This is the first children's disc in the most varied Radical Jewish Culture series of John Zorn's Tzadik label. There were rumors last year of a new series under the ever-evolving Tzadik label that will offer children's discs, for which keyboard player and composer Wayne Horvitz and his partner, singer/songwriter and pianist Robin Holcomb, as well as percussionists and partners Susie Ibarra and Roberto Juan Rodriguez, were due to record, but, so far, Zorn is keeping us waiting.
Pincus and the Pig offers a delightful adaptation of Prokofiev's children's classic Peter and the Wolf into an Eastern European Jewish bravery fable by narrator/illustrator Maurice Sendak, best known for his popular children book Where the Wild Things Are, and the Boston-based Shirim Klezmer Orchestra (also known as Naftule's Dream, which recorded three discs for Tzadik: Search for the Golden Dreydl, 1997; Smash, Clap!, 1998; Job, 2001). Sendak recast the original story into a Jewish town, a Shtetel, that borrows its atmosphere from the writings of the great Yiddish writer Shalom Aleichem, and present the story in his own rich voice, with a heavy and colorful Yiddish accent, full of funny Yiddish expressions, all explained in the beautiful booklet glossary, but quite obvious through Sendak's lively narration.
The original Peter is now Boychick Pincus, portrayed by clarinetist Glenn Dickson, and the evil wolf is transformed into the terrifying wild swine, the Chozzer Pig, portrayed by trombone player David Harris and tuba player Jim Gray. Sendak tells the story of innocent but courageous Pincus, who is standing before the Chozzer Pig, who wants to "pound poor Pincus into chopped liver!," aided by his friends: birdie, duck, cat and his grandfather, Zeyde. Shirim Ensemble arrange the original orchestral composition as a Klezmer suite, using Middle Eastern rhythms to portray the cat's melody, Chassidic dance to accompany the duck's voice, a Romanian hora for the Zeyde character, and the Jewish-Balkan Doina as part of the wild pig character.
Peter and the Wolf has been adapted many times by popular artists including Sting, David Bowie, director/actor Rob Reiner and even comedian Dame Edna. There is even a progressive rock variation from the mid-seventies of this popular story ( Peter & The Wolf, RSO, re-released 1993) with keyboard player Manfred Mann as Peter and Brian Eno as the Wolf, but no version has taken the story as far, giving it new meanings and nuances while preserving the spirit of the original story, as this new one by Sendak and Shirim Ensemble.
Shirim also create Klezmer versions of an Erik Satie miniature ("Gnoissienne No.4"), Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade," a Brahms waltz, and Mahler's "Mazzesinsel Strut" from Symphony No.5, in order to flesh out the disc with the shorter Pincus and the Pig. Not as radical and funny as the Peter/Pincus suite, but quite entertaining.
I hope that this fabulous disc will appeal not only to Jewish children and their parents, but to all children, of all ages and all religions.
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Personnel: Maurice Sendak (narration), Glenn Dickson (clarinet), David Harris (trombone), Brandon Seabrook (banjo, mandolin), Michael McLaughlin (piano, accordion), Jim Gray (tuba), Eric Rosenthal (drums)