise.

“I thought the movie would be kind of dumb, because we’re kind of dumb,” he said. “But it was so moving, I actually got a little choked up.”

Juliet Landau and “Red Rover” director of photography Deverill Weekes will conduct a Q & A after “Take Flight” screenings, on Sept. 13.

Brooks Arthur brings stars’ hearts and humor to ‘Jewish Songbook’ CD


The decor in Brooks Arthur’s office chronicles what Billboard calls his “career as a behind the scenes superstar of the record industry.”

One photograph depicts Carole King hugging Arthur while working with him after her LP “Tapestry” hit in the 1970s. Nearby is a picture of Bruce Springsteen, who recorded three albums (and his hit song, “Born to Run”) at Arthur’s old 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, N.Y. Pasted to the wall are images from the comedy albums Arthur produced for Jackie Mason, Robin Williams and Adam Sandler, who has employed Arthur as the music supervisor on most of his films — including the new Israeli action spoof “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan.” Arthur’s office, in fact, is directly across the hall from the comedy impresario’s office at Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions in Culver City.

Sandler is just one of the artists featured on Arthur’s latest endeavor, “The Jewish Songbook: The Heart and Humor of a People,” a recently released CD of new and veteran artists performing classic Jewish songs. Sandler croons a heartfelt (and joke-free) rendition of “Hine Ma Tov” in a duet with his cantor, Marcelo Gindlin of Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue (the sheet music from that recording session is taped above Arthur’s desk).

The album’s other 12 tracks include comic Rob Schneider doing the 1940s novelty tune “Bagels and Lox”; saxophonist Dave Koz in an instrumental version of the Yiddish song “Raisins and Almond,”; comic Robert Smigel adding irreverent new lyrics to “Mahzel (Means Good Luck)” in the persona of his puppet character, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog; and “Seinfeld” alumnus Jason Alexander in “Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max,” an Allan Sherman ditty about a salesman with too many relatives.


Promo Video: ‘The Jewish Songbook: The Heart And Humor Of A People’

Arthur, sporting a Brooklyn Dodgers cap, says the idea for the “songbook” stems from the childhood years, when he worked at his father’s Brooklyn candy store and avidly listened to Jewish radio.

“All four of my grandparents came from Russia and Poland and spoke Yiddish fluently,” Arthur recalled. “I used to love getting together with them and my parents and listening to the Yiddish station WEVD, because the music made them so happy. After the shows were over, they would go back to their daily routines, but I used to witness them coming alive listening to the Hebrew and Yiddish songs interspersed with comic ditties.

“It’s a dying art form,” Arthur said of that format. “I wanted to produce an album that hearkens back to those days.”

On the CD, Arthur himself performs “Sheyn Vi Di L’vone” (“Beautiful Like the Moon”) with Lainie Kazan; he says he discovered he had a voice while humming along to such tunes on WEVD.

“My parents’ candy store was at the subway station at 22nd Avenue-Bay Parkway, and, at age 9, I’d take the train another five stops to Coney Island, where I could pop some quarters into a booth and make a little acetate recording, a ‘single’ of myself singing,” he recalled.

Arthur also was cantor of the junior congregation at his Orthodox shtibl before launching a career as an audio engineer, overseeing 1960s hits such as “My Boyfriend’s Back,” “The Locomotion” and “Leader of the Pack.” Eventually he won grammys and produced LPs by artists such as Bette Midler and Liza Minnelli.

He segued into movie work when producer Jerry Weintraub asked him to be the music supervisor for his film “The Karate Kid” in 1982. The same year, Weintraub introduced Arthur to Chabad of Westwood, where the musician experienced a Jewish reawakening while dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah.

“I began to take Hebrew lessons and became very interested in learning,” Arthur recalled. “I found myself sponging up Judaism; I hadn’t been drinking that kind of elixir since my bar mitzvah.”

Arthur drew Sandler’s attention in the early 1990s, after he earned a Grammy nomination for producing Jackie Mason’s “The World According to Me.”

“I absolutely loved Adam on ‘Saturday Night Live,'” said Arthur, who demonstrates by imitating Sandler’s florid “SNL” character Operaman. “I loved his brand of humor, and I’m so lucky that he liked me.”

Their first album, “They’re All Gonna Laugh At You,” went double platinum, and Arthur went on to produce all five of Sandler’s CDs (copies are lined up on the console of Happy Madison’s recording studio next door). Arthur became a regular member of Sandler’s creative posse of friends and collaborators, co-writing Sandler’s animated Chanukah film, “Eight Crazy Nights,” and even playing a part in the success of the legendary “Chanukah Song.”

“I saw Adam performing it in its embryonic form on ‘Saturday Night Live,'” Arthur said, “and while he was still on the air I called his apartment in Manhattan and left the message: ‘Sandman, this is a reason to make your next album.'” (Sandler awoke him at 2 a.m. to agree.)

Arthur initially assumed Sandler might do a humorous piece for the “Jewish Songbook,” but Sandler said he “wanted to do something that makes your heart hurt,” Arthur recalled. His choice was “Hine Ma Tov,” because hearing his cantor sing the melody reminded him of going to synagogue as a boy in Manchester, N.H.

Arthur says the other “songbook” musicians also turned nostalgic in the studio about their childhood.

“They were conscious of keeping alive these great Jewish songs of the past,” he said.

Fresh music choices include Pesach treats


Not much Passover music arrived in this year’s mail so it’s difficult to speculate on the ebb and flow of certain kinds of Jewish music recordings, but it does seem that fewer holiday-specific records are coming out of late. On the other hand, the flood of spiritually informed contemporary Jewish music shows no signs of abating, and this month’s CD reviews focus on some of the most recent examples of that phenomena, including some tasty Pesach treats:

“With Songs They Respond: The Diwan of the Jews from Central Yemen” (Jewish Music Research Centre).

In Yemenite Jewish society, the diwan is a collection of men’s poetry, song and dance, passed on orally and in writing. This two-CD set from the Jewish Music Research Centre at Hebrew University is a particularly beautiful example of the genre (albeit without dance, of course). In the half-century since the Yemenite Jews were brought to Israel, their traditions have undergone several major changes, but the music is still quite lovely, ornate, pulsating and, on this recording, handsomely sung and played. As usual, the scholars at the JMRC have outdone themselves in the packaging of this set, which includes a hard-back book of some 200 pages in English and Hebrew. This is one occasion when the music itself is every bit as good to hear as it is to have preserved.

Available from Hatikvah Music, http://www.hatikvahmusic.com or call (323) 655-7083.

Simcha Kanter, “Lag B’Omer Live” (IgraRama).

Kanter’s new CD is a live set recorded on the festive day of Lag B’Omer, which comes toward the end of the Omer period, a period of mourning and restraint. There is energy to this record that suggests the release that accompanies the cessation of 33 days of solemnity, and it is no small part of what makes the record rock. The repertoire owes a lot to Shlomo Carlebach, but also to Atlantic R&B classics of the ’60s, especially when Mike Lee is soloing on alto sax with a sound redolent of the great King Curtis. Kanter says at the beginning of the recording, “We do things differently,” and the opening strains of a reggae-powered “Shalom Aleichem” send a strong message that he’s not joking. This music has a nice little kick to it. Those who are dismayed at certain trends in the Chasidic world will not be happy when they hear “Moshiach,” although the number is one of the crispiest on the CD. As for the rest, a joyous addition to your Pesach table, even if it’s a month before Lag B’Omer.

Available from http://www.simchakanter.com/.

Benjamin Lapidus, “Herencia Judia” (Tresero)

This is a gentle, genial album from the master of the tres, a Cuban folk instrument that is perched somewhere between guitar, mandolin and ukulele. Lapidus has included at least one Jewish number on each of his previous albums but this time the entire program is a seamless fusion of Afro-Caribbean and Jewish materials. The merger of Latin music forms with Hebrew liturgy is a pleasing one. There are also wonderful instrumental exchanges between Lapidus and guest Andy Statman on mandolin on two cuts and the gloriously shifting polyrhythms of an expert percussion section throughout. If the youngest guests at your seder table are tired of asking that familiar quartet of questions, let them hear “Las Cuatro Preguntas” and “Ma Nishtana” from this set, and it will undoubtedly spark new interest.

Available from http://www.treseroproductions.com/.

The Ramatayim Men’s Choir, “400 Years of Synagogue Music” (self-produced).

This is probably an excellent men’s chorus, and their choice of material ranges from Salomone Rossi’s “Adon Olam,” written in the 17th Century, to contemporary compositions by Zvi Talmon and Sol Zim. The arrangements are complex, sophisticated and clever and, as far as I can tell, well sung. And therein lies the problem: the sound quality of the recording — at least on my copy of the CD — is murky, the harpsichord accompaniment sounds piercingly metallic and shrill and the overall effect is to render the entire disk unlistenable.

Available from Hatikvah Music.

Cantor Anita Schubert, “D’vora Ud’vash (Honeybee and Honey)” (self-produced)

Schubert is the cantor at Temple Beth Sholom in Manchester, Conn., an imaginative composer and arranger who has chosen to showcase her liturgical settings for congregational and choral singing on a CD. She has a sweet lyric soprano voice, which this set shows off to great advantage, and much of the writing here is quite pretty. Depending on your tolerance for children’s choirs, you might give this an extended listen. If you are looking for material for your own shul, you definitely should.
Available from cdbaby.com/cd/anitaschubert.

“Sephardi Voices from Sarajevo” (Saga).

Another in the excellent series “La Tradicion Musical en Espana,” this set of field recordings is a vivid reminder that in the embattled city of Sarajevo, there were Jews as well as Muslims, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. As anyone who has heard Flory Jagoda will add, those Jews have a rich musical tradition. Mind you, these recordings, made by the estimable Suzanne Weisch-Shahak, are of amateurs, mostly transplanted Sarajevans living in Israel, and the performances are anything but polished. Many of them make up in zeal for what they lack in technique and, as I have said of similar records in the past, the preservation of these musical traditions as passed down by people who lived them is of great importance.

Available from Hatikvah Music.

Eight Jewish albums hit high notes in ’07


At the risk of sounding like Walter Cronkite, what kind of a year has it been in Jewish music?

It’s been a very good year, though you wouldn’t know it from this annual compilation of five-star records — there are only eight this year, the fewest in the decade I’ve been doing this. Long-time stalwarts like Joel Rubin and Budowitz released new records, another wave of Israeli jazz musicians has been getting lots of work and Jewish musicians are bending that hyphen that separates genres into a pretzel. Finally, even if it was a year with only eight five-star albums, it was also a year in which there were a lot of 4 1&’8260;2-star efforts, and that is good news.

As Cronkite would say, “That’s the way it was in 2007.” Have a good 2008!

Balkan Beat Box: “Nu-Med” (JDub). Say what you will about post-modernism in other areas of endeavor, but in music, it has been a delicious wake-up call, a practical example of the (admittedly few) benefits of globalization. And Balkan Beat Box, with their second album, are the poster boys.

This set is a glorious mash-up of bhangra, Bedouin and Balkan brass; swirling reeds; and skirling turntable scratches. In short, it’s world hip-hop with a strong Middle-Eastern flavor, danceable in the extreme and endlessly inventive.

Budowitz: “Live” (Golden Horn). A decade or so ago, the klezmer revival pushed the pendulum from the New World to the Old Country, and an increasing number of bands began to explore music driven by violin and cymbal, rather than brass and reeds. Budowitz was one of the spearheads of that new approach.

This all-instrumental, double-CD live set, recorded in Switzerland in late November 2005, is a superbly played introduction to that sound for those who are not yet familiar with it. The bulk of the 33 selections are traditional tunes arranged by band members, with seven originals that blend in quite nicely.

If you didn’t look at the track listings, you wouldn’t know which songs were written in the 21st century and which were handed down through generations. Budowitz draws its repertoire from across the map of Jewish Eastern and Central Europe, and there isn’t a stale tune in the bunch. This is a set worth a seven-year wait.

Anat Cohen and the Anzic Orchestra: “Noir” (Anzic). Released simultaneously with “Poetica,” this set features Cohen, mainly on sax, dipping into a repertoire that deftly combines standards with her beloved Brazilian jazz — how about a medley of “Samba de Orfeu” and “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue”?

The big band behind her features some very familiar New York City names — Ted Nash; Cohen’s brother, Avishai; Ali Jackson Jr.; and Erik Friedlander, among them — and the charts by Oded Lev-Ari remind me of the delicious blend of funk and elegance that distinguishes Gil Evans or Bob Brookmeyer.

