You don’t need to be a genius to see that the music industry, like the other branches of the media, is driven almost entirely by desire for profit. Perhaps that is not an entirely bad thing, but with the continuing consolidation of media companies, the bottom line really means bottom, as in lowest common denominator.
This year produced 16 five-star recordings, and you can’t go wrong with any of them. However, because of space limitations, I am forced to choose a 10-best list. That doesn’t mean the rest are anything less than wonderful, and I have listed them all here.
“Abayudaya: Music from the Jewish People of Uganda” (Smithsonian Folkways)
Recently one of the great American newspapers carried a long guide to recent recordings of world music in its arts pages. The article was thoughtful, intelligent and, for the most part, a splendid introduction to the field, covering everything from sub-Saharan Africa to Celtic music.
There was only one striking omission: the author didn’t discuss a single recording of Jewish music of any kind.
Long before hip-hop turned sampling into an art form, before “postmodernism” became a label slapped on anyone whose music borrowed eclectically from other cultures and traditions, Jewish music was evolving through a process of accretion, taking scales from this neighbor, rhythms from that one, harmonies from yet another, making a virtue of the necessities of the diaspora.
That process has continued to this moment as contemporary Jewish musicians unblushingly put the hyphens in klez-jazz.
There were a thousand women, and they were on their feet, swaying to a klezmer beat. The place was the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, the most successful of the many all-women’s music events that are held all summer across the United States. Isle of Klezbos was playing on the “night stage,” the primo venue at the festival, “the culmination of the whole event,” says Eve Sicular, the band’s leader and drummer. “ People told me later about how this was unlike any experience they had there.
Gilad Hekselman moved to the United States just five years ago, but already the Israeli jazz guitarist has drawn comparisons to young but fully formed stringed icons like the late Jaco Pastorius and Scott LaFaro. Hekselman is honored, but not quite indebted. In an interview, Hekselman said he looked to other instruments than his own for inspiration, from the ruminative piano lines of Brad Mehldau to the cerebral saxophone riffs of Mark Turner. "To be honest, jazz guitarists aren’t my main influence," Hekselman says.