I got some awesome new High Holydays videos of Benjamin Muller, one of the very best voices I´ve heard in my life. Check it out:
Shma Koleinu - great interpretation and high notes
Kol Nidrei - for nusach lovers
Sunday, September 27, 2015
Friday, August 28, 2015
In the aftermath of Lipa's truly remarkable latest album a new picture of Lipa is clearly emerging. Lipa has evolved to be not only a singer but a transformative figure in the JM scene; not only a guy trying to fit in, but an artist conveying a new, fresh message. And this message, of the new Lipa, is present in pretty much all the songs of his album - non-conformism, innovation and positivism. He is often labeled the "Jewish Lady Gaga", but I prefer to compare him to a much more interesting and important person - to Reb Shlomo Carlebach.
Shlomo Carlebach was another transformative figure in Jewish Music. He was more than just music; Carlebach was about connecting to every Jew, irrespective of affiliation, through his simple and catchy niggunim and stories. His impact was truly remarkable and unparalleled, unlike any other Jewish Music artist.
As popular as they are/were, MBD, Avraham Fried, Shwekey and the like didn't really aim to transform anything. They were great singers, who inspired many with their songs and fitted in what was politically correct in Jewish Music. Lipa is aiming higher, much higher - he wants to transform his community with his music, with a message of openness, education and non-conformism. In his popular Sheni Vechamishi videos, he tackles many hot topics and doesn't shy away from controversy. See two recent examples:
Let's face it - many of the Hareidi/Chassidic communities around the world are increasingly becoming less tolerant and more Ghetto-minded than ever before. As time passes by, these communities are frantically doing what they can to shield themselves from the perceived ills of modern technology and music, and they keep sanctioning more restrictions and chumres. Of course, there's a lot of positive aspects in these communities too but that doesn't mean all is perfect. In fact, it's far from perfect and some of the issues Lipa is raising, like the lack of secular education for example, are really pressing and should be looked into.
Lipa's new album is clearly offering an alternative path. Positivism, non-conformism and innovation, all while staying true to Torah and Halachos. Like Shlomo Carlebach, Lipa is walking his own path and even started his own Shul (Airmont), following Shlomo's footsteps in this aspect. And that does entail some degree of risks - bans, threats and some other unpleasant things that could follow. But like Carlebach, Lipa is now having a real impact, and thus far, a positive in impact in Jewish Music as a whole.
Sunday, August 16, 2015
This is it! The album I have been waiting to hear for years is here, above and beyond everything else that has been out there - Lipa's Be Positive.
Thursday, June 11, 2015
Lipa's new video is out, and along with it all the usual excitement and also some controversy. Lipa is hardly the first Jewish singer exploring Trance music - even MBD used electronic music in many of his later songs but Lipa is openly championing the use of different sounds in JM. And he is right.
Ben Feige is a very catchy song but I didn't think the arrangement was so groundbreaking. In fact, I find it falls short and fails to bring the best out of this song. But it's surely a great song and probably an easy hit song.
If I can give constructive criticism for Lipa, I think it's time he takes dancing lessons. He loves to make music videos and he loves to dance, but if he really wants to bring these videos to an unexplored territory, he needs to take dancing seriously, because he is quite weak at it. And there's nothing unJewish about dancing. I'm sure choreographers can create an appropriate setup for a Jewish song and make these videos a real hit.
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Sunday, March 29, 2015
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Friday, February 20, 2015
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
I've stopped reviewing mainstream JM albums but I open an exception for Eli's latest solo album. I've bought every piece of music from Lev Tahor and their collaborations - I'm an early fan from the days of Camp Ma Na Vu, where Eli and Gadi Fuchs were always standing out.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Meir Goldberg just released this new version of Moishe Oysher's classic Amar Rabbi Elazar, with a modern twist. It was a cool idea, I give him credit for that, but inevitably he will be compared to Oysher and he will obviosuly dissapoint in terms of vocals. Oysher is one of best cantors of all time and even in the original's classical setting, he brings more energy and excitement than Goldberg in a fresh and modern arrangement.
Friday, March 14, 2014
My good friend Micha just released a new video, featuring a song he adapted from Andrea Bocelli.
For those who don't know, he released his debut album last year, Kesher Shel K'yomo, and with this video he goes a step further in solidifying his musical career. This is a very demanding, unusual and powerful song and Micha carries it superbly. Also the actual video is nice and authentic - it's a footage from a wedding he made in Safra's iconic synagogue in Sao Paulo. All is real, not staged, and this enhances the song in a way we rarely see in Jewish Music videos.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Often times I hear this question. You might get the impression from my last post that all Chazzanut songs are slow and serious, and this is a popular misconception. There are many really exciting and fast Chazzanus pieces, and chief among them are the songs of Moishe Oysher.
