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Frank London / Lorin Sklamberg: Tsuker-zis

Eyal Hareuveni By

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Trumpeter Frank London and vocalist/accordionist Lorin Sklamberg have always attempted to introduce a fresh perspective when redefining traditional Jewish music. As founders of the Grammy award-winning alt-klezmer band The Klezmatics, they adapt ancient and traditional holiday songs of the Jewish diaspora into a modern, surprising sphere.

Tsuker-zis, (sugar-sweet), their third installment of Hasidic religious songs and melodies, nigunim—after Nigunim (Tzadik, 1998) and The Zmiros Project (Traditional Crossroads, 2001)—are all exemplary for their vision. They dress the beautiful and touching melodies in an all-compassing, genre-crossing, unique blend of aesthetics.

On Tsuker-zis, London and Sklamberg are joined by three colleagues from New York's Downtown music scene—Night Ark's American-Armenian oud master Ara Dinkjian, Psychedelic Furs' guitarist/electronics wizard Knox Chandler and North-Indian virtuoso percussionist Deep Singh. The three are known for their abilities to transcend genre and style. Here, they move freely between simple folk melodies and abstract, atmospheric electronica. They aid in spicing the sugar-sweet Jewish imagery that often serves as a metaphor for the divine sweetness of life, with surprising new tastes.

The fourteen songs consist mostly of Hasidic holiday songs—Succos, Pesach (Passover), Rosh Hashana (New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Purim, Simkhes Toyre and the fast days—and are imbued with reverential textures and a sense of communal joy and gratitude. Sklamberg's warm and beautiful tenor voice, combined with London's restrained and airy trumpet sound, introduce the original essence of these songs and melodies, while keeping their deep emotional expressiveness intact. At the same time, innovative arrangements manage to broaden and update messages that not only signify the nomadic diaspora, but also suggest a new and hopeful vision of a peaceful world where ancient cultures—Jewish, Christian, Islamic and Indian—can co-exist, blend and flourish together.

London and Sklamberg have been working for over twenty years and know that more often the strength of these songs lies in careful and simple execution rather than in challenging and turbulent arrangements. Such is the case in "Our Parent, Our Sovereign," a prayer that is recited during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Sklamberg's straight-forward delivery retains its emotional power, but the arrangement, and mainly the distant distorted guitar, adds a doubting dimension to the religious text. On "The Lord Sent His Servant," Sklamberg and Dinkjian present the Ashkenazi song as a duet, but relocate it from its East-European origin to an imaginary Middle-Eastern territory.

This beautiful project is the most successful in London and Sklamberg's nigunim series; a delight in the sweeping authenticity of its songs and the imaginative creativity of its arrangements.

Track Listing: A Sukkah of Branches; Blessings Without End; Our Life is Sugarsweet; Our Parent, Our Sovereign; Increase our Joy; The Days Between #1; The Lord Sent His Servant; The Days Between #2; Heed Not the Accuser!; Elijah the Prophet Bought a Red Cow; Greeks Gathered Against Me (Intro); Greeks Gathered Against Me; Mighty, Blessed, Great, Prominent, Glorious, Ancient, Meritorious, Righteous, Pure, Unique, Powerful, Learned, King, Enlightened, Exalted, Brave, Redeemer, Just, Holy, Merciful, Almighty, Omnipotent is Our God; One, Two, Three, Four.

Personnel: Frank London: trumpet, alto horn, flugelhorn, harmonium; Lorin Sklamberg: vocals, accordion; Knox Chandler: guitar, electronics; Ara Dinkjian: oud, saz; Deep Singh: tabla, dholki.

Title: Tsuker-zis | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Tzadik


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