Posts Tagged ‘Washington Jewish Music Festival’

Washington Jewish Music Festival, 2008 edition

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

Just off the top of my head I can think of three very good live music performances that I’ve seen in DC in the past few years thanks to the Washington DC Jewish Community Center’s arts program: Charming Hostess, Hasidic New Wave, and Rashanim (performing rock interpretations of John Zorn’s Masada songbook). I missed the Washington Jewish Music Festival last year, but this year there looked to be a bunch of interesting artists, and so even though I haven’t heard of most of them, I decided to attend as much shows as I could. This is helped by the fact that I landed a photography gig allowing me to document the shows I go to — per usual, the results are up at Flickr. Photography notes are at my photography blog; this is a condensed version with just discussions of the music I’ve seen so far.

The whole shebang kicked off on June 1, jointly with an absolutely enormous Israel @ 60 celebration. Israel @ 60 was a free event going on all day outside on DC’s National Mall; the musical attractions were “anti-folk” singer/composer Regina Spektor and the apparently very popular Israeli rock band Mashina. Later that night, WJMF also sponsored an interesting show at Bohemian Caverns: Ayelet Rose Gottlieb/Anat Fort/Rafi Malkiel, a vocals/piano/trombone trio who recently released an album on Zorn’s Tzadik label.

Regina Spektor 14

I went to all of the above. Mashina was first, kicking off a little after 1:15. Their set was relatively straightforward rock-and-roll, totally accessible for the mainstream crowd but thoroughly competent and musical, enough to keep me entertained for a while. At 3:30, Regina Spektor came on, and she was a joy to watch and photograph — she has an incredibly expressive face and almost always seems to be smiling. All this despite the fact that she didn’t quite seem to be settled in for the first few songs - perhaps because she had to change some lyrics around to accommodate the children in the audience (although there were some “god damns” and reference to cocaine), or simply the fact that she was playing in front of an enormous outdoor audience. She actually forgot the words in the middle of her second song, but handled it in the most endearing way possible, laughing at herself and appealing to her fans in the audience for help. She played piano and guitar and performed one song with a beatboxer as well. It was a great (though short) set for an enthusiastic audience; her vocal talent was really what stole the show, but she was no slouch on either instrument. I think it would be really interesting to hear her perform with some of the downtown NY scene jazz musicians; she frequents some of the same venues, apparently, like Tonic (RIP) and the Knitting Factory.

Ma Yafit 10

Then, a couple hours after events on the Mall came to a close, a much more intimate affair took place at Bohemian Caverns, a historic jazz club in the U Street neighborhood that is actually built to look like a cavern when you’re inside. The Gottlieb/Fort/Malkiel trio played a set of “love poetry set to jazz,” which was not surprisingly mostly slow-moving, laid-back vocal jazz. I was impressed by all three musicians’ technical skill — Malkiel was amazingly effective at using the trombone as a textural instrument, Gottlieb has an impressive voice and a whimsical style, and Fort’s work on the ivory keys was what held it all together for me, melodic and beautiful but never too straightforward or obvious. Most of the songs drew from Gottlieb’s album Mayim Rabim on Tzadik, described by the label as “an evocative song cycle based on texts from the erotic Biblical love poems Song of Songs.” Gottlieb explained some of the lyrics for the monolingual folks in the room, and they were… odd. The last song, for instance, was something like a poem about how “as the apples are to the trees, so my man is among men, and his fruit is sweet in my mouth.” Um… perhaps I’m glad I couldn’t understand the lyrics. :) Regardless, after a long afternoon under the hot sun, this relaxing set of slow jazz was a nice comedown. Following the show, I’ve been investigating Anat Fort’s discography, and may pick up her latest disc on ECM, 2007’s A Long Story.

Beyond the Pale 7

Last night, though, was the highlight of the fest so far for me, and perhaps the show of most immediate interest to readers of this website. Toronto’s Beyond the Pale is a five-piece band playing that kind of skewed “world music” that draws mainly from European folk traditions while also mixing in random bits of jazz, rock, bluegrass and other Americana. They reminded me of (and these are not close comparisons, mind you, just bands I thought of while listening) the kinds of bands on the Northside label; or an instrumental Charming Hostess; or Alamaailman Vasarat minus the drones and processed cellos; or Stórsveit Nix Noltes, who opened for Animal Collective a couple years ago and blew me away. With mandolin, clarinet, violin, accordion and acoustic bass, these guys introduced their songs with rhetorical questions like “have you ever wondered what bluegrass would sound like if it were from Romania?” The resulting fusion of ethnic styles was something that I’m a total sucker for, and the sizable audience was eating it up as well. Much of what they played were original compositions, but there were also interpretations of existing material that were brilliant — such as their encore piece, which was Mozart’s Minuet in D Minor (I think) reinterpreted through a Serbian folk lens and written in a stilted 7/8 meter (parts of this were hilarious).

I’m going to two more WJMF shows, and if they’re half as good as last night’s, I’ll be happy.

Once again, full photoset is here, and writeups with photography notes are here.

Satoko Fujii & Natsuki Tamura: best show I’ve seen for a while

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

Saw a couple Transparent Productions shows the past two nights. On Monday, Rashanim, a rock trio who have played interpretations of John Zorn’s Masada songbook, played as part of the Washington Jewish Music Festival. I went with a couple friends (who happened to be Jewish) who absolutely loved them. They played Masada songs that didn’t sound very much like Masada, or very Jewish either for that matter. It was, as Steve Feigenbaum said, all quite jam-bandish. I liked them well enough — it was a fun show, very accessible, and the band went through their set playing a pretty wide variety of styles, from rock and jazz to surf to funk. They were really fun to watch as well. I wish they’d stretched out a bit more and gotten more “out,” but on the other hand my favorites of what they played were the slower, more nuanced and melodic material.

Tuesday night was Satoko Fujii & Natsuki Tamura. Fujii is one of my absolute favorite jazz musicians active today. In the interest of brevity, I often call her an “avant-jazz pianist,” but in the wake of last night’s show this is clearly a totally inadequate description. While she’s known for jazz, she’s classically trained, and this came through in a big way last night. A lot of what she played had as much to do with Western classical music as it did with anything that swung or was jazzy in any sense. She has an amazing knack for going off on intense, Cecil Taylorish tangents and then returning, suddenly and delightfully, to slow, contemplative, beautiful melodies. Tamura was also a revelation on trumpet, playing with feeling and a wide variety of tones and styles. I generally prefer Fujii’s compositions to her husband’s, but his trumpet playing is definitely nothing to sneeze at.

The show was quite demanding, attention-wise, as the two played for over an hour straight, with no breaks in between pieces; I recognized a bunch of the themes but it was often difficult to tell when they had moved from one “song” to another. The music was generally unpredictable, but in a tantalizing way: Fujii in particular would hover over almost-melodies, but instead of playing them out, she would veer off onto different melodies that, often as not, were even more delightful than what came before.

A “difficult” show, and one that generally focused on a more abstract side of Fujii’s than what I’ve heard from either her Orchestra or Quartet lineups, but a fantastic one. I’m thankful that they came to DC to play for an tiny audience of about 15 dedicated folks.