This one starts slow but it's a fast song:
He was able to sing playfully, sometimes even carelessly (i.e. In his sheibone, which is sang in short in almost every Chabad shul) and he was able to give each of his songs a character and feel of its own. For him, being a chazzan was very much alike being an actor - interpreting every moment in the right way and impersonating his songs. He aspired to be as popular as Yossele Rosenblatt, who was known in non-Jewish music circles as well, however Moishe Oysher never took off in the music and video industry at the time. However his Chazzanut style was truly unique and a much more upbeat than what the world had seen until then, and until today his songs are studied and performed in many Chazzanut concerts.
Monday, February 24, 2014
The is a lot of history and tradition in the Chazzanut field, and for new comers it's crucial to look back at the classics to at least have an idea of the most important songs of the past century. Thanks to Youtube, today you can see hundreds of original recordings and videos of the great Chazzonim of the past.
1) Moshe Koussovitzky - this is a rare live recording of perhaps the biggest name in Chazzanus, singing one of his most famous songs, Velirushalaim. This is a very old, amateur video but in it you can see Moshe's flawless technique, great intensity and word pronunciation. It's interesting that this is a pure "concert song", since there are virtually no opportunities to sing this song in Shabbat or Yom Tov services (perhaps the only time a Chazzan can sing it is in Hoshana Raba).
2) Yossele Rosenblatt - Yossele was extremely popular not only within Jewish circles but also in the general world music industry. This is not a live video, but it's a song everyone knows and has heard numerous times. Many people don't even know that this Shir Hamaalot is a Chazzanus song, and this song was so popular at his time that it was proposed to be the Anthem of the newborn State of Israel.
3) Leibele Glantz - not at all as popular as the previous two, Leibele was renowed for his creativity and erudition in Chazzanut. His Shema Israel is a classic and a song very often heard in Synagogues around the world. Leibele had a distinct nasal voice, which many disliked but as he famously said "I don't sing for the crowds, I sing for myself".
4) Zavel Kwartin - his Tiheir Rabbi Yishmael is regarded as one of the most powerful songs of Chazzanut. He lived a long time ago, between 1874 - 1952 but this song lives on and is sung in my shul every Yom Kippur.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
So what is Chazzanut?
Perhaps it's better to start with the "what is not Chazzanus" question. This new video is a good example of pseudo-chazzanut, although it's actually sung by a Chazzan. Take a look:
Well, this is not Chazzanus. Helfgott's famous song Kanei is also not Chazzanus. Both these songs are an attempt to sing conventional Jewish Music in a Chazzanus way. Not by coincidence, they are both composed by Yossi Green, who loves to explore new styles and compose Pop Jewish Music with a hint of something else. Think Ki Hatov by Shwekey, a Sephardic song that is not Sephardic.
Chazzanus per se is ruled by Nusach, a set of moods, styles and singing techniques that are omnipresent in all great Chazonim and classical cantorial hits. The Nusach, combined with pieces found in Siddur prayers, is what sets Chazzanus aside from other musical styles, and is what gives this niche a life of its own. Nusach is the canvas that allows different Chazzonim to create new songs and improvise according to what they feel.
However Nusach is something difficult to master, and few Chazzonim today have this knowledge. Many know singing techniques and how to read notes, but few have the capability of innovating and composing new songs within the realm of Nusach.
The more you listen to the Golden Age chazzonim, the more you will understand what Nusach is. Look at what Wikipedia says:
The whole musical style or tradition of a community is sometimes referred to as its nusach, but this term is most often used in connection with the chants used for recitative passages, in particular the Amidah.Shlomo Carlebach used to say that the melody we sing in Yamin Noraim while starting Maariv and Hamelech in the Shacharit come from the songs of the Leviim in the Beis Hamikdash. These specific melodies are "Nusach", the standard way of reciting these prayers, and perhaps that is a colorful way of explaining where Nusach came from.
Many of the passages in the prayer book, such as the Amidah and the Psalms, are chanted in a recitative rather than either read in normal speech or sung to a rhythmical tune. The recitatives follow a system of musical modes, somewhat like the maqamat of Arabic music. For example, Ashkenazicantorial practice distinguishes a number of steiger (scales) named after the prayers in which they are most frequently used, such as the Adonoi moloch steiger and the Ahavoh rabboh steiger. Mizrahi communities such as the Syrian Jews use the full maqam system.
