Madoff, The Song Cycle

Alicia Jo Rabins’ one-woman show reflects on the Ponzi schemer’s story through a variety of lenses.

Jewish Week Book Critic

Just a few years ago, Alicia Jo Rabins didn’t know much about the workings of Wall Street; she hadn’t yet heard of Bernard Madoff. But when the story of the largest Ponzi scheme in history unfolded, the musician, poet, Jewish educator — and admittedly broke artist — was captivated by the details of Madoff’s fraud.

Alicia Jo Rabins

Grooving The Cantorial Tradition

Hazonos iz improvizatya.

Special To The Jewish Week

Jack Mendelson remembers well the words of his principal teacher, the great cantor Israel Alter.

“He would always say, ‘Hazonos iz improvizatya,’ hazanut is improvisation,” Mendelson, himself a great cantor today, recalls with a laugh. “All the really great ones would go off on the pulpit, and the cantors who were really musically trained would improvise on the concert stage as well.”

Cantor Jake Mendelson.

Getting The Jews Up And Singing

Kane Street’s Joey Weisenberg wants a synagogue based on music and spontaneity.

Special To The Jewish Week

It’s a most unlikely place for a musical revolution, a studio tucked into an apartment building in a quiet block in Carroll Gardens, at the intersection of a residential neighborhood and a string of mom-and-pop stores of the sort Brooklyn still has in its quieter corners.

Joey Weisenberg sees Jews getting up, and singing in shul.

A Heavenly Noise

Jacob Garchik and his one-man Atheist Gospel Trombone Choir.

Special to the Jewish Week

Jacob Garchik is back where a lot of his family roots are. Although the brilliant young trombonist-composer was born in San Francisco, he “realized that New York is the musical center of the world” when he was 17. He now lives in Brooklyn, “not that far from where my mom and grandma spent their lives until they moved to California.”

He gladly admits, “It’s a homecoming, that’s a very good way to put it.”

’Bone structure: Garchik’s “Heavens” band consists of some of the city’s best trombonists. Photos by Eliza Margarita Bates

A New Big Band Voice

Arranger-pianist Ezra Weiss is carving out a niche for himself in the jazz world.

Special to the Jewish Week

Ezra Weiss received his first keyboard as a bar mitzvah present from his parents.

Twenty years later, he’s among the top 14 vote-getters in the Rising Star category as an arranger in this year’s Downbeat magazine critics’ poll, and a pianist-composer whose sixth CD, “Our Path to This Moment,” showcases his evocative writing in an imaginative big band context. It’s an elegant recording with echoes of Gil Evans, Bob Brookmeyer and Maria Schneider.

When writing for big band, Weiss says, “You want everyone to feel that what they’re doing is pivotal.” Photos by Vanished Twin

A Young Pianist With Old-School Tastes

Joe Alterman teams up with sax great Houston Person on new CD and Jazz at Lincoln Center gig.

Special to The Jewish Week

The first time he realized the power of music, Joe Alterman was a camper in a Jewish summer camp near his native Atlanta.

Sitting on a stool in a Greenwich Village coffee shop, the jazz pianist recalls enthusiastically, “Everything changed when the music started,” Alterman says. It was, he remembers, a mix of old folk songs, some Joni Mitchell and, of course, Jewish camp favorites like “Jerusalem of Gold.” “Everyone would get all happy and swaying.”

Generations of swing: Joe Alterman, left, and Houston Person.  Willie T. Jones

An Eclectic Musical Hevreh

Hevreh Ensemble’s new CD stretches the limits of Jewish music, blending everything from Native American to Baroque sounds.

Special to the Jewish Week

On a casual hearing, one might be hard-put to describe much of the music of the Hevreh Ensemble as “Jewish music.” Although the tunes on their new CD, “Between Worlds,” have titles like “Lost Tribes,” “Galicja” and “Negev Sunset,” the elegant, restrained music that is fit to those names bespeaks a wide range of influences, and Jewish music is only one of them.

“Between Worlds” has Hevreh Ensemble creating a kind of “world chamber music.”

Aaron Novik’s ‘Secrets’

The eclectic, avant-klez clarinetist takes inspiration from a 13th-century kabbalist.

Special to the Jewish Week

Rabbi Eleazar of Worms was a 13th-century scholar whose life was torn apart when two Crusaders broke into his house and killed his wife and three children. After that terrible incident in 1196, he wrote numerous ethical texts counseling cheerfulness, patience and love for humanity, suggesting a greatness of spirit that all but passes understanding. But he also delved deep into the mystical vein of Judaism, authoring countless kabbalistic texts including new systems of gematria (the numerological interpretation of Torah) and a singular work called “The Secrets of Secrets.”

Novik, below on bass clarinet, in a recent performance. Mark Wilson

The Problem With Cultural Reclamation

Special To The Jewish Week

Recently I discovered a band talented enough to change my mind about “Hava Nagila,” a song I find so personally annoying I banned it from the setlist at my adult bat mitzvah. The band in question is Abraham, Inc. and they call their version “The H Tune.”

Fight For Your Right To … Be Jewishly Proud

Remembering the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch and the thorny question of cultural authenticity.

Special To The Jewish Week

It never would have occurred to me that the passing of the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch (aka MCA) would hit me so hard. Yet I’ve been awfully sad ever since reading the headline across the CNN crawl last week. It’s not something I’ve contemplated much until Yauch’s death, at 47 from cancer. But the Beastie Boys really did mean something to me when they first emerged on the national scene almost three decades ago. 

Adam Yauch, aka MCA.
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