Although it is her session, Cohen is very generous with solo time, and there are telling contributions from many of the players. But the centerpiece is Cohen, stomping hard on tenor (“No Moon at All” and a combustible “Cry Me a River”), making creative use of the clarinet’s lower register (“La Comparsa”) and generally swinging hard throughout. Don’t look now, folks, but this is the calling card of a major new jazz voice.

Peter Himmelman: “The Pigeons Couldn’t Sleep” (Himmasongs). Himmelman is back with another set filled with brawny rockers, ranging from the funkified 12-bar blues of the title tune to the lacerating guitar-driven lurch of “A Dog Can Drink Stagnant Water.”

As usual, his lyrics are somewhat cryptic but unmistakably carry a heavy charge of spiritual self-evaluation. Certainly, there can’t be a more appropriate line for the Days of Awe than, “There comes a time to mend your way, and that time is now.”

Most of the songs are terse and punchy, with sudden, unexpected flashes of a lyricism Himmelman keeps concealed most of the time. You have to love a guy who can use a word like “exhalations” in a lyric, then follow it with a coruscating guitar solo.

The CD comes with a DVD of an hourlong documentary about Himmelman, “Rock God,” which displays his rather unexpected humor, frequently self-deprecating and always charming.

The Joel Rubin Ensemble: “Midnight Prayer” (Traditional Crossroads). Like the Budowitz set, this is Old World-style klezmer, albeit with Rubin’s clarinet providing the main voice and the presence of trumpeter Ferenc Kovacs adding a little more heft. The set was recorded in four days at the Operetta House in Budapest, and several of the band members are Hungarian, but the tunes are drawn from the historical treasure trove of Soviet-era field work by Moshe Beregovski and his predecessors in the An-Ski Expeditions.

The set has a delightfully jaunty feel to its klezmer numbers, starting with the up-tempo section of the opening track, “Khabno,” while the other musical source of the recording, Chasidic nigunim, provides a soul-wrenching counterpoint. Rubin is in fine form throughout but particularly electrifying on the nigunim and, most of all, on the title tune, where he weeps with the best of them.

I particularly like Claudio Jacomucci’s lithe accordion lines and interplay between cymbalom master Kalman Balogh and the violinists, Sandor Budai and David Chernyavsky. I realize that Rubin is busier than ever with his teaching, writing and producing duties, but I hope we don’t have to wait 10 years for another recording of his own masterful playing.

Metropolitan Klezmer: “Traveling Show” (Rhythm Media). There used to be two complaints about live rock albums. Either the band just played their greatest hits exactly as they had on record — who needs a live recording that’s nothing but a reprise of the studio, only with the mistakes intact? Or they indulged their arty sides with long, dull solos.

Old-line klezmer wasn’t as much of an improviser’s art as, say, jazz, but contemporary new klez is much more so. And that means that a live set like this new one from the Metros is welcome.

For listening, for giving — klezmer and its cousins



Romashka Live at Joe’s Pub

After two consecutive years of a mailbox clogged with new Chanukah music, this year seems to have produced a drought of latkes-candles-and-dreidel epics. No matter. There are plenty of terrific CDs around that will make good gifts for those who do the December festivities thing, or you could buy them for yourself (you selfish thing).

There is a phrase we use in my house to denote any music that makes you move your lower limbs almost involuntarily. We call this “wiggle music,” and the following selection features some very potent examples of the genre. If a winter dance is on your agenda, you could do a lot worse than to throw a couple of these in your CD player and hit shuffle. Or better yet: “wiggle.”

Metropolitan Klezmer, “Traveling Show” (Rhythm Media)

There used to be two complaints about live rock albums. Either the band played their greatest hits exactly as they had on record (Who needs a live recording that’s nothing but a reprise of the studio, only with the mistakes intact?) or they indulged their arty sides with long, dull solos. Old-line klezmer wasn’t as much of an improviser’s art as, say, jazz, but contemporary New Klez is much more so. And that means a live set like this new one from the Metros is welcome. The band swings hard, everyone has ample solo room and plenty to say. There’s even a track from Eve Sicular’s other band, Isle of Klezbos. In short, this is what a live set should be: great fun.

http://www.metropolitanklezmer.com/.

The Polina Shepherd Vocal Experience (featuring Quartet Ashkenazim), “Baym Taykh” (Oriente)

This dazzling new recording is a distinct change of pace from what I usually hear (I get to listen to a lot of new Yiddish music, which can be a positive or a negative depending on the recording). The songs are all originals, composed by Polina Shepherd and sung by Shepherd and a quartet that includes her and husband Merlin Shepherd (who also contributes memorably on reeds and guitar), Yana Ovrutskaya and Evgenya Slavina. This is elegant chamber music that dances nimbly from postmodern a cappella to jazz to art song without missing a beat. A beautiful, frequently moving CD. You can’t dance to it, but you can listen for hours without losing interest.

http://www.polinashepherd.co.uk/

Blue Fringe, “The Whole World Lit Up”
(Craig ‘n’ Co.)

These guys have developed an ardent cult following, and it’s not hard to see why. With their hook-filled soft rock featuring inflections of The Beatles, The Eagles and The Byrds, Blue Fringe has found a plausible vehicle for their religious feelings, and their music is both thoughtful and danceable. Not my favorite genre, personally, but they do it well. I prefer the rockers, especially when the lead guitarists — to borrow a phase from boxing — let their hands go. Nevertheless, a satisfying set from a rising band.

http://www.bluefringe.com/

Gail Javitt, “Like a Braided Candle, Songs for Havdalah” (self-distributed)

A nice idea for a record, compiling songs relating to Havdalah, and the result is a pleasant if unexceptional recording. Javitt has a sweet Debby Friedman-like voice; I wish she would use the lower part of her range more because it’s quite expressive, while the top is a bit thin. The material is a solid mix of the familiar (“A Gute Voch,” “Birhot Havdalah”) and the somewhat more unusual. I’m particularly fond of the Sephardic “Hamavdil” that opens the set.

http://www.zahavamusic.com/

Klezamir, “Warm Your Hands” (self-distributed)

Fourth album from this excellent Massachusetts-based quintet sees them proceeding without vocalist Rhoda Bernard. The result is a more instrumental-oriented set, but like their previous CDs this opens with a butt-shaking number, “Undzer Nigundl,” powered by a strong rock beat from drummer Keith Levreault. After that it settles into a more traditional groove, but the results are very satisfying.

http://www.klezamir.com/

Romashka, “Romashka” (self-distributed)

A wildly swinging set from this excellent Gypsy-cum-klezmer-cum-Balkan-brass-band aggregation. I saw Romashka live in a superheated little bar about a year ago and I was curious whether any recording could capture their insane level of intensity. From the rocketing opening of “Mariana,” the first cut on their new set, through some smoldering, smoky vocals by Inna Barmash to a pounding “Moldovan Batuta,” this is as full of energy and thrills as any studio set can be. Particular kudos to Ron Caswell, whose tuba provides a bouncing dance floor for both this CD and the Slavic Soul Party set reviewed elsewhere in this column.

http://www.romashka.net/

Chana Rothman, “We Can Rise” (Oyhoo)

Here’s a promising debut from Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Chana Rothman. She offers a heady mix of liturgically based hard folk-rock and reggae-inflected and hip-hop informed rockers, all originals. She reminds me of a young Basya Schechter without the Middle Eastern influences, and her best writing (“Ana,” “Gates of Justice”) is quite good. Her rapping isn’t quite there yet — too many eccentric rhythmic choices that disrupt her flow — but I’m definitely looking forward to watching her evolve.

http://www.chanarothman.com/

Slavic Soul Party, “Teknochek Collision” (Barbes Records)


This is a wildly swinging amalgam of Balkan brass band, Gypsy and klezmer elements, with as many swerves and twists as a mountain road. The fusion of disparate elements is seamless, not a surprise if you consider how much these various traditions share. As the band’s name suggests, this is great party music, so grab a bottle of Slivovitz and a friend and dance.

http://www.slavicsoulparty.com/

Originality trumps repetition in the holiday songs battle


I will be frank. I’m tired of hearing the same holiday songs over and over. So the best Chanukah present I’ve received this year is a pile of Chanukah-themed CDs with lots of new holiday songs, many of them quite good. Here’s what crossed my desk this December.

The Klezmatics: “Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah” (JMG) and “Wonder Wheel” (JMG). I wasn’t that enthused by the “Matics” Guthrie Chanukah set when it was released last year, but I have to admit I was wrong.

This is a spirited, jaunty and frequently funny set that should be particularly appealing to children (and will give their parents a respite from “The Dreydl Song”). The set adds four instrumental tracks to last year’s release, allowing the band to stretch out and show their chops, but my favorite is a carry-over, “The Many and the Few,” a classic example of Guthrie’s skill at rendering narratives into song lyrics redolent of ballad classics.

“Wonder Wheel” continues the Klezmatics’ collaboration with the Guthrie Archives, which is looking like a very fruitful pairing indeed. Drawing a wide range of moods and tones from the archives collection of previously unset lyrics, the band gets to show off its considerable range, from a funky faux-Latin “Mermaid Avenue” to a lovely Calpyso-ish lullaby “Headdy Down,” from a weirdly Asiatic/alternative-country “Pass Away” to a klezmer “Goin’ Away to Sea.” One of the surprises of the set is how profoundly spiritual some of the Guthrie lyrics are. One expects the good-natured progressivism of something like “Come When I Call You” and “Heaven,” but the deeply felt religious feeling of “Holy Ground” is unexpected and moving.

The LeeVees: “How Do You Spell Channukkahh?” (JDub/iTunes). When the LeeVees’ “Hanukkah Rocks” came out on JDub last year, I wrote, “Alt-rock heavies Adam Gardner of Guster and Dave Schneider of the Zambonis felt that the post-punk world desperately needed a Chanukah record of its own…. The result is a very funny, smart self-satire, with adolescent agonies turned into the difficult choice of sour cream vs. applesauce (‘Tell your mom to fry, not bake’) and of not getting presents (well, there are ‘six-packs of new socks from each of our moms’).” Now, they have added an EP, mostly of playful acoustic versions of the previous Chanukah tunes and a punchy new tune “Jewish Stars,” downloadable from iTunes. Like the originals, these are amiable, bouncy and witty rockers. Thirteen minutes of pure pleasure.

The Lori Cahan-Simon Ensemble: “Chanukah Is Freylekh!” (self-distributed). This is a very jolly set of European-style performances — tsimbl and fiddle predominate, no brass — that often feels like a family gathering. And that’s appropriate, because the CD comes with dance directions for kids, as well as the usual translations, bios and such. It is a delightful recording, fueled by Cahan-Simon’s warm, friendly sound. Available from Hatikvah Music, (323) 655-7083 or hatikvahmusic.com.

Poppa’s Kitchen: “A Rockin’ Hanukkah” (self-distributed). A cheerful MOR-rock set of new Chanukah songs from Robert Romanus (who you may recall from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”) and Scott Feldman. The EP (only 21 minutes) has one song for each night, a cheerful blend of California rock and holiday spirit, witty lyrics and some hook-filled tunes. Available from cdbaby.com.

Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman: “Fli, Mayn Fishlang! Fly, Fly My Kite!” (Yiddishland). It is devoutly to be hoped that casual listeners will not dismiss Schaechter-Gottesman as the “flavor of the month” because she has become so prominent of late; she has more than earned the attention, and I, for one, hope it continues for a long time. The quality of musicians she attracts is one mark of how good she is — this set includes contributions by Lorin Sklamberg, Binumen Schaechter, Matt Darriau and Ben Holmes. This CD features her Yiddish children’s songs, which have a charming wistfulness that reminds me more of a French chanson than anything else. There are also songs for several holidays (including a couple of Chanukah tunes) and, as usual from Schaechter-Gottesman, a lot of yearning lyrics about the changing of the seasons. Available from yiddishlandrecords.com.

Julie Silver: “It’s Chanukah Time” (HyLo). Of course, there is another way to pep up those tired traditional holiday songs — you can reinterpret them, change the lyrics around, make them contemporary. This is often a recipe for disaster, but Silver’s “The Dreidel Song” reworked as a frisky country rocker works wonderfully (almost hilariously) well, and sets a high standard for the rest of this set. A reggae “Al Hanisim” and a Latin-flavored “Chanukah, Oh Chanukah” work almost as well. The only problem with this approach, even when it’s done right, is that the focus shifts from the message of the holiday to a guessing game: What’s next, a goth-metal “Mi Yimalel,” “Maoz Tzur” as a morning raga? Silver doesn’t do anything that absurd, so the set doesn’t spiral out of control, but there is an inevitable lingering doubt in the listener’s mind that some of the choices were motivated by the need for the unfamiliar rather than the musical possibilities. Still, it’s a nicely played and sung set. Available from hyloproductions.com and at Barnes & Noble.

