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Released: 2000

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This recording, named Tanz, which is Yiddish for "dance", grew out of a process that began with Neshamah, a collection of traditional Jewish music arranged for solo guitar at the suggestion of John Zorn. For this project, Masada alumni Greg Cohen and Cyro Baptista were invited to contribute on some tracks, bringing a whole new level of propulsion to the music, hence the title - Tanz.

As with Neshamah, I tried to select a variety of Jewish songs from Yiddish, Sephardic and Oriental sources. Picking out things that stuck in the ears, I would introduce them to my guitar, who would then suggest the best approach for an adaptation., Once there were enough songs agreeable to me and my guitar, we were ready to make a new recording.

A composer whose music really puts a spell on me is legendary Klezmer clarinetist Naftule Brandwein. For this project I chose four tunes from the Brandwein legacy: "Wie Bist Die Gewesen Vor Prohibition?/What Were You Doing During Prohibition?", "Fufzehn Yahr Fon Der Heim Awek/Fifteen Years Away From Home", "Der Terk in America" and "Araber Tanz."

"Fifteen Years Away From Home" is a minimalist masterpiece. Compressed into little more than three minutes, it's a real challenge for a solo guitarist. For "What Were You Doing During Prohibition?", "Der Terk in America" and "Araber Tanz" I tried to create funky, latinized settings to explore the convergence of Blues and Klezmer/Oriental riffology. On these Brandwein tunes, the interplay between Greg and Cyro percolates with rhythmic motifs from Northeastern Brazil, echoing Sephardic flavors in the music of Pemambuco.

The pairing of Aaron Lebedeff with Sholom Secunda's Orchestra produced some of the most enduring classics of Yiddish music recorded in 1920's Yew York. One of my favorites is "Dos Oybershte Fun Shtoysl (The Most Conceited of All )". To my ears this tune, like Naftule Brandwein's songs, shares a quality of richer complexity than the 16 and 32 bar formats that characterized Tin Pan Alley and Broadway hits from the same period.

"Tanst, Tanst Yidelekh" was originally recorded by the Abe Schwartz Orchestra. Strains of this song can be heard in a number of recordings, all with different titles. The earliest is "Ma Yofis", recorded in Bucharest circa 1908-1910 by Belf's Rumanian Orchestra. The Klezmorim recorded a version titled "Yashke Yashke". More recently, is a rendition called "Der Rabbe", by Andy Statman and David Grisman. There's a bit of each of these in this incantation.

"Bolgarskii Zhok" and "Gut Morgn" were found on a recording by Budowitz. This early music group combines excellent musicality and musicology in their renditions of 19th Century Klezmer masterpieces. According to Budowitz, "Gut Morgn" would likely have been played at the end of an all-night wedding dance to signal the sun was rising and time to go home. "Bolgarskii Zhok" is in what Klezmers used to call a crooked meter, a krumer tanst. Greg Cohen's bass line transforms it into a kind of soulful, low-down shuffle.

From Judeo-Yemenite Tradition comes "Min Khatrat". This is an interpretation of Lea Avraham's version on "Neve Midhar". It's a mother's song to her newly wedded son and was written by Ms. Avraham's mother. Sham'a Avraham. The rhythm is a Yemenite 7/8 and John had Cyro count it as 2+2+3/8 while I came in on Cyro's 3 playing a 3+2+2/8. The effect was magical.

In addition to "Neve Midhar", the Beth Hatefutsoth Museum of the Jewish Diaspora has documented the "Manekha Tradition of Jewish-Yemenite Divan" as performed by the Bnei Teman Group, an all male vocal and percussion ensemble specializing in very, very old changed poetry, passed down in an oral tradition. From their recording, I developed an improvisation on "Ayumati Te'Orer Ha-Yesheinim/The Holy Presence Awakens the Sleepers".

Two songs in particular have a Persian flavor. Hila Wasa is from an Israeli recording of Judeo-Kurdish music featuring Karamanji Zadro. It's played in a complex polyrhythm called Jurjinah, a 6/8 groove on a 4/4 foundation overlayed with a 10/8 figure. I think Cyro has a lot of fun with it.

"Aji Tu Yorma?" is a wedding song from Dagestan, the tiny republic in the Caucasus Mountains while borders Chechnya and Azerbaijan. The haunting melody is from Music of the Mountain Jews, a collection of recordings assembled for the Hebrew University of Jeruslaem by Piris Eliyahu.

The last song on Tanz is an old Sephardic gem, "La Rosa Enflorece". The version heard here grew out of an arrangement originally worked up for the Voices of Sepharad. I tried to explore the bittersweet nuances of the melody with jazz harmony; very much in the spirit of "Meditation on the Baal Shem Tov's Melody" and "Adio Querida" on the Neshamah CD.


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