Sunday, September 26, 2010

Yaacov Shapiro - The 18 Pearls of Yiddish Songs

   In the 1980s, after the movie Fiddler on the Roof became extremely popular in whole Europe, in many countries and societies came out the new wave of sentiments for Jewish culture. The same time many records in numerous countries were issued. After one thousand years period of peaceful coexistence which has been brutally finished in German death camps, Jewish community in Poland was largely destroyed. The dramatic acts of after-war pogroms and expulsion, that took place in 1968 under control of Communist party, made situation very hard. Although Jewish culture had no chance for place in official culture, it was still alive and in half underground created many important phenomena. And in many cases it was recognized mostly as Polish culture, eventually the one of Jewish origin.
   After 1978 Nobel Prize in litereture for Isaac Bashevis Singer, with every translation of his books more positive attitude towards Jewish culture was coming out. After translations of Singers prose (first from English) came more literary translations from Yiddish language and many of them were books printed in Poland before the war. Maybe this was the beginning of the returning to the consciousness of Jewish presence in Polish culture. But in popular culture situation was still not so good. Big part of society is not reading any books and especially artistic prose. The turning points became the movies – Polish production based on the book by Julian Stryjkowski Austeria (1982), East-German TV-series Hotel Polan und seine Gäste (1982) and much older Hollywood production of Fiddler on the Roof  from 1971 but shown in Polish TV in mid eighties.
   The issue of the musical about Tevye and his daughters made elements of the Jewish culture an obvious element of secular European tradition. But Jewish music in wider society was still almost unknown. As the consequence there came recordings from actors of Jewish Theatre in Warsaw. In spirit of those years Polish Jazz Society label – POLJAZZ published two records of Jewish music. The editors choose one in Hebrew and one in Yiddish. While the Hebrew one – Hava Nagila by Effi Netzer & Beit Rotschild & Band – was closer to folk and Israeli tradition, Yiddish record was quite a nostalgic view of music in East-European Diaspora as sung by 1956 Ziemia in the album The 18 Pearls of Yiddish Songs.

Yaacov Shapiro - The 18 Pearls of Yiddish Songs

   Yaacov Shapiro - Di 18 Perl fun Yiddishen Lid (יעקב שפירו - די 18 פערל פון יידישן ליד)  – this album became an unexpected success in Poland. Recorded and produced by Dov Zeira this album originally title was Mameleh, after the opening song of the album. In Polish edition as the opening song in the A-side editors used Mashi’ah Kimt and Mameleh was placed as the first song of the B-Side. The title of the album indicates that it includes 18 songs, however there are only 13 pieces on the disc – the last one is titled Potpoury (in later CD edition Chiribim Medley) and unites 6 popular songs – Chiribim, Shayn vi di Levuneh, Tumbalalaika, By Mir Bistu Shein, Di Greene Kusine and Josl, Josl. Whole album is completed of most popular songs, and sometimes they have much more meaning than just popular music. Maybe the most notable example of artistic value is Hulyet, hulyet kinderlach (Play children play), the song written by Mordehai Gebirtig in Krakow ghetto.
   All the songs collected by Yaacov Shapiro are valuable part of Yiddish folk heritage. And they are really beautiful even if sometimes little bit too monotonous what concerns both accompanying group and lead singer. Voice of Yaacov Shapiro sounds well, it is strong and resonant. Instrumental parts are arranged by Martin Moskovitz in pop music convention of early 80’s sometimes it sound little cheap, like it was one of common bands playing for dancing. Of course there are no mistakes or weak moments, it is only consequence of artistic assumption. It is interesting the Shapiro's album was more popular than  Hebrew songs and it's harder to find it on a second-hand internet auctions. Probably Yiddish tradition is closer to stereotypic image of Jewish songs. Maybe its Yiddishkeit was the primary reason for buying decisions – no matter what it was, this record accomplished the great mission of promoting Jewish culture in Poland.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Effi Netzer's Hava Nagila

   Effi Netzer is popular and highly esteemed person in Israeli music. Working as a composer, arranger, and animator of musical culture he was probably the first who brough the custom of sing-along events to Israel. This is why he and his accordion became a kind of symbol of popular culture of the State of Israel. He is also known as founder of Beit Rothschild Singers. With this group and his band he recorded a great bunch of traditional Jewish songs. Most of them are wide known and sometimes almost iconic for people who don’t have closer connections to the heritage of Jewish culture.
   Shortly before the end of 80’s Poljazz, the label of Polish Jazz Society published Hava Nagila – the choice of popular Jewish songs signed by Effi Netzer & Beit Rotschild & Band. It was licensed edition of the record originally published in Israel by Hataklit Haifa Production. And once again musician with accordion made great work for popularity of Jewish song – this time in Poland. It was one of very first Hebrew recordings in post-war Central Europe. In moment of rapidly changing perspectives this was crucial for those who after long decades of ideologically based internationalism were asking about their roots.

