Jewish Music Blog

July 27, 2005

FiveTownsRadio.com

Filed under: Uncategorized — jewishmusic @ 6:37 pm

I just wanted to express my gratitude to the people at FiveTownsRadio.com. Although there have been other attempts at Jewish online radio, FiveTowns has surpassed them all, and they keep updating their feeds, servers and site to serve us better. They even have a special feed for acapella during those times where we can’t listen to music with instruments. Also, besides having a huge archive section of interviews and shows, FiveTowns just recently started adding videos of those interviews, such as that of Blue Fringe.

So, a big Yasher Koach to the people at FiveTownsRadio, and keep up the good work!

July 20, 2005

Yeshiva Boys Choir 2 – Review

Filed under: Reviews — jewishmusic @ 6:31 pm

Although this album came out a while ago, I just managed to get my hands on the CD, so I decided to write a belated review.

This is Eli Gertner’s second foray into the Jewish choir market, which was previously primarily dominated by Miami Boys Choir. The album is mostly arranged and the songs mostly composed by Eli Gerstner. Generally, I feel that this album suffers from the same pitfalls that the rest of the Eli Gerstner albums do – Over-singing and over-arranging, coupled with solos and keys that strain the vocal chords of the singers and the ears of the listeners.

I feel that Eli Gerstner falls into the problem that many (but not all) Jewish arrangers fall into – over-arranging. I believe I read something along the following lines in Keyboard Magazine: [When arranging] “Don’t ask what else can I add, but what else can I take away?” The importance of this statement is that an arrangment is about balance, and about conveying an idea through the subtle use of music. If an arranger just keeps adding and adding, there is no balance and the effect of the music simply can be deadening.

The title song, V’Ahavta, is quite catchy and the high part uses a very simple rock chord progression (Minor i, VI, III, VII). The intro consists of rhythm acoustic guitar with a string section playing arpeggiated chords, as well as the addition of a unique sounding ethnic flute. The song starts off with a nice groove, but the rest of the song escalates into the classic Gerstner rock sound, although this song is a disco. By the end of the song there is a significant amount of overdriven guitar and heavy bass. I don’t like his harmony on the high part over the word l’reiacha. This is a typical Gerstner harmony which he uses throughout all his albums.

A comment on Eli Gerstner’s use of the term “whoa oh ho”. Toward the end of the song it seems that the words “whoa oh” have just as much if not more promience than the words to the song itself. I didn’t know that part of R’ Akiva’s statement was “whoa ho”. Of course there is a certain poetic license that artists have, but Eli Gerstner seems to strain the envelope.

The second song is titled Bar Hey Hey. These are unique words to a song – right? Too bad Shwekey and Yossi Green already used a similar concept of words in their song Ben Bog Bog. Regardless of the fact that Gerstner may have thought of these words before Yossi Green, the fact that he ‘jumped on the lyric bandwagon’ smacks of a lack of concern. Gerstner does list Yossi Green among the thank-you’s. The song itself is a not-too catchy hora which diverts (inevitably) to rock at the end. There are some latin flavors in this song as well. The words to this song are taken from a Gemara that is talking about someone whose peers would like him to participate in a Mitzvah, but he does not want to participate. Why are kids singing about this?

The first solo of the next song, Kol Hashem, has a noticeable use of autotune, evidenced by the yelping sound between notes. This song is a ballad, but ends up like a hard rock tune. Once again, Eli Gerster’s unquenchable thirst for rock strikes. This song lacks any sense of balance, and suffers from over-singing, most noticeable in the way the word b’hadar is sung. The long ending is highlighted by Gerstner’s brother.

The song Ku Mu has an attempt at a sixties feel, but not a very good one. There is some surf guitar, but it’s barely noticeable in the mix, and the tempo is too fast for the sixties feel. The pianist, Yaron Gershovsky, plays blues style over the quasi-sixites beat, which doesn’t add to the effect. Oh well, he tried. There all also two types of horn sections in this song – a saxaphone section a horn section which sounds almost synthlike.

Mi Adir is arranged by Yisroel Lamm, which is evident by the arrangment. There is a little acoustic guitar strumming at the beginning of the song, but its effect is drowned out by the other rhythmic instruments, such as piano. This is the only song on the album without overdrive guitar. Lamm’s style presents itself in the Shalsheles like every-syllable-is-an-accented-chord feel. Gerstner also has a solo on this song. He starts off singing with himself an octave lower, and then sings “fill-in” harmonies with the choir. Gerstner ends off the sing on his solo singing the words Baruch Ha-ba-ah-ah-ah-ah. Okay.