In addition to these Chanukah-themed recordings, there are two big-ticket items to keep in mind when doing your year-end gift shopping. The ongoing partnership between Naxos Records and the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music has resulted in 50 CDs showcasing the remarkable range of Jewish American music; although they will continue to issue new recordings on a regular basis, they are celebrating this milestone by offering a set of those first sets. The deluxe box set of all 50 Milken Archive CDs will be available for $349, a savings of $100 if purchased individually. Available at milkenarchive.org.

If you are feeling less ambitious or less solvent, or if you know an aspiring Jewish musician, you should consider Yale Strom’s latest project, “The Absolutely Complete Klezmer Songbook,” published by Transcontinental Music. This volume boasts more than 300 songs that Strom has collected in his travels through the Old Country, and comes with a CD that features his performances of 36 of them. At $49.95, it is a must for anyone interested in East European Jewish music. Availble wherever music books are sold.

George Robinson, film and music critic for Jewish Week, is the author of “Essential Torah” (Shocken Books, 2006).

Violinist Joshua Bell walks in the footsteps of masters




Although he doesn’t exactly think of it this way, Joshua Bell is the latest in a long line of Jewish violin-playing aristocracy.

His teacher was Joseph Gingold, and as Bell fondly recalled him, “He was a Russian Jewish violinist. He had an incredible joy for the violin that rubbed off. He introduced me to the older generation — Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, Mischa Elman — and they became my idols.”

Those giants had been contemporaries of Gingold and, like him, were all Jews, too. Now Bell, who is generally acclaimed as America’s greatest living violinist, is the latest to be passed the scepter, even though he is only 38.

He may seem young, but he has been playing professionally since he was 14, so, as he admitted with a certain amusement, “I’ve been playing violin professionally longer than I was not playing before. And when you consider that I had my first public performance when I was 7…..”

But he is always aware of those Jewish ghosts at his back.
“A lot of the things that I do when I play are not things I picked up from them consciously, but by growing up with their language, through their music, I internalized it,” he said. “For example, the way they use rubato, something that’s very hard to teach. Kreisler would play incredibly rhythmically but around the beat. He did it very tastefully, it was never overdone.”

Bell is, by his own admission, more of a cultural Jew than a religious one.
“My mother is Jewish, a very typical Jewish mother,” he said. “She was very involved in my practicing. Both my parents were behind me and loved music. But for me, Jewishness was very much a cultural tie. I feel very close to the Jewish side of the family. I grew up with my Jewish cousins, going to all the bar mitzvahs, so I feel very close to that side, and I identify myself as being Jewish.”

He feels that identification with particular acuteness when he performs in Israel.

“My mother lived there; my grandfather was a Sabra,” he explained. “I have family there, and last year, I saw some of them for the first time since I was 4. Even my violin [a famous 1713 Stradivarius] has a connection to Israel. It was owned by Bronislaw Hubermann, who founded the Israel Phil, and when Israelis hear that it’s ‘the Hubermann,’ they get very excited.”

What is it about Jews and classical music? If you ask Bell he is, understandably, a bit guarded
“That’s something you’d have to ask a Jewish sociologist, which my uncle happens to be,” he said, laughing. “I guess it’s a cultural thing. To be successful in music, you need to grow up with cultural influences; in the Jewish households, culture and music are valued. It’s also about role models. Fifty years ago, a Jewish child would be told, ‘You’re going to be the next Heifetz.’ You have to be careful when you say things like this not to be misunderstood.”

Certainly Bell grew up with music all around him.

“Music was very important in my family,” he said. “All the cousins would come over for family musicales, and everybody would play. Nobody was a professional, so there wasn’t a family member to get me started. For me it was Joseph Gingold.”

Bell enjoys one of the busiest schedules a musician could dream of. The three weeks he will spend with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in October represent the longest stretch that he will be in one place all fall and winter. But someday, when his schedule slows down, he would like to do for some young would-be Joshua Bell what Gingold did for him.

 
“I had such a great relationship with my teacher,” he said. “Gingold told me stories about Ysaye, who was one of the greatest violinists of the 19th century and his teacher, and I’d like to pass these things on at some point in my life. I can’t imagine not doing that.”

 
Joshua Bell will perform with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Oct. 19-22 and in an open rehearsal and question-and-answer session with the Colburn Conservatory Orchestra on Oct. 27, followed the next night by a concert with the Colburn. He will appear in a chamber music recital Nov. 1 and again with the Philharmonic Nov. 3-5. All these events will take place at Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, except for the concert on Nov. 4, which will be in Santa Barbara.

 
Bell’s newest CD, “Voice of the Violin,” is available on the Sony label.


 
For more information, call (323) 850-2000 or go to wdch.laphil.com.

Holiday tunes for when you haven’t got a prayer


I like work. It fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.
— Jerome K. Jerome


 
Perhaps it is the intensity of the emotions raised by the liturgy itself. Or the power of worshipping in a sanctuary filled with people. Or the sense that everything is at stake.

 
I like to think it’s the music.

 
But whatever the reason, the High Holidays provide some of the greatest frissons one can experience in a synagogue. And the music is, indeed, a big part of those rising chills. One need look no farther than four new CDs that include generous helpings of music for the Days of Awe to hear evidence of the power of these holidays to inspire composers and performers.

 
Sometimes the simplest music has the greatest impact. Consider “Shomeah Tefillah: Prayers of the High Holy Days,” a CD by Cantor Lois Welber of Temple B’nai Israel, Revere, Mass. Almost all the music on this recording is from Israel Alter, one of the great Conservative cantors of the 20th century.

 
Alter didn’t write classical hazanut; his compositions are devoid of the coloratura pyrotechnics of the Golden Age cantors. Rather, his settings of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgies, published 35 years ago, are straightforward, emotionally direct and comparatively simple. And that is the source of their power.

 
Welber opts for an equally simple and powerful approach. Accompanied only by organist Ernest Rakhlin or pianist David Sparr, she tackles Alter’s music head-on, not with flash but great feeling. Welber has a resonant mezzo voice, not glitzy but profoundly effective. The result is a tribute to the power of simplicity.
 
The mandolin i
s an instrument whose sound resonates with poignancy. In the hands of masters like Dave Grisman and Andy Statman, the gentle ringing of its strings carries a powerful emotional charge.

 
Put those two musicians together with “a collection of timeless Jewish melodies,” as their new CD “New Shabbos Waltz” bills itself, and the result is a sterling blend of deeply emotive music.

 
The set kicks off with a melancholy “Avinu Malkeinu,” with Statman’s plangent clarinet stating the traditional tune while Grisman comps behind him. The duo deftly trade leads on this and the other cuts on the record, aided immeasurably by some silky slide guitar from Bob Brozman and rock-solid timekeeping by Hal Blaine on drums and Jim Kerwin on bass.

 
Statman is in a more playful mood than on his recent excursions into Chasidic mysticism, and his interplay with Grisman is delightful throughout.

 
Two of the latest entries in Naxos Records’ series of Milken Archive recordings feature contemporary orchestral pieces inspired by the High Holiday liturgy. In fact, both Herman Berlinski (“From the World of My Father”) and David Stock (“A Little Miracle”) have tried their hand at re-imaginings of the shofar service for Rosh Hashanah. (Given that this year Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat and there is no shofar service, I find this an amusing coincidence.)

 
Berlinski (1910-2001) was a student of the great Nadia Boulanger, albeit an unhappy one, and I think I detect some of her influence in the rich, dense sound tapestry of Berlinski’s “From the World of My Father,” a lovely 1941 piece that pays homage to the synagogue and folk music of Eastern Europe. His 1964 “Shofar Service” is a fairly straightforward setting of the old Union Prayerbook liturgy, here ably performed by the BBC Singers conducted by Avner Itai.

 
Not surprisingly, Berlinski blends two trumpets with the shofar itself, to considerable dramatic effect. Although he was a friend of Olivier Messiaen and his circle, on the pieces included here, Berlinski is not interested in the less-is-more aesthetic of Messiaen; his is a resolutely post-Romantic palette, whether he is writing for organ (“The Burning Bush”) or full orchestra (“Symphonic Visions for Orchestra”).

 
Stock, who was born in 1939, is of a more obviously modernist bent than Berlinski. His operatic monodrama, “A Little Miracle,” which retells an extraordinary story of Holocaust survivors, owes a bit of its rhythmic drive to Schoenberg (perhaps with a nod to Gershwin).

 
But his “Yizkor” is surprisingly conservative, powerfully melodic and quietly restrained. By contrast, his shofar piece, “Tekiah,” written for trumpet and crisply performed by Stephen Burns and the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble with the composer conducting, has moments that are distinctly reminiscent of the heyday of minimalism. One hears echoes of Glass in the repetitive ensemble figures behind the staccato trumpet line, and the contrast between foreground and background is a fruitful one. The result is an intriguing recording, but I don’t imagine your local shul is going to try it any time soon.

 

George Robinson is the film and music critic for Jewish Week. His book, “Essential Torah: A Complete Guide to the Five Books of Moses,” will be published by Shocken Books in October.


 

“Shomeah Tefillah: Prayers of the High Holy Days,” can be purchased at www.loiswelber.com.

 

“New Shabbos Waltz” can be purchased at www.acousticdisc.com

“From the World of My Father” and “A Little Miracle” can be purchased at www.milkenarchive.org.

Spectator – A Musical Trek to Israel


For 2,000 years, Jewish music has been a hybrid compounded of elements picked up from our neighbors. Salamone Rossi created Italian Baroque settings of Hebrew texts. Chasidic niggunim drew on Viennese waltz music and Eastern European military marches. Sulzer and Lewandowski wrote like German Protestants. In the Diaspora, Jewish music has always been a hyphenate.

One might expect that the creation of a Jewish state might bring about a change in such affairs, but listening to the excellent new compilation “The Rough Guide to the Music of Israel” (Rough Guide/World Music Network) one realizes that, for now at least, Israeli music, too, is an amalgam of local and global influences, ranging from the dance-beat driven songs of the late Ofra Haza to the hip-hop of Hadag Nahash.

Of course, Israel itself is a crossroads, situated in the midst of so many different cultures, and a catch basin for all those different sounds, but for obvious reasons, Israel is a particularly fertile ground for a fusion of Jewish musics — Moroccan, Algerian, Yemenite, Ethiopian, Ladino, Yiddish and so on. And Dan Rosenberg, who compiled this CD has made a point of drawing from all of them. The result is both a useful snapshot of Israeli pop today and a highly danceable record in its own right.

The Jewish Moroccan tradition is a particularly rich one musically and is fittingly well-represented here with selections by Shlomo Bar (of Habrera Hativit) and David D’Or, Emil Zrihan and Kol Oud Tof. But there are equally telling contributions from Bustan Abraham — a Turkish classical composition turned into a devastatingly syncopated dance treat — and old folkies Alberstein and Arik Einstein.

There are no real duds here, although the harmonica-driven Tea Packs is a band more redolent of American vaudeville than some will care for, and Ofra Haza’s discofied “Ode-Le-Eli” probably wouldn’t cut it at a traditional Yemenite wedding. But even those two songs are better-than-average representatives for artists whose popularity is too large for them to be ignored in this context.

The best thing about “The Rough Guide to the Music of Israel” is that it will introduce listeners to the entire range of music coming out of the country. If you can get your parents to put away their Hillel and Aviva records and check out the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra or Idan Raichel’s Project, you’ll be glad you did. (How your parents will feel, that’s not my problem.)

George Robinson is the film and music critic for Jewish Week; his new book, “Essential Torah,” will be published by Shocken Books in fall 2006.

 

Fit L.A. – Let’s Take a ‘J-Walk’ Around the Block


I enjoy walking if it’s through a store during a sale or to show off a grandchild. But walking for the pure fun of it isn’t fun for me. The last time I exercised was when Ed Sullivan introduced the Beatles, and I jumped up and down in the living room as they played.

Enter the Neshoma Orchestra and their two CDs to walk by, “J-Walking” and the recently released “J-Walking the Next Step.”

After schlepping 40 years in the desert, it’s hard to imagine a CD to exercise by coming from a people who have harbored a subconscious distrust of walking. But with my daughter’s upcoming nuptials, my unending kvetch about fitting into the dress won out over my skepticism.

Tuesday, 8 p.m.

I dusted off the portable CD player, stuck an earphone in my ear, put on as flattering an outfit as I could conjure up and hit the open road, one foot in front of the other.

Before I knew it, I had gone a block, then two, humming along with the familiar Yiddish melodies that played faster and more upbeat than I ever remembered. Strains of “Chabibi” coursed through my veins.

My mother’s Yiddish musical selections ran more toward, “My Yiddish Mama” and “Make Mir a Bisala Yingala” from The Barry Sisters. “Sob Your Heart Out Greatest Hits.”