Effi Netzer's Hava Nagila

   Program of the record is 16 songs and dances from various Diaspora traditions. First positions of the both sides are occupied by traditional songs Hava Nagila and Hevenu Shalom Aleichem. Worked out in manner of popular songs, but arranged for mixed choir and small accompanying group, melodies collected in this plate show many influences which are representative for early culture of State of Israel. In many dances the direct connection to local traditions can by traced. Krakoviyak, Hava Netze Bemachol or Korovushka are inspired by folklore of Slavonic countries, Debka Haabir exposes Arabian culture connections, Horrah Nirkoda comes directly from Romanian Round Dance. There are also straightforward connections with kibbutz folk culture. Three songs are own compositions by Effi Netzer.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Randy Newman's Good Old Boys

   Randy Newman is a composer of many soundtracks for Hollywood movies. He is skilled piano player and brilliant stage personality. But popular culture do not recognize the polymathic artist. For years he was seen only as an author of songs. And as in creative output of some romantic era composers the songs Randy Newman composed for his own lyrics are best known part of his work. His songs can be not only the great narrative medium, but also effective discourse area. To see, let's just try some of these songs on a Redneck living in Birmingham with wife Marie who is desperately trying not to loose his dignity.
   The Good Old Boys is fifth album by Randy Newman. Twelve songs in straight sleeve with stylized for amateur and out of focus photo of somebody who can be the title Good Old Boy has been published by Reprise Records in September 1974. From the beginning it was concept album. Projected song about main character was withdrawn and hero of the whole cycle became more general personification of Deep South inhabitants. It is sure this group portrait could be easier to accept if there were less racism and drinking references. But this would make the picture complete unreal.

Randy Newman's Good Old Boys (1974)

   Maybe it was the spine of American consciousness in early seventies, to articulate the true emotions about something everyone knows and not to loose positive attitude. Maybe it was the question of respecting their nobility and dignity. Randy Newman’s songs never before was so straightforward and probably never again touched the point of American self-confidence so directly. And all songs create this multidimensional picture: Rednecks, Birmingham, Marie, Mr President, Guilty, Louisiana 1927, Every Man a King, Kingfish, Naked Man, Wedding in Cherokee County, Back on My Feet Again and Rollin. One of them is artistic document of South past - Every Man  a King is original song by Governor of Louisiana in the years of Great Crisis Huey P. Long and Castro Carazo.
   As the poet Randy Newman is as wise as lyric and so serious as satirical. The great musician who has the gift to translate his vision into simple melodic structures. And he did this in his songs with perfection and class. Even if some of them are something man have to „think twice about playing in civilized company”. While it’s still hard to classify it into existing genres, in its time this record established quite new perspective of song – somewhere between Leonard Cohen and Frank Zappa. In subsequent records – especially in  Little Criminals and Born Again – Randy Newman continued this idea with even greater effect.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Herbie Hancock V.S.O.P. - The Quintet

   Herbie Hancock became a jazz star long time before greater audience had the chance to know his funk and electro-jazz albums. After brilliant making one’s way up in Sixties when he played in Oliver Nelson’s Big Band and legendary Miles Davis Quintet, he didn’t engage in jazz-rock movement. Of course he was in personnel of first Miles Davis’s jazz-rock recording sessions for In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew and many more but working on his own ideas he worked out the style that was closer to funk and more popular, dance music. It’s quite understandable – piano in fusion-jazz was a second-row instrument, in first were rock-guitar, jazz-saxophone and any other melodic instrument like violin or trumpet. So he hit groovy music on the jazz-soul-funk frontier where keyboard instruments were present from the gospell times. And this became his great commercial success. Maybe this popularity gave him intention to prove he was still a great and intellectual jazz pianist.
   Probably the first one of many periodically recurring projects of Herbie Hancock was the V.S.O.P. In may 1977 Hancock explained his own idea saying: „generations who never saw us perform in the Sixties will get a chance to see what we look like playing together”. In fact V.S.O.P. was nearly Miles Davis’ quintet from mid Sixties but with Freddie Hubbard playing trumpet and flugelhorn. Wayne Shorter who was always second soloist in Miles Davis quintet, here is more mature and conscious of himself. And his soprano and tenor saxophones sound really prolific, not just following the leader. Rhythm section were Ron Carter and Tony Williams and they were just like in Miles Davis recordings ten years before, both intellectually brilliant and emotionally deep. Spiritual binder and discrete leader of the group was Herbie Hancock. Like his piano states harmonic and rhythmic connection between rhythm section and melodic instruments, his idea of quintet without soloists, the group of equal jazz musicians became the real basis for creating great bunch of dynamically changing pictures of instrumental creation.

Herbie Hancock V.S.O.P. - The Quintet

   The Quintet by V.S.O.P. is an album recorded live during two gigs – July 16th, 1977 at The Greek Theatre in University of California in Berkeley and July 18th, 1977 at San Diego Civic Theatre. The tittles of compositions are: One of a Kind (Hubbard), Jessica (Hancock), Lawra (Williams), Dolores (Shorter), Third Plane (Carter), Byrdlike (Hubbard), Darts (Hancock) and Little Waltz (Carter). The best thing Hancock did as a leader was good balance between five artists. As critic of Dawn Beat noticed, listeners of the V.S.O.P. concerts „were thrilled by the charisma generated by five masters who listened to one another's inner ears, spoke to each other at multiple levels, and, no matter how dense the musical content, conveyed their messages to the audience with amazing clarity”.
   Maybe it is not a milestone in jazz recording history. Maybe even it is true that every musician of The V.S.O.P. Quintet made better performances on other albums, some of them with Miles Davis, some under their own names. But for me this is one of top jazz records in the history. The idea of modern but conservative group was introduced while choosing the name. It was postmodern per se and the same way understood by the public. In late 70’s musicians with hard-bop past in structure of typical modern quintet do not tried to be the avant-garde, but they built the two decades summary of modern jazz. And they did this in an unforgettable shape.