The next song M’leim has a very interesting intro. I wonder where it’s REALLY from? 🙂 The song itself is a hard rock with an 8th note anticipation on the word noGAH, which subtracts from the rock feel. The song has three parts, the third of which is extremely predictable. In the beginning of the song, Yaron Gershovsky plays some “funny” chords which are very tasteful.

The beginning of the intro to the next song, Mikolos, reminds me of the theme to Jurassic Park.

Hadrecheinu, composed by Yossi Newman, starts off with tasteful country rhythmic guitar, and you think the song is going to one direction – and then it goes into — rock with overdrive guitar. The song itself has an original low part, and is done well with chorused guitar thrown in to alleviate some of the overdrive.

The final song has a synth-pop sound. The sounds used are tasteful, and the song is not as rocky as most of the others.

Some general comments:
Almost every V chord is a sus chord.

Eli Gerstner made sure to give prominence to his younger brother by providing him with multiple solos on 8 out of 10 tracks. Of course there is nothing wrong with giving the spotlight to his brother, as long as his brother deserves the spotlight.

From Gerstner’s use of ethnic flute in V’Ahavta, rhodes for the intro to Ku Mu, piano for the intro to Bar Hey Hey, and the fact that he doesn’t attempt odd transitions for key changes, one can tell that he is trying to be original and embrace new sounds. But he’s clearly not there yet.

July 14, 2005

New ‘Jewish Rock’ Band – Eden

Filed under: Uncategorized — jewishmusic @ 6:02 pm

Not to be confused with Beyond Eden, Eden “produces dynamic modern pop/rock music imbued with a sincere and honest look at Judaism”.

I listened to a studio release of a ballad “Od Yishama”. I thought it interesting that Eden chose words which are associated with a freilach (upbeat) song and used them in a ballad. The song itself is a not-too-overdone soft rock ballad, backed by rhythm acoustic guitar and gentle piano, with soulful vocals, again not overdone by ‘oversinging’ or flooded with effects. I only noticed one thing that is musically incorrect, but I’m sure it will be corrected being that this is only a studio release.

Eden will be playing at YIDSTOCK, a contemporary Jewish music festival taking place on August 21st at the Monticello Racetrack in upstate NY.

Their website, edenmusic.net, is currently under construction, but check back for updates.

July 13, 2005

Crucial RAM Customer Support

Filed under: Music Tech — jewishmusic @ 11:09 am

Whenever I have to upgrade RAM, I always buy Crucial simply because they’re the easiest to configure, generally have very good prices and they have free 2-day shipping.

Up until now I always upgraded the RAM in my laptop, which was always a fairly simple process, so I never had to call technical support. Last week I bought RAM for my desktop, and the installation was significantly more difficult than the laptop. Once I figured how to open the desktop case, I attempted to install the RAM but had trouble securing it in place.

I first used Crucial’s online chat tech support and they advised me to call technical support. I called tech support, and my call was answered immediately. This is in comparison to tech support of other companies in which I would wait on hold literally for an hour and still not get a response. The Crucial tech, without asking me for any personal information knew it was me, and addressed me by name. I’m not talking about the addressing by name that companies require their employees to do, such as “Mention the customer’s name in every sentence.” This was actually thoughtful name addressing. This is in contrast to companies that require very specific idenification, and if you’re a little off, they won’t help you. The tech who picked up was American; this was not an out-sourced outift. I described my problem and the tech immediately answered with a thoughful response, as opposed to reading from a pre-written script. When I still had difficulty installing the RAM the tech recommended a course of action which was successful.

But, when I turned the computer on the BIOS gave me a RAM error. So I called tech support again and again was answered immediately. This tech also was very knowledgeable, and he too addressed me by name. I described my problem and he recommended two thoughful courses of action. I mentioned to the tech how I felt that he’s the most knowledgeable tech I’ve ever spoken to, and he responded that he’s built around 100 computers himself. Wow. A customer support person who really knows what he’s talking about.

Unfortunately the RAM never worked so I was transferred to the returns department. The woman who picked up seemed to know exactly what was goinig on in my two previous conversations and addressed me by name as well. I quickly arranged to ship the RAM back at Crucial’s cost.