So there I am, walking along at a jaunty pace, humming and moving without my usual stops to check the time, but actually enjoying the pace.

At three blocks I began forcing myself to ignore the objections of my feet and focus on the beat.

I had made it through four songs and I was feeling empowered. Suddenly, the old anti-exercise gene kicked in and my body began to rebel and slow the pace. I fought valiantly and luckily, the next selection was more upbeat. I kicked into overdrive to “Reb Shlomo’s Niggun.”

I was feeling good, and a bit shocked that I had just absorbed five Yiddish songs without shedding a tear.

I decided to push my luck, so I kept walking, farther than I had planned. I wasn’t sure if it was endorphins or the music, but I was feeling good; so good in fact, I pressed forward, another street, another, until I had gone farther than ever before.

I was pretty sure that by now, my pushy Jewish genes had taken hold, awakened by the chemicals released in my brain to combine with more than 5,700 years of feistiness.

Whatever it was, it was working, so I tested myself even more and attempted an uphill walk. This was major since the flat terrain was enough of a challenge.

I looked up toward Sunset Boulevard. It could’ve been Mount Sinai. Oy, that’s steep, I thought. But I was pumped with Yiddishkayt and defeat was not an option. I began the ascent. Gevalt, could I be this out of shape?

The songs had gotten to me and Yiddish was flowing out of my mouth now like lies from a politician. “Hodu” suddenly kicked in, and so did I. Breathing heavily, I climbed ever upward, inspired, pumped, lungs aching, feet screaming obscenities. I could not be stopped. I was a Jewish walking machine, sucking in air as I ascended higher and higher toward Sunset Boulevard. Mouthing silent oys as I schlepped, the beat growing faster and more upbeat, I was inspired and — oy, was I tired. Could I reach the promised land of Sunset Boulevard? I knew I would pay for this the next morning, but I didn’t care. I refused to look upward and focused on my feet so as not to notice how high I was climbing. I wondered how long I might lie on the street if keeled over before someone would find me.

I could be lying there, Yiddish music blasting from my unconscious ears, my headband covering my eyes, just another exercise victim who had crossed a threshold of pain.

This daydream diverted my attention long enough to get my second wind and I was off. Huffing and puffing nearing the top, almost there, thousands of years of Jewish determination pounding in my veins, two feet more, one, I was there. I stood on Sunset Boulevard and peered downward like Moses glimpsing the River Jordan.

The beat compelled me onward, so I walked along Sunset, so filled with accomplishment I thought I would burst.

I walked toward home until I found a downhill street on which to begin my descent. Whoa, this downhill was almost as hard. I fought to keep the rhythm, until I reached Santa Monica Boulevard. I trudged up the steps and tore my shoes off, the music still filling my ears, joyous, upbeat. I had done three miles and walked uphill. There was no talking to me now. I was filled with hope. Tomorrow I could do this again. I felt it; I knew it.

Wednesday, 8 a.m.

I opened my eyes, and flush with optimism I stepped out of bed. Oy, flush with pain.

But there was no stopping me. I was a Jew with her music and a worthy goal of fitting into the dress for her daughter’s wedding.

 

Spectator – It’s Hip to Be Chutzpah


When you think of hip-hop or rap, you don’t generally think of jowl-necked septuagenarians or skinny, psyched-out white guys rapping about the tsuris their mother gives them, but then again, you don’t generally think of Jews either.

Enter Chutzpah, or the new “Jewish Hip-Hop Supergroup,” as they would have it.

People say “that we could perform in front of a black urban audience and they would be into the beat and into the rap,” said Jewdah (a.k.a. David Scharff, Chutzpah’s manager). “Of course, it was a couple of Jewish guys saying that.”

That kind of irreverence makes Chutzpah a hybrid entertainment experience. On the one hand, the raps they sing — like “Chanukah’s Da Bomb” or “Tsuris” — sustain a head-throbbing beat that might hold its own in the innercity. On the other hand, the group, which consists of Master Tav (a.k.a. Tor Hyams), Dr. Dreck (a.k.a. George Segal) and MC Meshugenah (real name unknown) keeps trying to make you laugh and to get you in on the joke.

In “Chutzpah, This Is, The Official Hip-Hop-Umentary,” Chutzpah’s debut DVD, the group explains its origins in a mock-serious “This Is Spinal Tap” fashion. The group officially started when Master Tav called up Dr. Dreck, who was then moonlighting as George Segal, and left a message inviting him to join a Jewish rap group. Dreck wanted to delete the message, but instead pressed a button that called Tav back, and Chutzpah was born.

Dreck, who wears heavy gold chains and looks just a bit too old to be doing the arm-bouncing motions so favored by rappers, was rumored to have invented scratching on a Victrola in 1948. He also claims that Dr. Dre stole his name and dropped the “CK.”

In addition to the DVD, Chutzpah also has a CD “Chutzpah, Eponymous.” The group claims that its music will cross ethnic boundaries, bring Jewish culture to the masses, and make people say, as Tav put it: “I wish I was a cool Jewish rapper.”

For information on Chutzpah, visit

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, October 1

Ditch the stuffy fundraising dinners in favor of two benefits this weekend that actually sound fun. Today’s “Hugs for Ari” is a carnival-style dinner-dance at the Santa Monica Pier. Huge auction prizes like tickets to Pearl Jam in Buenos Aires, plus roaming magicians and clowns and free rides on the giant carousel make the event adult and kid-friendly, all while helping the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. (See Sunday’s listing for our other benefit “pick.”)

6:30 p.m. $125 (adults), $50 (children). Santa Monica Pier Carousel, Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (323) 655-8525.

Sunday, October 2

The Los Angeles Conservancy makes the bold attempt of “turning Los Angeles into a living museum,” starting today with “Curating the City: Wilshire Boulevard.” The one-day, self-guided architectural tour of L.A.’s historic street includes docent-led tour sites along the route, including one at Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

$12.50-$35. (213) 623-2849. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Monday, October 3

A timely CD for the High Holidays recently released by the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music is an all-Leonard Bernstein recording of “Kaddish, Symphony No. 3,” a deeply personal and reflective work that is the last version of several Bernstein rewrote over the years, and “Chichester Psalms,” a setting of Psalm texts performed by chorus, boy soloist and orchestra.

$5.99. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Tuesday, October 4

Your favorite red-headed “hard-knock life” orphan returns to Los Angeles for just two weeks beginning tonight. “Annie” runs through Oct. 16 at the Pantages, starring the miraculously still ticking and working Mackenzie Phillips as Lily St. Regis. The show also features a new song by original songwriters Martin Charnin and Charles Strouse, “Why Should I Change a Thing?”

$25-$68. 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 365-3500.

Wednesday, October 5

For those who never quite got what all the fuss was about with classical music, Robert Kapilow is here to answer, “What Makes It Great?” Hallowed for his Leonard Bernstein-esque ability to make classical music accessible to the masses, Kapilow dissects Mozart this evening at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, with the help of the New Hollywood String Quartet.

7:30 p.m. $18. 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. (562) 916-8510. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Thursday, October 6

Jew and Latino find a meeting place at the Casa del Mexicano, a Boyle Heights synagogue-cum-Latino community center, thanks to Collage Dance Theatre’s latest production, “The Entire World Is a Narrow Bridge.” The site-specific dance performance explores the history of the Boyle Heights neighborhood.

$40. Oct. 6-9, and 21-23. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Friday, October 7

Her name is Allois+. (Yep, there’s a plus sign in there.) And as intriguing as the plus sign, for which we’ve been given no explanation, is her art, for which we have. To quote the quixotic artist on her figurative paintings, “Painting is like breathing to me, an escape from reality to my own private world. I imagine this world like a small submarine, my Nautilus, where I am captain. I stake everything on the unusual and on surpassing the real,…” “Allois, Works on Metal, Canvas and Paper” runs through Oct. 15 at Lev Moross Gallery.

962 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 512-0151.

Shticking It to the Classics


My 5-year-old thinks “My Yiddishe Mama,” the soulful ballad immortalized by Sophie Tucker in 1928, is a rock anthem. The version he learned didn’t come from a dusty old record, but from a CD released in 2004 by the group, Yiddishe Cup, called “Meshugeneh Mambo.”

This is not your grandmother’s Jewish music. Like other recent Jewish parody CDs, “Meshugeneh Mambo” carries on the tradition of Jewish humor popularized by such forbearers as Mickey Katz and Allan Sherman. Although the lounge acts of the Catskills have all but vanished, a few intrepid souls are bringing a modern brand of Borscht Belt humor to a whole new generation.

Yiddishe Cup’s album combines soulful klezmer ballads, doo-wop and, of course, Latin flair. The title track sets the tone, promising “No frailech [joyful] hora can compare/ to shaking your Yiddishe dierriere/ to the lovely Mesugheneh Mambo.”

The group’s rendition of “My Yiddishe Mama” throws in homage to James Bond’s “Goldfinger” and the theme song to “The Patty Duke Show.” Listen closely and you will hear spoofs of “Star Trek,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Outer Limits” scattered about in the traditional melodies and remakes of comedy routines created in the 1950s.

Newer artists like Yiddishe Cup have learned from the old comedic masters that classic Jewish humor relies on cleverness rather than anger. The best comics “tell a story that is visual and makes you think,” said Simon Rutberg of Hatikvah International on Fairfax Avenue. “Using the word ‘shmuck’ doesn’t make it Jewish.”

Instead, skilled artists allow listeners to recognize themselves and the universal truths behind the tales and tunes.

One artist who stresses ruach (spirit) over raunch is Michael Lange. The director, whose credits include “Life Goes On” and “The X-Files,” has released several titles under his Silly Music label. In November, Lange will release “A Kosher Christmas,” a collection of popular yuletide melodies coupled with decidedly Jewish-themed lyrics. It’s a strange experience indeed to hear the traditional orchestrations — think bells, trumpets and choral harmonies — as singers croon about litigation, food, guilt and family (categories that Lange refers to as “the four cornerstones of the Jewish experience.”)

In “Such a Loyal Son Am I,” a take-off on “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” a mother and son alternate kvetching about one another: (Him:) Not so easy with this mother/Still a loyal son am I. (Her:) Not a doctor like his brother/Such a shanda [shame] I should cry. “Greensleeves” is re-imagined as “Greenstein,” an ode to the singer’s childhood crush, Tiffany Greenstein.

And, of course, food plays a significant role, as in “Harvey Weisenberg” (to the tune of “Good King Wenceslas”): “[which] Soup would he pick, wondered he:/Lentil, borscht or chicken/As he ate he thought with glee:/This is finger lickin’….

Lange previously created two Broadway musical parodies. “Goys and Dolls,” released in 2002, uses the original melodies of “Guys and Dolls” to tell the story of a young man who begins dating a non-Jewish woman, while “Say Oy Vey” re-imagines “Cabaret” as the story of two seniors who find romance at synagogue bridge night.

Musicals are also the targets of spoofs created by the group Shlock Rock, whose founder, Lenny Solomon, hails from a long line of cantors. Their 2003 release, “Almost on Broadway,” transforms “Maria” from “West Side Story” to “Tekia”: “Tekia! I’ve just heard the sound called Tekia!”

Shlock Rock boasts 23 albums to its credit, ranging from original compositions to children’s music to parody. The group’s nine other parody CD’s display an impressive range of musical styles, Judaic knowledge and humor. In one, for example, Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” becomes “49 Days to Count the Omer,” while in another, “Livin’ La Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin morphs into “Learning to Do the Hora.” And you’ve got to wonder what kind of mind would think of transforming the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” into “Rabbi Akiva”: “Rabbi Akiva had straw for a bed/Love thy neighbor like thyself is what he said.”

While they’re amusing to listen to, be forewarned: The lyrics stick with you. So when the time comes for my son to join his kindergarten classmates for the annual holiday assembly in December, he’ll be easy to pick out. He’ll be the one singing “Goys Rule the World.”

 

Spectator – A Hand in Global Harmony


The Middle Eastern fusion music on “Hamsa” is so insidiously infectious and rhythmic that you will not only be humming along but tapping your feet, as well.

“It was never intended to become an album,” said Carvin Knowles, the CD’s creator. “It was how I felt at the time. But I kept hearing from people I had given it to as a gift about how much they loved the music, so I put together this collection.”

Knowles, 41, a native of Long Beach who now lives in Hollywood, has been scoring films since 1991 — perhaps his best-known track is from the infamous pie scene in “American Pie.” His creative flair, though maybe not his name, is best known to Jewish Journal readers through the award-winning covers he designs for the publication.

