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Abayudaya: Music from the Jewish People of Uganda
Smithsonian Folkways (www.folkways.si.edu)

Nedudai (Wandering)
Orange World Records (www.orangeworld.pl)

Klez Roym
Yankele nel Ghetto
CNI (www.cnimusic.it)

The Klezmatics with Joshua Nelson and Kathryn Farmer
Brother Moses Smote the Water: Live in Berlin
Piranha (www.piranha.de)

The Klezmer Conservatory Band
A Taste of Paradise
Rounder (www.rounder.com)

Klezmer might be the first genre to come to mind for many at the mention of Jewish music, but it wasn't called the Diaspora for nothing. A recent selection of Jewish titles provides a gauge of the sundry sonic character of the global musics of the wandering tribes.

cd cover Unlike Jewish populations in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, who claim direct Jewish descent, the 600-member Abayudaya community of eastern Uganda converted to Judaism in reaction to British colonialism in 1919. They keep kosher, pray in Hebrew, follow the ritual calendar and cultivate a fundamentalist approach to religious practice. Their music reflects contact with Israeli and North American Jewish influences; radio broadcasts of Zulu music, the Salvation Army and various other Christian sects; and elements of regional Bantu culture, where they trace their own roots. Choral call-and-response singing (in the Luganda language, with Hebrew and English admixture) is prominent here, at times with modern instrumentation (guitar, electric keyboard, drums), and the unsuspecting listener might well be reminded of Protestant hymns as sung in many parts of the continent. Indeed, their "I Am a Soldier (in the Army of the Lord)" comes from the Pentecostal repertoire, and if "I Am Happy" is sung in praise of Purim, it's simultaneously pure village guitar music with antiphony. Jeffrey Summit, a Tufts University professor of music and author, made the field recordings and wrote the extensive notes.

Shani Ben-Canar (vocals, overtone singing, saz, oud, flamenco and 12-string guitars, frame drums, bongos, cajon, hand percussion, composition) is of Polish and Russian Jewish descent. His family lived for a time in Siberia (where he was born), but he now resides in the ancient city of Safed, on the Israel-Syria border. Ben-Canar draws on a diverse palette (violin, nei, flute, zurna, clarinet, crumhorn, trumpet, accordion, bass, studio effects) in an evocative, ever-shifting blend of sounds from medieval Europe, Poland, the Carpathians, the Balkans, the Levant, Central Asia, Sufi songs and global pop, "wandering through Jewish tradition," as he characterizes his work. A fascinating recording that bears repeated listening, yielding up new discoveries with every audition.

From Italy, Klez Roym interpret the compositions of street singer Yankele Hershkowiczin the Lodz ghetto (Poland's first, hence the title, Yankele nel Ghetto), collected from survivors by Gila Flam (Director, Music Department and National Sound Archives, University of Jerusalem) and published in his Singing for Survival: Songs of the Lodz Ghetto, 1940-45. The music, in minor keys, bears strains of prewar Yiddish song and popular Polish and German music. The contextualizing notes are in Italian and English, as are the sobering lyrics, transcribed as well in the original Yiddish. Led by Gabriele Coen (soprano sax, clarinet; also leader of the jazz group Atlante Sonoro), graced with the powerful voice of Eva Coen and flawless instrumentation (trumpet, flugelhorn, alto and baritone saxes, guitar, bouzouki, banjo, double bass, drums), Klez Roym breathes life into these poignant songs in a defiant expression of hope against hope, of the will, somehow, to go on even with the end of it all.

The Klezmer Conservatory Band takes a lighter approach to Yiddish tradition with A Taste of Paradise, mixing Sabbath prayers (an orchestral jazz rendering from the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack); a Zionist anthem ("A Fishele"); Yiddish folk and show tunes; Turkish, Greek, Romanian, Russian and Bessarabian dances (a nod to Dave Tarras); and novelties like "Az Der Rebbe Elimeylekh" (the Yiddish adaptation of "Old King Cole"). The musicianship is impeccable, the disposition romantic, and the mood celebratory.

The ever-experimental, ecumenical and divinely inspired Klezmatics have finally released a live album, and what a piece of work it is. Captured outdoors at Berlin's Potsdamer Platz in July 2004, they welcome guests Kathryn Farmer (vocals, piano, organ) and singer-keyboardist Joshua Nelson, an observant African American Jew from Newark whose singing conjures up the great gospel pantheon (he's worked with Aretha and a host of gospel greats). Paired with lead singer-accordionist Lorin Sklamberg (a secular cantor supreme whose transcendental liturgical groove just gets better with every outing) - and never to slight the rest of the band's gifted core - Nelson takes the Klezmatics there. Hear his roof-raising "Elijah Rock," "Walk in Jerusalem," and revelatory "Didn't It Rain" (all with a shout out to Mahalia, with whom he has a striking resonance), and check his astounding duet with Sklamberg on "Shnirele, Perele" (also revel in the bonus video track of the song's overpowering live delivery). Then behold Sklamberg's lead on "Eyliohu Hanovi," "Ki Loy Nue," "Moses Smote the Water" (a la Golden Gate Quartet) and the band's anthem "Ale Brider"; Farmer's vocal lead and Hammond B3 workout on "Go Down, Moses"; and the ensemble vocal harmony on "Oh Mary Don't You Weep" (Sam Cooke is smiling down somewhere). Is this klezmer? OK, Liturgical Klezmer-Pentecostal-Gospel Rocking Spiritual Jubilee. So, just listen already. In the words of an old Yiddish song, "Yesterday's gone/ Tomorrow isn't here yet / All we have is today / So why ruin it by worrying?" Better to celebrate, sing out and behold. - Michael Stone

CDs available from cdRoots

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