This is clearly the best customer support experience I have ever had. If you need to upgrade your RAM or whatever else Crucial sells, it’s worth it to buy from them for their customer support.

(What does this have to with music? I upgrade RAM so I can get better performance while using my computer for audio recording and editing.)

July 10, 2005

Blue Fringe 70 Faces – Review

Filed under: Reviews — jewishmusic @ 11:59 pm

This is Blue Fringe’s second album. Their first album was known for breaking boundaries by having many English lyric songs with a focus on rock. Also unique was the fact that Blue Fringe themselves played instruments. I didn’t listen to the first album in depth because I was dissapointed with the parts I did hear – I felt that the recording quality and mix was just okay, and that the band itself wasn’t rock solid. I also felt that they went too far with the lyrics to the song “Flipping Out“, and that there was too much emphasis on rock. This album for the most part corrects what I didn’t like about the first album.

The first thing that struck me was the material of the CD case. It’s not the standard plastic; instead it’s solid paper. I happen to like this better – you don’t have to worry about the case breaking. But on the down side, the jacket is very short and the lyrics aren’t printed on it.

The first song is a hard rock song. I happen to not prefer hard rock in general, but as far as rock goes they did a decent job – the band sounds much more solid and professional than it did in the first album.

My only gripe with the second song, Av HaRachamim, is the fact that it’s a soft ballad that becomes a hard rock ballad and the lead singer actually sounds angry singing these words. Av HaRachamim Hu YiRachem al Amusim – loosely translated this means, Merciful Father may He have mercy on his children. These are very sad words – so why sound angry?

Track 6, The Shidduch song, is cute and catchy with great horn lines, but perhaps a bit inappropriate, but clearly not as far as Flipping Out. The way the guitar and vocals interplay off each other reminds of Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave your Lover.

Track 8, Shir HaShirim, is a loose translation of some p’sukim from Shir HaShirim – the Song of Songs. I find this totally inappropriate. Any objective listener would think that this song is a love song, and not to G-d. Just because it’s a loose translation of p’sukim doesn’t make it all right to sing.

Track 10, 70 Faces, is backed by a Bossa Nova groove. They do it all right, but nothing like authentic Bossa Nova. The singer also sings along with a guitar solo, reminding me of Bobby McFerrin.

A couple of overall comments:
Several songs use a horn section. The section sounds punchy and not typically Jewish.
Most if not all the songs are sung by the same vocalist.
None of the songs are really catchy or singable.
Many of the songs have tasteful musical interludes.
None of the players are masters – but they have their style and do it well.

I wanted to check the lyrics and the jacket says they’re online at Bluefringe.com. Unfortunately, the website doesn’t work, so I couldn’t get the lyrics.

Update (7/12/05): The website is working.
Update #2 (7/12/05 1:04 PM): Lyrics link to second album does not work.
Update #3 (7/12/05 4:15 PM): A friend directed me to this link which has the lyrics.

July 8, 2005

Matisyahu Rant

Filed under: Uncategorized — jewishmusic @ 12:16 pm

What’s wrong with this picture:

I get an e-mail informing me that Matisyahu will be performing at a certain bar in a college town where I’m in graduate school.

Now, I know for a fact that there are hardly any orthodox Jewish people in this city, although there are many unaffiliated Jews. Does he really think he’s speading the word about Mashiach or whatever he’s spreading by performing in bars across the country where the majority of attendees are definitely non-Jewish?

Regardless of the fact that he may be doing this with the right intentions, is he that naive to think that he has credibility to spread his message? It seems to me that his whole allure is that fact that he’s merely the “Reggae Rabbi”, much like a “Rocking Priest”.

I recently saw a video of an interview he had on ABC. About the only words I could make out from his singing was the occasional sprinkling of “Mashiach”. Oh, yeah, now I’ll become orthodox.

This seems to me to be another example of the Jewish people saying “Me too!”.

July 7, 2005

Why Does Jewish Music all Sound the Same?

Filed under: Uncategorized — jewishmusic @ 11:55 am

It seems that anybody Jewish who thinks they can sing (and some who can’t) is coming out with a Jewish album. The tiny Jewish market is flooded with tons of so-so singers. It would be nice if at least these albums sounded different, but they don’t even have that going for them!

So, why does Jewish music all sound the same?