Knowles, who is not Jewish but a student of Jewish culture and mysticism, wrote “Ghita” and “Taqsim,” the first of the 12 songs that would eventually make up “Hamsa,” for a documentary about Egyptian archeology that was in production prior to Sept. 11, 2001. The unique sound was an amalgamation of musical influences, such as klezmer, Egyptian pop, hip-hop and Rai (a combining of Arab classical music with R&B).

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the documentary was never released, and Knowles temporarily lost his taste for Middle Eastern music.

“For a full year I didn’t listen to Middle Eastern music at all, because I was really angry,” he said. “Working in the media, I saw images of Arabs celebrating our loss, and I was angry.”

Knowles’ anger dissipated when he started hearing from music scene friends about how many Middle Eastern artists were concerned, rather than gloating. Some artists canceled concerts to show solidarity with the victims; others used their fame to promote peace and dialogue. Newly inspired, Knowles picked up his ud (like the oud — a round backed string instrument — but smaller and Turkish) and started recording again. The result was “Hamsa,” a mostly instrumental CD.

In concert with his desires for global harmony, Knowles produced and played rhythms that borrowed from many cultures (North African, Turkish, Lebanese) — then fused them together.

He titled the CD “Hamsa” — a hand-shaped amulet, thought to represent the hand of God, which is used to banish the “evil eye.” He also designed the beautiful, filigreed, earthy-red hamsa that appears on the cover. “Part of what the hamsa means is ‘Go away Westerner. We don’t want you here,'” said Knowles. “But the hamsa is also a signpost marking where East and West touch. It is a symbol not just of the conflict, but the meeting, the cooperation.”

For more information, go to href=”http://www.carvinknowles.com” target=”_blank”>www.carvinknowles.com. To order “Hamsa,” visit

Soothing Music Memories


When Len Lawrence was sitting shiva for his father 12 years ago, he found himself longing for some Jewish music to help soothe him through that difficult time, but he just couldn’t find the right songs.

Now that Lawrence is general manager of Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries, he has remedied the situation for others who might feel the way he did. The result is “Scores of Memory,” a CD of traditional and contemporary compositions produced by Mount Sinai and Craig Taubman.

“What I wanted was music that touches people’s souls and hearts in many different ways in their time of need,” Lawrence said.

The CD includes songs by Taubman, Debbie Friedman and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. The latter has special meaning for Rabbi Jerry Cutler of Creative Arts Temple.

“My father was an Orthodox rabbi, so we grew up in a very traditional home where we would hear such music as Carlebach’s all the time,” Cutler recalled. “For someone who has lost someone and their mind is in a state of riot, if they put the Mount Sinai music on, they can start remembering beautiful times from many years ago.”

Lawrence said many people around the country have written to thank him for the CD, which Mount Sinai offers free to both its clients and anyone who requests the music.

In the introduction to “Scores of Memory,” Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple wrote: “From the depths of our souls, we bring our grief, our joy, our doubts, our hopes, our being in music. From the moment we are born, there is something in us that responds to the cadence and rhythm of the song.”

Cutler views the use of music at a funeral or time of mourning as a very personal decision. “I always say, whatever the heart dictates.”

For more information, visit www.mt-sinai.com.

 

It’s Not Your Zayde’s Klezmer Anymore


Musician Eric Stein felt disillusioned with rock ‘n’ roll. He spent years slogging away in a band without “making it,” so he started looking for something else.

He considered being a history professor, but then, a new instrument and an old style of music changed his mind.

The instrument was a mandolin and the music klezmer.

“There was level of musical sophistication that goes with the kind of music you can play on the mandolin, and my intention was to start a new acoustic-fusion thing, with an emphasis on string and wind instruments,” said Stein, who went on to form Beyond the Pale, a klezmer-fusion band.

“I had been brought up as a secular Jew, and I didn’t know much about Jewish music except that it was dorky,” said Stein on the phone from Toronto, where his band is based. “But when klezmer got hot a few years ago, I found that the music really spoke to me on a cultural level. All the time, I was trying to play other people’s music, but this is the music of my family and my history.”

Stein’s approach to klezmer — seeing it as part of his heritage, but wanting to put an innovative, modern stamp on it, is typical of today’s klezmer revival. More and more musicians are attracted to the music, but want to move it beyond its European folk roots.

Hence, bands like Beyond the Pale fuse klezmer with reggae, jazz, ska and bluegrass music. As a result, klezmer keeps one foot in its shtetl past and another in the post-modern present.

“That’s why we called the band Beyond the Pale, because the expression means something that is unexpected and beyond the bounds,” Stein said. “[The name] refers to the Jewish roots of the band, but it also refers to the idea that we want to get outside of the rules — to pay homage to the traditions, but at the same time express ourselves.”

“Consensus” is the name of Beyond the Pale’s new CD, but while the title implies harmonic accord, even compromise, the tunes on the CD do not. Although not disharmonious, the tunes startle the listener with their complex boldness.

In “Whassat,” for instance, the 10th song on the CD, a clarinet melody starts off plaintive and wailing, only to be overlaid by a thumping base beat that builds into a rhythmic crescendo that is less “Tevye” and more jazz club.

In “Skalavaye,” Beyond the Pale gives a modern, ska-tinged rendition of a 1940s Yiddish classic, with contemporary nods to Yiddish humor. “Halevai (I only wish that) I was a keg of beer,” warbles vocalist Josh Dolgin. “So you could quench your thirst with me, my dear'”

For Stein, the CD, a live recording of a Toronto concert, epitomizes the new direction of klezmer.

“Historically, klezmer music was just about extinct by the mid-60s, for all sorts of different reasons, such as demographics and the Holocaust,” Stein said. “So for the first 15 to 20 years of the klezmer revival, [which started in the 1970s], the overriding influence was about ‘Let’s rescue what was forgotten and bring it back.’ But in the 1990s, we have the second generation of the klezmer revival, and that is when things really started to evolve. [The musicians] were marrying klezmer to jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, funk and reggae.”

Klezmer was not only becoming musically assimilated, but moving beyond the confines of the Jewish community. Stein is the only member of his five-piece band who is Jewish, and the band’s audiences have also changed.

No longer do klezmer bands attract only the bubbes and zaydes who remember the music from the old days. Now, in many venues, klezmer audiences can be primarily non-Jewish.

“People from within the Jewish community are embracing it, and using it as a way to express their own cultural heritage, but it is also having a life outside of the Jewish community altogether,” said Martin Van de Ven, Beyond the Pale’s clarinetist. “It has become [a style of music] with its own direction and way of doing things. More and more musicians are getting involved with it….”

“It is really evolving beyond just a Jewish form of music,” he said.

Beyond the Pale will perform June 1 at 9:30 p.m. at Tangier Restaurant, 2138 Hillcrest Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 666-8666. For more information on the band, visit

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday, December 18

Tis the season for cocktail parties, so why not one more. The Anti-Defamation League hosts its 2004 Los Angeles Celebration this evening, complete with dinner, dancing, martini bar and keynote speech by Harvard professor/defense attorney/Israel defender Alan Dershowitz.

6:30 p.m. $250. For location and reservations, call (310) 446-8000, ext. 260.

Sunday, December 19

This evening, an aural treat presents itself in the form of the Levantine Cultural Center’s “Middle East Concert for Peace.” The Naser Musa-Adam del Monte Ensemble’s sound is described as “vibrant Arab, Sephardic and Flamenco world music.”

6 p.m. (reception). 7 p.m. (concert). $12-$25. Hollywood United Methodist Church. (310) 559-5544.

Monday, December 20

Cantorial music meets West Coast jazz in trumpeter Steven Bernstein’s new album, “Diaspora Hollywood,” in a way that has many a critic raving. Have a listen live at tonight’s CD release concert at Temple Bar, where Bernstein will perform with Pablo Calogero on brass and woodwinds, DJ Bonebrake on vibraphone, David Piltch on bass and Danny Frankel on drums and percussion.

10:30 p.m. $5. 1026 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. www.templebarlive.com.

Tuesday, December 21

Bruria Finkel has gathered newish and established area artists for Santa Monica Art Studios’ ARENA 1 inaugural exhibition, “Santa Monica Originals.” Featured in the show are pieces that have a historical or contemporary connection to Santa Monica, including works by John Baldessari, Sam Francis, Rachel Lachoicz and Frank Gehry. Interestingly, Gehry’s 1987 model for a 37-acre renovation proposal for the airport commons, which is displayed in the show, would have eliminated many artist studios around the airport, including the one housing this exhibit.

Runs through Feb. 5. 3026 Airport Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 397-7456.

Wednesday, December 22

True, Chanukah’s over, but now that you’ve collected your loot, maybe it’s appropriate to give a little back — and get a head start on next year. Hungry for Music is a nonprofit that brings music into the lives of underprivileged kids, and proceeds from their “A Chanukah Feast” CD, featuring 21 Chanukah tunes in just about every style imaginable, benefit the worthy group.

$15.99. www.hungryformusic.com.

Thursday, December 23

Today, the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre kicks off its latest series, a tribute to comedy teams of bygone days, “Too Much Monkey Business: The Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello and The Three Stooges.” It all adds up to a lot of funny Jews, beginning with tonight’s double feature (and a half) of Groucho & Co. in “Animal Crackers,” followed by Moe, Larry and Curly in “A-Plumbing We Will Go” and ending with Bud and Lou in “Buck Privates.”

7:30 p.m. $6-$9. 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 466-3456.

Friday, November 24

The Fonz gets you in the holiday spirit at today’s free “45th L.A. County Holiday Celebration” at the Music Center. The six-hour performance hosted by Henry Winkler features 39 groups reflecting “the cultural mosaic of Los Angeles,” including America Chinese Dance Association, Celtic Spring Irish Step Dancing, Hollywood Klezmer, Yuval Ron Ensemble, Church of Scientology Choir, Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles and Mariachi Sol de Mexico. Patrons are free to come and go as they please throughout the event. If you can’t make it, be sure to catch the action live on KCET.

3-9 p.m. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. www.holidaycelebration.org.

Spend Chanukah Barenaked


 

While naming your holiday album “Barenaked for the Holidays” is a pretty catchy way to get some attention, for the quirky pop band that calls itself the Barenaked Ladies, it made sense — about as much sense as getting naked on “The Sharon Osbourne Show” last year, anyway. Apparently, stripping down’s just part of the offbeat Canadians’ sense of fun. So it follows that anyone expecting the Ladies’ holiday album to be anything less than silly would be, well, silly.

The new CD offers up revamped Christmas, Chanukah and New Year’s classics, as well as a few original tunes, including one called “Hanukkah Blessings,” written by Jewish band member Steven Page. The reinterpreted songs include a version of “Jingle Bells” that has “the extra lines you remember from being a kid,” Page recently told rollingstone.com.

Another song, titled, “Deck the Stills,” is a variation on “Deck the Halls” that functions as a bizarre homage to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, wherein the band’s name, sung repeatedly to the melody of “Deck the Halls” makes up the entirety of the song.

Two Chanukah standards also make it onto the album: “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah” and “I Have a Little Dreidel,” both redone in traditional — if a little peppier — style.

While the Ladies might not seem bent on tradition, there is at least one that it’s said they stick to. The band is known for always recording at least one song per album completely nude. Which song that is remains a mystery, although for the sake of Sarah McLachlan, their collaborator on the recording,”God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” we hope it wasn’t that one.

And while in typical, unpredictable style, the Ladies released their holiday CD way back in October, Page was quick to mockingly defend the choice on the band’s official blog, noting its release was “just in time for the holidays. Well, by holidays I mean Ramadan and Canadian Thanksgiving.” Still, he added, “It might be early for a stocking stuffer, but it’s perfect as a turkey stuffer.”

 

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday

The Daniel Pearl Music Day continues on this week and into November. Those paying homage today include Kehillat Israel of the Pacific Palisades, which will honor Pearl’s memory during its Shabbat service, and Madeline Felkin and Deanna France, who perform classical, baroque, Celtic fiddle and folk music at Madeline Felkin’s Fiddlefest in Palmdale – yes, seriously. Tomorrow, Emanuel Arts Center, The Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles and the American Youth Symphony each participate separately. Visit the Daniel Pearl Foundation Web site for details on all events.

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Sunday

Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman lends his moderating talents to two of-the-moment debates this week. Today, he heads to the University of Judaism (and so should you) to ref an “Election 2004 – The Jewish Vote” verbal sparring match between Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Larry Greenfield and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys). Then Tuesday, Eshman leads a public forum at Temple Beth Am discussing “A Jewish Perspective on Stem Cell Research.” Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Dr. Stephen Forman, Rabbi Laura Geller, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky and Ken Bernstein, a Type 1 diabetic, will offer their religious, scientific and personal perspectives on the subject.

