"Midrash" comes from the Hebrew word "darash," which means "to inquire." "Mis mosh mish" means "mixed-up" or "combination." That was easy; Aaron Alexander explains the terms in the liner notes. Definitions having been provided, this music, part of Tzadik's Radical Jewish Culture series, is indeed an exhilarating combination. To call it mixed-up would be denying it the power and the glory, the joy and the intensity that it creates.
One could well expect klezmer music to be at the forefront, and it is on many of the songs. But Alexander goes on to shape the pieces with traditional Jewish music, jazz in its harmonies and freedom, and other idioms that jump out and surprise.
For sure, the malleability of the compositions is their most striking aspect. There is no guessing which way Alexander will take them as he goes from one form to another without a crease. At one moment he is describing a ballad, and then the body goes askance from the head to undulate to a dance rhythm as the beat crackles to his ministrations and that of Michael Sarin. Take "Der Rumsisker Maggid/Shema." Greg Wall is all breathy and warm on the tenor, while clarinetist Merlin Shepherd and trumpeter Frank London cut form loose. They come together in waltz time, the melody captivating with Shepherd at the fore, but the pulse cuts the chord and measure before getting back to the 1-2-3.
It's time to kick up one's heels and dance and twirl as the band spins into "Khosn Kalleh Haskalh." The rousing air is made all the more fevered by guitarist Brad Shepik, whose rising temperament shunts into rock, molten shards stopping just short of head-banging terrain. Jagged rhythm, the incendiary scream of the guitar unleashed by Curtis Hasselbring, and a traditional melody raise the curtain to the "Kleyzmish Moshpit," a high-energy, rambunctious tune that even finds a cove in free jazz.
Personnel: Merlin Shepherd--clarinet; Greg Wall--tenor sax, clarinet, soprano sax; Frank London--trumpet; Curtis Hasselbring--trombone, guitar; Brad Shepik--guitar; Fima Ephron--bass; Michael Sarin--drums; Aaron Alexander--drums; Randy Crafton--rik (track 5)