The scales used may vary both with the particular prayer and with the season. For examples, there are often special modes for the High Holy Days, and in Syrian practice the scale used depends on the Torah reading for the week (see The Weekly Maqam). In some cases the actual melodies are fixed, while in others the reader has freedom of improvisation.
Or in the words of Cantor Malovani:
Nusach is sanctified,” says Cantor Joseph Malovany, “just as the reading of the Torah is sanctified.”Malovany said it is extremely important for those who pray to become aware of nusach, the musical motifs that determine how one is to chant a given prayer.A classic song that highlights Nusach is Zevulun Kwartin's famous Tiher Rabbi Yishmoel, from Yom Kippur service. See below
A lot of this song is just reciting the words of this powerful piyut, but Kwartin manages to capture the essence of the words and create a song, which is sung in many shuls on Yom Kippur. If you want a more contemporary rendition of this song with full orchestra, see Chazzan Benjamin Muller's version, alongside Maestro Sobol:
Sometimes a Nusach song can be upbeat too, if that is the mood of the words being sung. But I will leave this for another post.
Monday, January 20, 2014
Somewhere in 2011 I wrote that I was losing interest in the Jewish Music field, and that I wasn't sure if I would continue blogging. Since then, a lot has happened - I started a Safrus blog, I moved to Belgium, I moved two times between flats until finally settling in my new house and most importantly, I was blessed with the arrival of a set of twins to my family.
Interestingly, if I look back I was not losing interest in music but shifting to another niche - Chazzanut. It turns out that in the last couple years I bought few mainstream Jewish Music albums but many chazzanut CDs. So in the next posts I will be spending some time sharing info about Chazzanut and going through the basics of it, since I believe the rebirth of Chazzanut in the past decade has everything to do with the decline of mainstream Jewish Music.
Not that I mean to trash all mainstream JM - there's good stuff out there. But what I see happening for quite some time already is an attempt to make Jewish Music sound just like another goyish pop album - the instrumentization, the vocals and songwriting mostly go this way today. In general, there's too much focus in the rythm and catchiness, and too little real creative output. I will be more specific; JM is still stuck in the high part-low part structure, repetitive chords and simple harmonies. That's the exact opposite of Chazzanut, where there is loads of dissonant notes, unusual scales and 7 minutes songs that have a beggining, a middle and an end. In mainstream JM, or what I will start calling "pop JM", a 7 minute song is 99% of the time a song that is too strecthed and too repetititve. In Chazzanut, that's the actual average song length and most of the times it's long simply because the piece being sung is too long; in other words, Chazzanut is not stuck to 5 or 10 words; it usually has double that amount of lyrics or more.
In the next posts I will go through some of the classics. And maybe I will do some reviews too.
Monday, March 4, 2013
Video of my good friend Micha, a very talented singer who just released his debut album. Recorded in Rio de janeiro, this is a spinoff of the Gummy Bear song but it's an easy wedding song hit. Also nice to see Ohad in a music video, he rarely goes for it.
Friday, December 21, 2012
Even today, the Lowell Milken Archive, a leading force in American Jewish Music features Rosenblatt as one of the early dominant elements of American Judaism. Many of his most famous pieces, including Ram Venisa and Yevorech, are to this day extremely popular and often times heard in many synagogues around the world.
Sunday, December 9, 2012
Leiner has already a hit song - Kol Berama - and he now released a second song with the same concept. I rarely comment on individual songs, since I like to review a complete work like a CD, but both Kol Berama and this song showcase Leiner's style and good composition skills. Both songs stand out, while in the other hand the next thing to do is to get a top producer and work on a proper album. Mimamakim is not very well produced but it shows the potential of this song - add some good choir arrangements, a better instrumentation and holding back from excessive screaming he will soon be in the right track to fame. He has a great voice, great composing skills and an unusual range.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
But the more important question is not whether this album is better, worse or as good as the first - the question is if the music is good. So here we go.