Oct. 17, 7:45 p.m. $10. University of Judaism, Bel Air. (310) 440-1246.
Oct. 19, 7:30 p.m. Free. Temple Beth Am, Los Angeles. (310) 652-7353.

Monday

Wax nostalgic today with Counterpoint’s new CD, “When the Rabbi Danced: Songs of Jewish Life From the Shtetl to the Resistance.” The choir sings a compilation of some of the best-loved Yiddish and Hebrew music, ranging from the religious to the political to the romantic.

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Tuesday

Dentures, cherubic dolls and iron wheels become art in the hands of collage maker Eva Kolosvary-Stupler. Her experiences as a child Holocaust survivor and later of communism have always informed her work. Her latest exhibition of assemblages, “Magical Transformations,” is on view at the Don O’Melveny Gallery through Oct. 27.

9009 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. (310) 273-7868.

Wednesday

Feeling Kinky? Not everyone does, but today was made for lovers – of Kinky Friedman, that is. The rabble rouser, writer and Texas gubernatorial candidate comes to Pasadena to sign his new book, “‘Scuse Me While I Whip This Out.” This time, Friedman gets personal, telling stories of his unusual life, which has intersected with that of Bill Clinton’s, George W.’s and Bob Dylan’s, among others.

7 p.m. Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 449-5320.

Thursday

The intimate Black Dahlia Theatre accommodates “An Infinite Ache” this month. The David Schulner play introduces us to Charles (a Jewish guy) and Hope (an Asian girl), after their less-than-great first date. But as we are propelled forward into the future, we see the couple flourish – and fail – as they go through the emotional trials of love and marriage over a lifetime. It runs through Oct. 24.

8 p.m. (Wed.-Sat.), 7 p.m. (Sun.). $20. 5453 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (866) 468-3399.

Friday

The theatrical obsession with gravediggers shows up again in Art Shulman’s new play, “The Rabbi and the Gravedigger.” A “semisequel” to Shulman’s “The Rabbi and the Shiksa,” this one opens to find the rabbi laying to rest his non-Jewish love, Teresa. It plays at Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre through Dec. 11.

8 p.m. (Fri. and Sat.), 2 p.m. (Sun.). $14-$16. 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 769-7529.

SPECTATORby Shoshana Lewin, Contributing Writer

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The roots of Broadway as we know it can be traced not to the streets of New York, but to the streets of Eastern Europe, where Jewish lyricists and composers like Irving Berlin (ne Izzy Ballin) took the music of their religion, added rich colorful lyrics and brought it to the masses.
Musicals took audiences away from sadness, depression and war, and transported them to a cornfield in Oklahoma, an opera house in Paris or the jungles of Africa.
“Musicals sell optimism,” said Mel Brooks, creator of the Tony Award-winning “The Producers.”
For three nights, beginning Oct. 19, theater lovers will have the chance to remember – and relive – 100 years of optimism with “Broadway: The American Musical,” hosted by Julie Andrews. The six-part PBS documentary tells the story of the place “where the American dream is realized eight times a week,” producer Michael Kantor said.
The series begins with the “Ziegfeld Follies” (and the comedy of Fanny Brice) and ends with a look at the opening night of Stephen Schwartz’s Tony Award-winning blockbuster, “Wicked.”
However, Broadway couldn’t escape from the real world completely. Some shows raised a few eyebrows for tackling some controversial topics such as domestic abuse in “Carousel,” homosexuality in “La Cage Aux Folles” and the AIDS epidemic in “Rent,” which hit close to home in the Broadway community after it lost many of its members to the disease.
After Sept. 11, when New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said “the show must go on,” the companies of every show on Broadway came together in Times Square to sing John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “New York, New York,” reminding the city that “it’s up to you, New York” – and that Broadway was ready and waiting.
In 100 years there will be new “Lullabies of Broadway,” but someone somewhere will be still humming “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.”

“Broadway: The American Musical” will air on PBS Oct. 19-21, 9 p.m. For more information on the show, visit

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Billy Joel goes uptown again, but this time it’s Twyla, not Christie, he’s crooning for. Pop and high culture fuse the backbone of “Movin’ Out,” the musical that merges Joel’s music with Twyla Tharp’s modern dance choreography, and word on the New York streets is this marriage might last. It arrives this week at the Pantages.Through Oct. 31. 8 p.m. (Tues.-Sat.), 2 p.m. (Sat.), 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. (Sun.). $55.50-$80.50. 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (213) 365-3500.

Sunday

From “Movin’ Out” to “Take Me Out,” L.A. theater continues to impress today at the Geffen Playhouse’s Brentwood Theatre. The Richard Greenberg Tony Award-winner examines the repercussions of a celebrity baseball player’s decision to out himself publicly, and in the process, the larger cultural context of what it means to be a gay athlete in America.Through Oct. 24. $28-$46. 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Bldg. 211, Los Angeles.(310) 208-5454.

Monday

And speaking of coming out, you can now own the CD “Willand Grace: Let the Music Out.” The compilation includes old favorites by pastguest stars including Cher and Jennifer Lopez, as well as two duets: Carly Simonand Megan Mullally sing Simon’s “The Right Thing To Do,” and Barry Manilow andEric McCormack sing a song they wrote together especially for the album, “LivingWith Grace.” Fans of the show will also appreciate the homage to Kevin Bacon.Continuing where his guest-starring episode, “Bacon and Eggs” left off, includedamong the 15 tracks is a new rendition of the song “Footloose” sung by the BaconBrothers. $13.99. www.amazon.com.

Tuesday

Going once, going twice and gone by next week are themore than 100 telephones enjoying second incarnations as works of art. TheZimmer Children’s Museum and GOTTA HAVE IT! Auctions have united to create anonline auction of telephones decorated by celebrities, community leaders,students and everyday heroes to benefit youTHink, the museum’s art educationoutreach program. Bid on sculptures by Mischa Barton, Elizabeth Taylor and DianeSawyer for the worthy cause. www.gottahavit.com.

Wednesday

‘Tis the season for deep thinking and introspection, andPBS encourages just such behavior tonight. “The Question of God: C.S. Lewis andSigmund Freud With Dr. Armand Nicholi” presents Nicholi and a panel gettingphilosophical and placing Freud’s and Lewis’ opposing theories of God underscrutiny. 9-11 p.m. www.kcet.org.

Thursday

Youth programs and art converge again today. The Anti-Defamation League’s “Dream Dialogue” brings together high school students of different backgrounds to connect across ethnic lines. On display is the fruit of their recent efforts: the “Faces of L.A.” photographic exhibition, which depicts the diversity of the Los Angeles community through the eyes of its teenagers. It’s on display at the Pico Rivera Centre for the Arts through Oct. 16.1-5 p.m. (Tuesdays and Thursdays), 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. (Wednesdays), 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (Saturdays). Free. 9200 Mines Ave., Pico Rivera. (310) 446-8000, ext. 232.

Friday

Your o.c.d. tendencies work to your advantage this morning, and you’ve actually got time to kill before warming up the pre-Kol Nidre dinner. Why not head to the University of Judaism for some quiet time with a good book — or a few? The Platt and Borstein Galleries presents “Transformations: Artists’ Books and Collages.” The exhibition by seven artist bookmakers stretches the boundaries of size, shape and material, reimagining and pushing the envelope on the very concept of what makes a book a book.Through Nov. 24. Open today from 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 476-9777, ext. 201.

Aroeste Gives New Life to Ladino Tunes


Purists were skeptical when Sarah Aroeste debuted her Ladino rock ‘n’ roll band back in 2001. Most artists singing in the fading Sephardic language were traditionalists, performing classical versions of songs dating to the Jews’ expulsion from Spain in 1492.

But here was Aroeste, mixing rock and jazz with the flamenco and Middle Eastern-tinged music of her ancestors, singing those same lush romances accompanied by electric guitar as well as oud. And, the New York press noted, she was doing so while performing with a bare midriff and gyrating hips — moves that led several publications to label her “The Jewish Shakira.”

During a recent phone interview from her Manhattan apartment, the 28-year-old singer expressed distaste for the “Shakira” label.

“People tend to harp on that, as if I’m being deliberately exploitative,” she said with a sigh. “But why shy away from the sensuality that is actually in this culture?”

Yet, when she quit her day job to found the band, “people thought I was nuts,” she said. “I mean, a Ladino rock group — who had ever heard of that? So I was charting new territory. I was afraid of the critics, and I struggled to find a balance I hoped would work.”

Mission apparently accomplished. Aroeste’s 2003 CD, “A La Una — In the Beginning,” sold out its initial run and now shares shelf space with CDs by classical Sephardic artists, such as Isabel Ganz. Her band regularly performs not just at nightclubs but at Jewish venues across the United States.

In Los Angeles this week, she played at the Temple Bar, a rock nightclub, and Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel; tonight she’ll appear at Sinai Temple’s young adult service, Friday Night Live.

Observers have noted her crossover appeal: “I am stunned … at how successfully Aroeste has succeeded in setting this music in a way that makes it contemporary, without losing the very traditional feel of the music and the music’s roots,” Ari Davidow wrote in Klezmer Shack magazine. “Until [‘A La Una’], I don’t think I could have pointed to a sharp, contemporary, danceable Sephardic music album. Until I heard this particular album, I don’t think it would have occurred to me that the category was necessary.”

“Sarah has really cornered the market on Ladino rock,” said Randee Friedman of Sounds Write Productions Inc., a distributer of her CD. “A lot of Ladino comes across my desk, but it’s old-style, and Sarah is really hip. She’s reaching out to the younger generation, and I think she’s been very successful at that.”

If Aroeste has successfully conveyed her enthusiasm for Sephardic music, it’s virtually in her blood. She grew up in a “big, fat Jewish Greek family” in Princeton, N.J., where Ladino songs graced the record player and the Shabbat dinner table. The Yale-educated soprano further fell in love with the ancient art form while studying at a Tel Aviv opera summer program eight years ago.

But when she organized a new Jewish music project for the National Foundation for Jewish Culture in 1999, Aroeste grew “frustrated and disappointed” by the dearth of novel Sephardic fare. The klezmer-fusion renaissance was thriving in Ashkenazi circles, courtesy of artists such as Frank London and John Zorn, “but there was nothing Sephardic that I could relate to as a modern, American woman,” she said.

“I felt, this music is in danger of disappearing within a generation unless we do something to reach new people,” the performer continued. “And that became my mission.”

To reach as wide an audience as possible, Aroeste focused her Sephardic fusion on secular, rather than liturgical songs. “The themes are totally universal and contemporary, like bad breakups, blinddating, crushes, long-distance relationships,” she said. “In fact, if you walked into one of my shows, you might not even realize it’s Jewish music, because it doesn’t sound the way most people think of Jewish music, meaning klezmer.”

“Yo M’enamori” (“Moon Trick”), for example, is more reminiscent of contemporary rock; Aroeste’s trance remix of “Hija Mia” (“The One I Want”) sounds practically psychedelic.

Yet all her songs are grounded in the original, ancient melodies and lyrics, which has apparently satisfied would-be critics.

“At first, people wanted to see if I was going to completely change and popularize the music, but they’ve seen that’s not the case,” she said. “I’ve worked hard to maintain the integrity of the music and to use my work to preserve and revitalize the tradition.”

Sarah Aroeste will perform Sept. 10, 7:30 p.m. at SinaiTemple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood. For more information, visit www.saraharoeste.com .

Robbo to Sing at Center Gala


Songwriter and performer Robb Zelonky tangos to the lyrical subject of cleaning up a messy room and morphs into an Elvis impersonation when he sings, "Don’t Wanna Share My Toys."

Zelonky, known to kids as Robbo, brings his family-oriented songfest to the stage as part of the Irvine Jewish Community Center’s grand opening events on Aug. 17.

"I was a theater major. My show is very visual and theatrical and participatory," Zelonky said. "Even dads like it, which is saying something."

Zelonky is scheduled to appear in Irvine after a two-month tour of California, bringing a special show with songs tailored to Jewish culture. He has also produced four secular CDs.

His most recent recording, "Kid’s Life," features celebrity voices including Teri Garr, Linda Gray, Steve Harris, Henry Winkler and Vanna White. Zelonky puts his own stamp on classic Jewish songs in his 1997 CD titled "A Part of a Chain."

Zelonky started entertaining through concerts for kids in 1990, making appearances at Jewish camps and school music programs in more than 70 cities. He has performed at the White House and the Cincinnati Folk Music Festival. His CDs earned Parent’s Choice gold awards for both 2000 and 2002.

After 32 years of guitar playing, Zelonky samples from a variety of musical styles to create his original mix of music and positive messages that inevitably have his audience singing and dancing along.

"I perform 80 shows or so a year, half Jewish, half secular," Zelonky said. "No Christian music though. Just stuff about monsters and owies."

