HASIDIC NEW WAVE | KabalogyMATT DARRIAUPARADOX TRIO | SourceZOHAR | KeterVARIOUS ARTISTS | Klezmer Festival 1998(Knitting Factory)
Nobody’s ever actually specified the prerequisites for joining the avant-Yid ranks of JAM — the Jewish Alternative Movement — but judging by this new blitz of releases churned out by its Knitting Factory home, the six musical commandments go something like this: Respect tradition by bending it in knots (evoke postmodernism where appropriate); eschew conventional orthodoxy for the far more punk-rock vision quests and fringe numerology of Jewish mysticism; get spiritual without abandoning the secular; use a dumbek as much as possible; come up with witty Jew puns for your song titles and band names, e.g., “Hebe-Bop”; claim new icons (Sun Ra, Lenny Bruce and old-school klez freak Naftule Brandwein are all appropriate). And if you‘re a publicist, there’s a seventh: Send CDs out with hot-pink dreidels and crumbling matzo.
The “alternative” part of JAM is predictably its most suspicious, especially when in the same hermetic New York downtown scene your lantzmen are organizing under John Zorn‘s “Radical Jewish Culture” flag and cutting records with names like Yo! I Killed Your God. Still, there’s enough supreme klezmer-and-beyond musical complexity and enough risky experimentation in this JAM crop to get any Lubavitcher‘s tsistis in a twist. The one to hit last is Klezmer Festival 1998, a live recording from a “Jewsapalooza” gig that, save for a punch-drunk Naftule’s Dream waltz, a bizarro spoken-word riff on mad rabbis from Psycho-Delicatessen, and a home-on-the-shtetl steel-string roll from Gary Lucas, errs on the side of meditative calm.
Zohar‘s Keter does prayer-cycle reflection far better, but with an electro-Sephardic twist. The combination of Uri Caine’s staccato piano puzzles, Moroccan-born cantor Aaron Bensoussan‘s syllable-wobbling register glides and DJ Olive’s sampled noise loops comes out sounding like chill-room music for a rave in a North African synagogue. The same jones for inter-Jew culture clashing fuels Source, a virtuosic Ottoman Empire ode from nimble Klezmatics horn blower Matt Darriau and his Paradox Trio, who sprinkle Turkish chestnuts and Yiddish theater numbers with Yemenite greatest hits. Their “HoraHonga,” full of screaming electric guitars and sax blasts, takes a Romanian dance oldie and splices it into a jailbreak scene from a Jewish gangster film.
But Hasidic New Wave‘s Kabalogy — which picks up where their Jews and the Abstract Truth and Psycho-Semitic left off — is by far the pick of the minyan. Led by Darriau’s fellow Klezmatic and prolific trumpet chameleon Frank London, HNW start with jazz improv and Hasidic ceremonial ecstasy and then head for the out zones however they can: liturgical chants becoming hardcore howls on “h.w.n.,” a jazz run cranked to 45 rpm (“The Frank Zappa Memorial Briss”), and the traditional “Burkan Cocek” waking up as a ska fest. All the six-pointed mischief climaxes with “Giuliani Uber Alles,” a moshing punk freilach that pegs Mayor Rudy as an icon of contempo “I‘ll shove a plunger up your ass” police-state fascism. It’s the alterna-Jews‘ first real protest song, and hopefully not their last. (Josh Kun)