I think the answer is very simple –
If one uses the same: Composers, Arrangers, Musicians, Recording Studios, Engineers, any music is going to sound the same.

That’s why anything remotely different is automatically a “best seller”. Case in point: The Chevra, Blue Fringe.

This is also why I feel that an album like the most recent Journeys is to be additionally commended. The composition of the songs on Journeys 4 is way beyond the typical Jewish song. The music was meticulously arranged and the musicians are different.

July 6, 2005

Where does it REALLY come from?

Filed under: Uncategorized — jewishmusic @ 9:30 pm

As most of you probably know, parts of Jewish songs are indeed, dare I say it, taken from non-Jewish sources. Of course, the Jewish albums do not give credit to the original composers, and it’s up to us astute listeners to realize that something was “taken”. I don’t know – maybe the reason that proper credit isn’t given is because then people would know that it was taken from a non-Jewish source and would not necessarily buy the album. Better just to not tell us, I guess, and have us listen to non-Jewish music thinking it’s Jewish.

I’d like to compile as extensive a list as possible of these examples, and this is only possible with the help of readers.

I’ll start off the list, in no particular order:

1. Lev Tahor 2, Intro to Asher Boro – the Scorpions, forgot which song
2. Miami Boys Choir One by One, Intro to Elokah – Tower of Power’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
3. Yehuda Oh Yerushalayim, Umacha low part – Chris de Burgh Beautiful Dreams, The Snows of New York
4. Mordechai Ben David’s Yid’n – Dschinghis Khan
5. Piamenta Asher Boro – Men at Work Land Down Under

July 5, 2005

Sitting in with a Band

Filed under: Uncategorized — jewishmusic @ 4:18 pm

This is related to my Critique of a Midwestern Band post, but it’s a different issue.

When I go to a friend’s wedding, I like to sit in the band and play a song or songs for the chosson and kallah (bride and groom). This is no problem for most of the weddings I go to because most of the weddings I attend are in the city and hire the band that I regularly play for, and I have a good rapport with the band such that they let me sit in – no problem.

Obviously if I’m a stranger to a band, it’s going to be more difficult to get the band to allow me to play a song. I fully understand this – as a musician the comic relief of the night is usually when a friend attempts to sing a song with the band. Of course, bands don’t like it and are averse to letting people sing, and moreso when it comes to letting people play.

Having said this, most bands will allow friends to play a little. This is true for drums more than other instruments (it seems that everybody thinks they can play drums), but large East coast bands have let me sit in on keys.

At the beginning of the wedding, I went over to the band leader and introduced myself, and mentioned that I play for a certain large East coast band, which he apparently had never heard of. I asked very open endedly if I could sit in “sometime during the night” and play a song. His response was “probably not”. I thought this was a bit odd – after all I established that I’m not just some shmo who wants to “be part of the band”; I’m a professional musician. So, pursuing the “probably”, I went over to the keyboard player who owns the band together with the band leader as the keyboard player was walking out to eat dinner, and the rest of the band was already partaking in dinner. Just to clarify, the stage is empty and there is no music being played. I politely asked the keyboard player if I could play a song, and the keyboard player’s reply was “No!, sorry”, quite curtly. This just solidified my opinion about this particular band as detailed in Critique of a Midwestern Band.

It would be one thing if the band was G-d’s gift to man and they sounded great, but this band sounded like garbage, yet they still maintained an air of superiority.

Critique of a Midwestern Band

Filed under: Uncategorized — jewishmusic @ 3:23 pm

The first real post-

I was in a midwestern state this weekend for a friend’s chasuna. As is always the case, I made sure to evaluate the band.

Usually I get a feel for the band by how they play during the shmorg. The shmorg is a looser time for the band, and they are free take more liberties than they would otherwise be able to take the rest of the night. Therefore, the shmorg is a reflection of what the band is capable of, and is in a sense a greater opportunity to see the potential of the band.

Unfortunately, I missed the shmorg and arrived during the chuppah. The chuppah playing was very nice, although it was just the keyboard player – no flute or trumpet playing melody, just keyboard. From what I understand standard practice is, the keyboard player can either stay for the entire chuppah or leave after all the appropriate parties have walked down, and the horn players come to the chuppah during the last couple of sheva brachos and start playing Od Yishama after the chosson breaks the glass. This particular band didn’t follow what I consider standard protocol, and only had the keyboard player play when the chosson broke the glass. The keyboard player played for about fifteen seconds when the chosson’s friends stepped up the tempo of Od Yishama, at which point the keyboard player seemed to “give up”, and instead of increasing the keyboard player’s own tempo, the keyboard player stopped. Okay, this was unusal, but not necessarily a reflection of the band.