Robbo’s Concert for Kids takes the JCC stage Aug. 17, 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. l

Music Makes the Service Go ‘Round


Since distributing a CD of hymns to members of Tustin’s Congregation B’nai Israel, the Conservative synagogue’s cantor, Marcia Tilchin, and congregant Carl Cedar, a veteran musician, no longer sing alone in the sparsely filled sanctuary on Friday night.

“The house was rocking,” said Cedar, who last summer first began accompanying Tilchin on an acoustic guitar during “kabbalat,” a less formal preface to the mandatory Friday evening Shabbat service.

“The congregants were drowning us out. It’s very different then it was even a month ago,” he said.

Both musical innovations reflect a cultural shift by the county’s youngest Conservative congregation and reveals the challenge facing Conservative Judaism.

Since an organist was welcomed in Reform pulpits as early as 1817, the addition of a guitar player is sure to strike some observers as a tempest in a theological teapot. But playing sacred music remains a forbidden Sabbath activity in most Conservative synagogues, though organ music was sanctioned after the State of Israel was established. The exception remains the West, where even 10 years ago half the congregations enlivened worship with instruments, a percentage far higher than elsewhere in the country.

So local Conservative congregations are latecomers, experimenting with instruments only in the last two years. But what is welcomed by some congregants alienates others, who feel compelled to worship now in Orthodox settings, said Rabbi David Eliezrie, who said his Yorba Linda Chabad has seen a small influx from Conservative congregations.

Other leaders say music is too powerful a spiritual engine to forego.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” said Stuart Altshuler, rabbi of Mission Viejo’s Congregation Eilat, where once a month piano, guitar and mandolin are included in a service that is better attended than most. “It makes the whole experience more meaningful.”

Doris Jacobson, president of Anaheim’s Temple Beth Emet, hired Craig Taubman this year to lead four abridged Saturday services, where he played guitar and led congregants singing prayers in a smooth-jazz style. Four-hundred seats were filled instead of the normal 75.

“There is a joy to it,” she said, absent from liturgy sung to melodies that are generations old. “We have to change as times change. It doesn’t mean our values are devalued. It’s like freeze-dried coffee. Why drink it when you can go to Starbucks and have so many choices?”

Aside from the human voice, musical instruments historically were banned because their use could lead to violating prohibited Sabbath activities, such as public carrying and fixing, and out of mourning for the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.

“Rabbis say they’re willing to accommodate because of the payoff both in numbers and quality,” said Dr. Jack Wertheimer, provost of New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary, the Conservative movement’s flagship academy. “Synagogue renewal regards the use of music as a critical force for positive change, and getting them involved, and enhancing their religious experience. This is very much in the air,” he said.

Yet, contemporary issues, such as music and same-sex marriage, create tension within the Judaism’s centrist denomination, whose mission is to integrate modernity with devout religious observance. United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the movement’s congregational arm, claims 760 congregations with 1.5 million members. But the number of self-described Conservatives declined 10 percent over a decade according to two population surveys, though survey questions about affiliation were not exactly comparable.

Conservative leaders like Tilchin consider music an invaluable hook to engage a constituency lacking fluency in Hebrew and whose allegiance is based on relationships rather than ideology. Even clergy steadfast in their opposition to instruments nevertheless feel pressure from lay governing boards trying to encourage adherence to Jewish laws while still reaching out to the unaffiliated and disengaged.

“You have to meet people where they are,” said Tilchin, who joined B’nai Israel two years ago. She estimated half of its 495 families read Hebrew.

“I’m trying to teach my congregation to daven,” she said, describing “Shalom Aleichem: The Music of Kabbalat Shabbat,” as a “beautifully produced learning tool.”

The CD cost $10,000 to produce and was distributed in December.

Tilchin’s selections blend Ashkenazi sacred melodies with more contemporary ones that also previously were paired with prayers. Cedar, after familiarizing himself with popular Jewish music stars, contributed his professional talents by recording, arranging and performing separate tracks for guitar, percussion, bass and clarinet.

“In theory, you could do this style for every service,” Tilchin said. “It’s a fantasy.”

In the meantime, she is working on a fully transliterated Friday night prayer book as a companion guide to the CD. She hopes to complete it this month and distribute one to each congregant.

“Now, when they come, they’ll be able to participate,” Tilchin said.

Elie Spitz, B’nai Israel’s spiritual leader, lifted the instrument ban after researching technical issues and determining that musical accompaniment enhanced rather than distracted from religious experience.

“The guitar helped people sing along,” he said. “A capella is sufficient if you know the music.”

Spitz and Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a philosophy professor at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, are members of the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, which decides issues of Jewish law. They are co-authors of a recently submitted “responsa,” their explanation of permissible use of music on Shabbat. Their arguments must win the approval of six of the panel’s 25 rabbinical members to be considered a valid opinion. Opinions are not binding, though acceptance could influence broader use of music within the Conservative movement. The panel isn’t expected to consider their responsa for another year or more.

Dorff said the responsa explains the rationale behind the historical music ban and under what circumstances an instrument circumvents Shabbat prohibitions about creative activity.

Eliezrie, the Chabad rabbi in Yorba Linda who is president of the all-Orthodox Rabbinic Council of Orange County, is dismissive of such explanations. He cited an instrument ban from the Mishnah, oral explications of Torah recorded around the year 200 C.E.

“In an effort to market Judaism, do we loose the essence of Judaism? When you cross the line,” Eliezrie said, “you lose your raison d’etre.”

Tilchin, for one, is looking beyond theological lines.

“More people are singing than ever before,” she said. “Music is a universal language for people who feel distant from the idiom of the liturgy.”

Shoah Book Brings Museum Experience


"A Promise to Remember: The Holocaust in the Words and Voices of Its Survivors," by Michael Berenbaum. (Bulfinch Press. $29.95.)

You don’t find an index or bibliography in a museum. You go there for images, for impressions, to be moved, as well as educated — so, too, with "A Promise to Remember."

Michael Berenbaum, a first-rate scholar and writer, who was founding director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., has produced, in effect, a traveling museum, or in barely more than two score pages, a traveling museum exhibit.

More than a catalogue of a museum exhibition, Berenbaum, now director of the University of Judaism’s Sigi Ziering Institute, presents a total museum experience. Instead of walking down aisles and reading information panels, you hold the artifacts in your hands.

Through words (his own and interviews with a small number of Holocaust survivors), photos (mostly sepia, with some in color), reproduced documents (copies of a wartime rabbi’s sermon from Berlin and a politician’s letter from Bulgaria, etc.) and an accompanying CD (audio to complement the visual), Berenbaum emphasizes, subjectively but accurately, some of the most important elements of the Shoah experience.

These Shoah elements include: the background of the Final Solution, ghetto life, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the participants and bystanders, rescue by sympathetic non-Jews and, finally, liberation.

This book is clearly for the novice, for someone uninitiated in the terror that gripped the world in the mid-20th century — for the individual who isn’t likely to enter an actual Holocaust museum. The book is a tactile, sensual experience. Only the sense of smell is missing.

In the introduction, Berenbaum writes, "Nothing this brief could possibly do justice to an event as vast as the Holocaust, which evolved over 12 years and enveloped the entire continent of Europe; which consumed some 6 million dead; and whose implications are seen in headlines and images that have entered the conscious and unconscious of all humanity."

He offers nothing new in these pages, no new facts or novel interpretations, but the totality of the familiar, presented in an unfamiliar way, is striking and unsettling. The product, part coffee table book, part reference guide, is a beautifully designed masterpiece. You read the chapter on "The Decision to Kill the Jews," and you look on the same page into the austere eyes of Richard Heydrich and his fellow henchmen in genocide and you feel a chill.

He offers no footnotes or bibliography — no scholarly sources beyond the identifications that describe the interviewees. They aren’t needed; anyone affected by the book, whose interest is whetted, can contact the institutions cited in the acknowledgments.

The book isn’t meant to be read in one reading. Each chapter, to be absorbed and understood adequately, should be read separately. It will take the careful reader a few hours to go through "A Promise to Remember."

Just the length of time it takes to walk through a museum.

Etan G — A Nice Jewish Homeboy


"Yo, welcome to my crib."

It’s a greeting one might expect, say, in a hip-hop movie, but is slightly jarring from this friendly, compact boychick wearing a knitted yarmulke in the doorway of his Pico-Robertson apartment.

The boychick is Etan G, who calls himself The Jewish Rapper and whose CD, "South Side of the Synagogue," features songs such as "Yo Yo Yarmulke" and "Hava Na Wha?" Even so, it’s startling when he ushers a visitor into a living room that appears to be decorated by the set dressers from both "Yentl" and "Shaft."

Across from the Shabbos candlesticks is a chocolate-colored velvet couch draped with fluffy white furs. There’s a "davening station" heaped with tallitot, tefillin and yarmulkes knitted by Etan’s "honeybabies … my girls," the 30ish G says. There’s the "pimpass" outfit he wore to the Grammys (rust bell bottoms, Navy polyester shirt) where he refrained from eating the non-kosher food.

"While I’m an observant Jew, I’m definitely the coolest pimp out there, ah-ite," he says, using a hipster term for all right. "I’m the man who brings the house down."

G plans to do just that in a Chabad of Irvine Purim concert March 6, when he’ll rap, breakdance and sing backup vocals with Shlock Rock, a band he’s been performing with since he was a teenager. The show will include tunes from Shlock’s 23 albums, such as the original rap song, "Be Good, Be Cool, Be Jewish."

G and Shlock’s Lenny Solomon — a kind of Jewish Weird Al Yankovic — are a study in contrasts. The earnest, 43-year-old Solomon looks like exactly what he is: a nice Jewish ex-accountant from Queens, "white-bread Orthodox," as he puts it. Yet the singer and keyboardist has achieved acclaim in Jewish circles for clever parodies of pop hits such as The Beach Boys’ "Help Me Rhonda" ("Help Me Rambam") and the Village People’s "Macho Man" ("Matza Man"). He’s also released CDs of original and children’s music and says his "whole being is devoted to spreading Jewish identity."

G, meanwhile, is flashy, garrulous, extroverted, a natural schmoozer and storyteller. He colorfully describes appearing on the Howard Stern show, prompting the shock jock to joke, "I can see why Jews aren’t in the rap business."

In 2002, Hits magazine lauded G for helping to expand "the rise of Hebe-Hop" and "the notion of ethnic flava originally essayed by the likes of the Beastie Boys and M.O.T."

But in person, G seems more focused on presenting the kind of cocky, macho image proffered by mainstream rappers such as Dr. Dre. Like that artist, he plays down his married status, citing his "girls," until a reporter opens a photo album and sees a beaming G in his wedding kittel. The busted G blushes, laughs and politely requests that this detail, and his impending fatherhood, is omitted from the article. (Sorry, Etan.)

Unlike Solomon, he’s hoping to cross over into the mainstream music business.

Despite their differences, the rapper and the shlocker have co-written songs and toured the Jewish circuit together, at times in beat-up cars crowded with musicians and equipment. They’ve eaten whatever kosher food they could find on the road: "Sometimes a meal would be chocolate and potato chips from 7-11," Solomon recalls. "But we never compromised. It was always the letter of the law."

Their music also shares a message: "It’s Be Good, Be Cool, Be Jewish," Solomon says.

While G’s "crib" is in the Jewish hood of Pico-Robertson, Solomon’s is in Beit Shemesh, Israel, where the Zionist musician relocated in 1996. After a band rehearsal late one Tuesday night, he spoke to The Journal by phone to describe the roots of his shlock ‘n’ roll.

The Jewish part is genetic, he says. He’s descended from generations of cantors and grew up listening to his father, who was also an IRS agent, sing the signature pieces of famed chantors such as Moshe Koussevitzky. Solomon discovered the Beatles and Billy Joel courtesy of his friends; at 21, he formed his own Jewish rock group.

Although he majored in accounting as a practical measure at Queens College, Solomon had given that up by the time his band, Shlock Rock, and released a 1986 album of parodies composed for youth conventions.

It was behind the bandstand of a National Conference of Synagogue Youth concert in Baltimore that he met the then-13-year-old Etan G (né Goldman) in the early 1980s. The energetic teen seemed to have his boom box, a bar mitzvah gift, permanently glued to his shoulder.

"We’d be onstage performing and Etan would be down on the ground, breakdancing," Solomon recalls. "Gradually, he became part of the band."

Shlock’s 1987 "Purim Torah" album features two parodies penned by the 15-year-old Etan, including a Purim spoof of Falco’s "Rock Me Amadeus" called "Achashverosh."