Yesh Tikva - Benny released not long ago the single Mi Shemaamin Lo Mefached and this song follows the same concept. It’s in Hebrew, folksy and I specially like the subtleness of the bridge in 2:22. It’s a cute song; the ending was poor. ****
Haboicher - I would rather choose this song as the album’s opener. Energetic, original and in line with Benny’s style. It’s always nice to see Spinner doing the vocals - I’m a big fan of him - and Benny nailed it with the modulation note in 2:07 and with the subsequent improvisational skills. *****
Beshem - A powerful, subtle composition, this song is what I label “alternative JM” style. I’m happy to see Benny going for it and also letting the composer sing, which adds to the song’s authenticity. Rigler’s arrangement is perfect - actually, all is perfect until the modulation, when Benny goes for the higher octaves. I think that was the wrong decision - I would keep the mellow, low key feel of this song until the end. That’s a common problem in Jewish Music - the lack of restraint (think Eli Gerstner) and the urge to rock every song to its limit. Lipa’s Achron Choviv (Meimka DeLipa) is a rare example of a song done with the proper restraint, when Lipa did let the song shine without too much screaming. Benny overdid it here but the song is excellent. ****
Maale has a unique first part and a lot of room for improvisation; its not a blockbuster but a very pleasant and well-rounded song. I thought Benny’s vocals were fantastic here, specially in the composition’s first part. Kunstler’s acoustic guitar-centric arrangement really helped set the mood of this song. ****
Shalom Aleichem - interesting intro, with two traditional Friday-night tunes. I like this song a lot, the only throwback is the fact that MBD came out with a solid Shalom Aleichem not long ago so it’s a little difficult to give these lyrics another chance. But if you do, you will enjoy the song’s great vocals, energy and arrangement. ****
Mamleches is a very simple catchy slow song - but I do feel like the composition reaches no real momentum; it seems to go in circles, if you know what I mean. I think that it would’ve been smart to a add a bridge niggun to create a more solid structure. As it is, the song is missing something. Musically speaking the song is well arranged, and the choir is sublime.. ****
Ivdu - a good mid tempo song, the first part is not really original however it blends well with the second part, which I’m almost 100% sure it was the part of the song composed by Benny (whoever knows the facts please speak up!), as it really sounds like his groove (the song was co-composed with Y. Eliav, who probably did the 1st part). I felt Benny could have done a better job in the vocals and I would specially point out that would be smart to switch to Mizrachi pronunciation somewhere in the middle of the song in order to change the No No play to Na Na. As it is, the No No shtick gets overused. ***
Dor Acharon is a song I don't get. I did understand what Benny was going for in the other songs, and although they are not really blockbusters it’s clear he was trying to recreate the unique sound he successfully created in his debut album. However this is a Hillel Palai-ish midtempo song like the ones that were sung in each and every album for a few years after Yeedle’s hit song Ato Bonim- it was “in” then but now is not. So it’s like going back on time, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but the composition is very weak - I see no connection between the words and tune, and the “dor acharon” repetition doesn’t makes sense to me. Add that to very simplistic vocal arrangement and harmonies, plus the long 5 minute count and you have the full picture: this is a pointless song and should’ve never been here. *
Vahaviosim is the album’s grooviest song, a beautiful piece by Waldner, who in my opinion is today JM’s best composer after YG. This type of song showcases Benny’s strengths and is to me on par with what we heard in his first album. Freitor’s arrangement is superb, one of the best I’ve heard lately, and the vocal arrangement concept is interesting but could have been a little more subtle, and this lack of subtleness is costly in the song’s end, which is terrible. Except for the ending, this is a 5 star song. Very well done! *****
Dawn of Mashiach is a risk taking song. Very demanding for Benny, he really does his very best to bring this song to life. Although it’s not my style, the song is good and well-rounded, with special mention to Spinner’s genius vocal arrangement in 3:46 and Benny’s Matisyahu-ish freestyling - great idea. But the song drags and is too long, 5:40. *****
Berachamim is a song that was released as a free single some year and a half ago. I’m a big fan of Ari Goldwag’s slow compositions, going back to Ethan Leifer’s album which featured two of Ari’s masterpieces and Ari’s own albums - I pretty much bought all of his musical works just for his slow songs. Berchamin is a blockbuster song, from beginning to end, and Ari was smart to do it together with Benny, who brought star power vocals and transformed this song into a classic. Ari’s vocals are not bad, but with Benny this song went to the sky. I can't give enough compliments to the song's overall production, arrangements and vocals. *****
Bottom Line: Although not a home run like his debut album, Benny’s second CD is very good and with great production value. Until very recently I always had Benny and Lipa as the two strongest innovators in JM, two singers who push the envelope and try to deliver new material and originallity. Lipa is clearly ahead, at the top of his game and not afraid of doing every single idea that comes to his mind (see my review of his latest album). But Benny is also up there too and this album was worth my money.