If this is an example of radical Jewish culture, as Tzadik bills it, then a whole lot of Gentiles would be doing themselves an enormous favour if they tapped into it. Listeners of all cultures from around the world are familiar with the idea of the "keeper," meaning an item that will find a permanent home on their shelves, as opposed to landing in the racks of the local second-hand store, and I knew this title was a keeper by the end of track two.
In a world better than the one we presently live in, music which so effortlessly spans the distance between the joyous and the melancholic, at the same time as it often unites the two in the most unlikely juxtaposition, might transcend cultural differences. So at the same time as the music on offer here is self-evidently of its culture, it also reaches out beyond those confines in ways that are nothing but positive, frequently evoking thoughts of David Murray's octet at its most trenchantly communicative.
All six musicians are entirely at home in Shapiro's music, and if this is a stable lineup, then Shapiro is fortunate indeed to have such a band at his disposal. That's especially true in view of the fact that this is very much music of two halves, with the rhythm section at times doing little more than maintaining a groove, as opposed to injecting rhythmic momentum, while that burden falls upon the soloists. This is best exemplified by the second piece, "Children Of Abraham.
If cross-cultural references are relevant here, then "Kiddush, a traditional piece, has an air of Chris McGregor's Brotherhood Of Breath in the way its melody is interpreted. This alone suggests that such labelling, while it might indeed be helpful in enabling listeners to gain vicarious knowledge of what the music actually sounds like, is not ultimately in the music's best interests, especially in view of the fact that the Brotherhood Of Breath was a South African-European-West Indian band. Ultimately, though, "Oy Veys Mir is the sound of a hot band eager to lay some music on us, and as a cross-cultural phenomenon, it's second to none.
If there's any justice in the world, this disc will be figuring highly in those year-end polls. It shows the degree to which improvised music can still be creative when a tradition is considered in its entirety, not just as something worthy only of unquestioning reverence.
Personnel: Steven Bernstein: trumpet, slide trumpet, vocals; Paul Shapiro: tenor sax, vocals; Peter
Apfelbaum: tenor sax, vocals; Brian Mitchell: piano; Booker King: bass; Tony Lewis: drums