As incense wafts in his bright yellow living room, G reflects that Shlock gave him "a forum, a place to fit in. He had felt himself to be a genetic "fluke" in his family of doctors, accountants, and Ivy League graduates. And he hadn’t felt particularly welcome at the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore, where he was frequently marched to the principal’s office for stunts such as wearing fake tzizit and davening with a "Grease" movie book hidden in his siddur.

"The teachers were always, ‘You need to do this my way,’ but their way was not my way," says G, who now has a master’s in education from Loyola Marymount.

After the first of several suspensions from yeshiva, the sixth-grade G landed in a predominantly African American public school where he discovered rhythm and blues. He began drawing graffiti art, listening to musicians such as Grandmaster Flash and practicing his own rap skills with Shlock Rock. He says he connected with black music because of the rhythm, the storytelling and the "underdog mentality."

But not everyone connected with G. At a party several years ago, a guest scoffed, "Who is this idiot and where does he think he’s from, the south side of the synagogue?" G recalls.

The Jewish rapper defiantly turned the insult into his 2002 album, in which the titular shul represents a fictitious place where iconoclasts like himself fit in.

At times he’s still dissed, he says — not by blacks, but by Jews who insist a Jewish rapper "isn’t legit."

Solomon, who’s faced criticism that Shlock’s parodies are sacrilegious, disagrees. "Jews have always borrowed from their musical environment," he says. "If a song has a Jewish message, it’s Jewish."

As an interview winds down in Pico-Robertson late one afternoon, G describes his next album, "Bringing Down the House," which is "about the party" but also about the legendary Third Temple.

"They say [it’s] gonna come down from the heavens, and a brother like me has the ability to assist in that bringing down," he says.

He sounds even more incongruous while extending his arms for a good-bye hug in his mezzuzahed doorway.

"Gimme some love," he says. "Everybody’s gotta give a brothah love."

Shlock Rock, with Etan G, will appear Sat., March 6, 7:30 p.m. at the Lake View Senior Center, 20 Lake Road, Irvine. For information and tickets, $18, call (949) 786-5000.

7 Days In Art


Saturday

Shhh! Today and tomorrow, the Silent Movie Theatre presents “The Silent Picture Show.” Legendary 91-year-old theater organist Bob Mitchell and singer and ukulele player Janet Klein provide the sounds, while Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, the Little Rascals and Felix the Cat provide classic visuals.$10-$15. 8 p.m. (Dec. 26, 27 and 28), 2 p.m. (Dec. 28). 611 N. Fairfax Ave., Hollywood. (323) 655-2520.

Sunday

Keep the kids’ brains working during winter break today. The Zimmer Children’s Museum’s Bubbie’s Bookstore welcomes an experienced storyteller this afternoon, for some Jewish wintery “Once Upon a Times.”2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Free (members), $3 (nonmembers). 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8989

Monday

New Year’s resolution time, a.k.a: time to commit thatscreenplay idea to paper. Those daunted by their distinct lack of funny get noexcuses. Brad Schreiber’s latest comedy-writing-for-dummies type book is titled,”What Are You Laughing At? How to Write Funny Screenplays, Stories and More.”Think of it: finally, the confidence of knowing they’re laughing with you.$14.96. www.mwp.com

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Tuesday

‘Tis the season for celebrating. Do it Jewish-style withthe Ultimate Jewish Music Collection. The four-CD set from Craig Taubman’s”Celebrate Series” contains “Celebrate Hanukkah,” “Celebrate Shabbat,””Celebrate Passover” and special bonus CD, “Celebrate Kids.” Included are 55holiday tracks of songs by Theodore Bikel, Debbie Friedman, Taubman and DavidBroza. Available at Costco, Walgreens, Ralphs or at www.celebrateseries.com

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Wednesday

For the cheap but satisfying New Years Eve, pop the corn and tune the TV to American Movie Classics. AMC brings you nonstop yuks, airing a 13-hour Three Stooges Marathon today — because nothing says “Happy New Year” like a pie in the face.Noon-1 a.m. www.amctv.com.

Thursday

Fresh as this first day of the 2K4 is the new “Let’sTalk About God” 50th anniversary edition. Dorothy Kripke’s classic text andmessage has been left intact: “The thing that matters most of all/ We’re verycertain of:/ That God told people we must live/ In friendship and in love.” Andthough you shouldn’t judge this book by its cover, either, it has been given ashiny new one, illustrated by Christine Tripp. Ages 5-9. $9.95. www.torahaura.com .

Friday

Prepare yourself for cackles of laughter at DanIsraely’s new play, “Orgasms,” if not from you then from those around you.Sometimes old, sometimes new, sometimes borrowed and sometimes blue, the sexjokes prevail in this examination of the differences between men and womenthat’s perhaps best suited to the over-50 crowd. It plays at the Canon Theatrethrough Jan. 18. 8 p.m. (Wednesday-Saturday), 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (Sunday).$25-$55. 205 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 859-2830. www.orgasmstheplay.com

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7 Days In Arts


Saturday

“The Nanny’s” Fran Drescher whines her way into heartsonce again, as she hosts the Jewish Television Network’s one-hour,all-the-stops-pulled-out”A Chanukah Celebration.” Today on PBS, Fran shares herown Chanukah memories, then introduces each of the segments that follow: anexplanation of “The Eight Lights of Chanukah” by Rabbi Irwin Kula; homedecorating tips with The Journal’s own Teresa Strasser; music by Craig Taubmanand Theodore Bikel; and “Aleph … Bet … Blast-off!” puppet show. 9 p.m. KCET.www.kcet.org .

Sunday

From yesterday’s “Celebration” to today’s “Chanukah Extravaganza.” Day Two of the Fest O’ Lights brings the Friendship Circle’s kick-off event. The program for special-needs kids presents an introduction to their organization for parents, children and potential teen volunteers, while avoiding the typical lecture-and-refreshments open house scenario. Today’s activities include a latke-making workshop, arts and crafts, sports and games and a bubble show.1-3:30 p.m. Chabad Persian Youth Center, 9022 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 653-1086.

Monday

One little girl thinks her school friends’ names don’tsuit them at all. Shira — whose name means song — doesn’t like to sing, and Avi — whose name means father — isn’t anyone’s dad. So begins the premise of “ShemotMuzarim,” (“Strange Names”). The newly released Hebrew kids’ book, written byShari Dash Greenspan and illustrated by Avi Katz, explores the meanings behindHebrew names from a child’s perspective. $12. www.urimpublications.com

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Tuesday

Perfect for gathering ’round the chanukiah, DebbieFriedman’s “Light These Lights” is her latest collection of Chanukah songs, outjust in time for the holiday. The CD features Friedman classics like “Not ByMight,” traditional songs like “Y’Mei HaChanukah,” as well as her interpretationof Peter Yarrow’s “Light One Candle.” $15.95. www.soundswrite.com

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Wednesday

Intercultural holiday warm fuzzies come in the form of afree six-hour music and dance show at the Music Center, sponsored by the LosAngeles County Board of Supervisors today. Included in the list of more than 38acts are performances as diverse as Persian santur-playing by ManoochehrSadeghi, a Haitian carol sung by the Compton High School Choir and Chanukahsongs by Valley Beth Shalom Congregational Choir, with live music by the LosAngeles Jewish Symphony and klezmer variations by the Oy!Stars. Other actsacknowledging the MOT’s are Louisville High School’s Christian-oriented choirand the San Fernando Valley Youth Choir. 3-9 p.m. Free. Dorothy ChandlerPavilion, downtown Los Angeles. (213) 972-3099. The show will also be broadcastlive on KCET. www.kcet.org

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Thursday

Your gift this Christmas morning? Jewishy fun at The Zimmer Children’s Museum. Just roll out of bed to be ready for their Pajama Party, featuring games, storytelling, exhibits, hat-making and snacks.Free (members),$3 (nonmembers) plus $5 (per family, suggested donation). 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8998.

Friday

Missed the nipple controversy the first time? Copro/Nason Gallery now offers you a second opportunity. Leonard Nimoy’s black-and-white photographic exploration of Jewish mysticism, spirituality and sexuality, “Shekhina,” is on display through Jan. 31.1-6 p.m. (Wednesday-Saturday). 11265 Washington Blvd., Culver City. (310) 398-2643.

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

More More. Celebrity Staged Play Reading producer-director Alexandra More presents another installment in the series tonight and tomorrow. “The Floating Lightbulb” is a bittersweet coming-of-age comedy penned by Woody Allen that revolves around a Canarsie family in 1945. The title references the older son’s dream of becoming a magician as a way out of his depressed surroundings. Alan Blumenfeld, Richard Fancy and Katherine James star.$10-$14. Nov. 22, 7:30 p.m., Valley Cities JCC, 13164 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 786-6310.Nov. 23, 2 p.m., Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 938-2531, ext. 2225.

Sunday

The Skirball shows the accordion due respect this evening as they present Grammy Award-winning accordionist Flaco Jimenez in concert. Jimenez and his ensemble perform traditional South Texas conjunto and Tejano music as part of the cultural center’s ongoing American Dream Music Series, which coincides with its exhibit, “The Photograph and the American Dream.”7 p.m. $10-$18. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 655-8587.

Monday

Neile Adams — singer, horse breeder, trapeze aficionado and ex-wife of Steve McQueen — clearly wears many hats. Tonight, she tips hers to Broadway songwriters Jerry Herman, Rodgers and Hart, Lieber and Stoller and Mel Brooks, performing their songs in “Neile Adams: The Child in Me.” Her show at the Gardenia continues for two more Mondays through Dec. 8.9 p.m. $15 (cover). Tom Rolla’s Gardenia, 7066 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 467-7444.

Tuesday

In the aptly titled “Timekeeper” exhibition, Stephen Cohen Gallery displays a retrospective of photographs by Anthony Friedkin. His 30 years as a fine-art photographer, film unit still photographer and photojournalist (Newsweek and Rolling Stone) are all represented in the collection. There are images from projects including The Gay Essay, The “Le Mer” Series and The Beverly Hills Essay. Tony Friedkin’s art also hangs in LACMA, George Eastman House and the J. Paul Getty Museum, but Cohen Gallery features a considerable selection through Dec. 31.11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Tuesday-Saturday). 7358 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 937-5525.

Wednesday

Chanukah comes early this year for choral Yiddish musiclovers. Thank Mark Zuckerman and the Goldene Keyt Singers for this miracle. TheCD is titled “The Year in Yiddish Song,” because, Zuckerman writes, “thesequence of the songs reflects the calendar (more or less) of the EasternEuropean Jewish immigrants to America.” It includes old faves like “Ikh bin akleyner dreydl” (that’s “I am a Little Dreydl,”) and “Bay mir bistu sheyn.” $15.www.centaurrecords.com

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Thursday

You’ve been giving thanks all damn day. Take a timeoutwith this week’s Jewish Book Month suggestion: Sol Wachtler’s and David S.Gould’s legal thriller “Blood Brothers.” Legal wizzes Wachtler and Gould, whoserved as New York State chief judge and assistant United States attorney,respectively, put their knowledge to good use for this courtroom drama thatreunites childhood “blood brothers” who have taken different life paths. $24.95.www.amazon.com .

Friday

For those predisposed to road rage or parking lot paroxysms, may we suggest avoiding the malls in favor of a second look at one of LACMA’s collections. “Revisiting the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection of Photographic Self-Portraits” runs through Jan. 11, and gives you the opportunity to do just as the title suggests. Divided into thematic sections, the exhibit illustrates the ways in which artists have explored ideas of “identity, culture and art-making itself.”Noon-9 p.m. (Friday), noon-8 p.m. (Monday, Tuesday and Thursday), 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (Saturday and Sunday). Free (children 17 and under), $5-$9 (general). 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 857-6000.

An Afro Judeo Beat


Tired of the same old synagogue music? Want to put a little lift in your liturgy? Then give your cantor the gift of Ugandan Jewish music, Say what?

Yes, Smithsonian Folkways has just released a singular CD titled, “Abayudaya: The Music of the Jews of Uganda.”

This is a sometimes lilting, often haunting and always fascinating collection of African Jewish music in which the rhythms and harmonies of Africa blend with Jewish celebration and traditional Hebrew prayer.

The Abayudaya community traces its roots to the early-20th century, when disparate tribes melded their traditions with those of Western Jews. Founded in 1919 by Semei Kakungulu, a tribal military leader who was exposed to Judaism by the British, the Abuyudaya developed a literal interpretation of the Bible and adopted circumcision and Sabbath rituals. Subsequent generations of Jewish visitors imparted knowledge of Hebrew prayers, kashrut, the Hebrew language and Jewish calendar.

But the harmonies remained African, and this collection celebrates the melding of the songs and prayers you know with music you can only dream about. Give it to a cantor today.

$15. Available at record and book outlets or at www.folkways.si.edu/catalog/40504.htm .