Some more background: This wedding was mostly modern but the chosson’s friends were yeshiva bochrim. I’m not sure what standard practice is, but to me it makes sense that the band would tailor its music to the crowd. Some bands may feel that they can play whatever they want, or perhaps whatever they feel they do best, and not abide by this practice.

After the chuppah the band plays dinner music. This band was among those who did not abide by this practice and played exclusively “yeshivish” music, which includes very recent songs, such as those from Shwekey’s latest album. There is nothing wrong with this, I just felt that it would have been nice if they would have at least played one or two songs that the majority modern people would have been familiar with.

The band consisted of a frum keyboard player, frum trumpet and trombone players, frum singer, a non-Jewish bass player and a non-Jewish drummer. I thought it was unusual for a band to have a bass player instead of a sax/flute player or even a guitarist, because in smaller Jewish bands the keyboard player usually plays bass with the left hand. Why put a bass player on the band if you can get a sax/flute player or guitarist instead?

The way the band played these songs, though, is worthy of critique. The keyboard player used an Alesis Quadrasynth plus Piano keyboard, which has a great electric piano sound and a decent piano sound. The keyboard player, though, exclusively used the piano sound, and played it consistenly at an octave too high, which had a very shrill sound and it interfered with the “sonic space” of the horn players. The keyboard player’s idea of comping was to simply play melody with chords underneath.

The bass player too seemed to play the bass too high, which had the effect of not driving the song at all. Even for ballads, there should be a groove; here there was none.

The drummer seemed to the best musician technically, but not at all stylistically. Although the drummer’s timing was fine, he would not keep a steady groove. Instead he added many eighth note anticpations and kept changing the style which had the effect of sounding like he was playing constant fills. Very disconcerting, and not very “band-like”. Of course, the bass player and keyboard player did not (or could not) follow the complexities of the drummer.

The trumpet and trombone players were not jazz players, and had a very yeshivish tone, which sounded Spanish-like.

As for the mix – the bass was so low as to not be felt. The keys, which was the only chord playing instrument, was also way too low for the room. The drums were not miked. The vocalist sounded muffled. Basically, the sound element of the band was horrendous. All you could hear was the trumpet and trombone.

This was only the dinner music.

The fanfare was Baker Street, a fairly simple and very pump-up fanfare. Of course, if the bass is too low and the drummer isn’t playing a steady groove, you aren’t going to have any pump-up. But that wasn’t all – the band actually played the fanfare significantly too fast, which furthered the destruction of a great fanfare.

The first-set dance music was more like the first-set sleep music. As I mentioned before, both the bass player and drummer were not Jewish. It seems that non-Jewish keyboard players and drummers, and to a lesser degree bass players, have a difficult time getting the freilach feel. This drummer didn’t have it at all, and played so many fills and changed the groove so often that one could barely tell that it was freilach. The bass, keys and drums were way too low in the mix, so there was basically no rhythm section. The song selection consisted of very yeshivish songs, and the singer sang most of them with a chasidish accent. This was clearly not tailored to the crowd.

The second set had the same problems as the first and then some. Disco and hora is all about the groove – the solidity and “movingness” of the music. The people dancing want to able to have a great groove to dance the hora to. Not only did this band not have any groove, they started the set with Chaim Dovid’s Ya Ma Ma. This is most possibly the worst song to start a second set with. The people dancing want a great groove to get them moving into the second set so they can dance the hora. Because Ya Ma Mai starts off slow, this effect was totally lost. I would love if they had done Ya Ma Mai at the end of the disco portion of the second set – that’s a great place to do it, but alas. The band also played all the discos too quickly, making it almost impossible to dance a hora to. A hora feel song was played as a backbeat rock, and on and on.

I heard afterwards that this particular band is very popular and people from other midwestern states actually bring them interstate to play. I talked a little to the band, and I strongly got the impression that this was their core group – the first call. I don’t know why and how people could settle for such ______(fill in your choice of expletive).

To their credit, this band did not have any problems switching songs and the players always played togehter. Also, the pitch of the band as a totality was almost always on.

Perhaps solidity and not groove, is all you need to be a popular band.

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