You can’t help liking Uzi Feinerman, aka Ramirez. The 34-year-old, diminutive, hirsute singer-songwriter is just a joy to hang with. And the same could be said for his latest release, the comically entitled English-language Cheese in My Pocket. “It’s cheesy music,” says Feinerman matter-of-factly.
The dairy-named CD is Feinerman’s second solo effort, but he has played a major role in quite a few other recordings, including several outings with the Ramirez Brothers band – with Sefi Tiziling and Eitan Efrat, aka Sefi, and Kitkit Ramirez – and with cross-ethnic rock act Boom Pam.
The title track of the new album is, indeed, somewhat on the cheesy side, with the chorus featuring the oft-repeated line “When do I tell you I love you girl?” But this is a very polished offering from Feinerman. First off, the leader himself is a fine guitarist and his vocals have an endearing laid-back quality to them, too. And he’s got quite a roster of musicians on board for the trip.
His principal cohorts are fellow trio members, bassist Shacham “Chakamoon” Ohana and drummer Tal Tamari. And then there’s The Extra Cheese Orchestra which features 18 top-notch musicians who take turns to embellish the leading threesome’s efforts, including jazz trumpeter Avishai Cohen, jazz pianist Yonatan Avishai, keyboardist Maya Dunietz, percussionist-keyboardist Yonadav Halevy and stellar cellist Maya Belsitzman. The other Ramirez musical siblings are also highly evident in the sonic mix.
The upshot of that rich roster is a quality release with ne’er a dull moment as it insouciantly meanders between feral rock sounds, jazzy lines, jolly old rockabilly, earthy bluesy departures and even a brief classical spot called, for some reason, “Honey Tree Evil Eye.”
It is an almost impossibly eclectic package.
Feinerman has been sowing his musical seeds far and wide for some time now.
“We put out a couple of sort of EP releases with Boom Pam, one of cover versions and one with some Christmas songs,” he notes, adding that his multidisciplinary approach is largely a matter of keeping himself interested. “I get bored with myself very quickly,” he explains, “so I am always looking for new directions. I also like to play with new people too. They always bring some new input to whatever it is I’m working on.”
Feinerman’s wide-ranging musical tastes first took root when he was hardly kneehigh to a grasshopper.
“When I was six months old we moved to the United States for three years,” he recalls. “I have some kind of hazy recollection of that, and my mother fell in love with country music. I still listen to people like Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers.”
An older sibling introduced the youngster to a very different kind of music.
“My brother is 10 years older than me and he played me records by people like The Beatles and Syd Barrett,” says Feinerman. The latter was a founder member of Pink Floyd and one of the leading members of the 1960s psychedelic rock crowd. Later the music of Bob Dylan also found its way into Feinerman’s teenaged consciousness.
“One of the first things I learned to play on guitar was something by Barrett,” he continues.
“It was a sort of children’s song but, of course, with a twist. There were a lot of drugs in his music too.”
Feinerman was clearly keen to walk on the wild side of the musical tracks from the outset.
Mind you, despite being a formative influence on his younger sibling’s early music development, Feinerman’s brother let him down on one occasion.
“Dylan came to Israel in 1987. I must have eight or nine, and my brother told me I shouldn’t come with him because I was too young to understand the lyrics.”
At the time that was quite a blow to the youngster, but he caught Dylan’s shows on a couple of occasions in Canada.
“That was great. I started dancing in the middle of the concert. The sound was really bad and Dylan can treat his audience poorly, but it was still wonderful seeing him play live.”
Feinerman has, of course, expanded his areas of musical interest over the years, and endeavors to keep things fresh.
“I also come from a background of jazz, and I try to make sure that I approach each gig in an open way, and that there’s a lot of improvisation in the show.”
Jazz found its way into Feinerman’s initial forays into the mysteries of quality musical performance when he attended the Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts in Givatayim.
“I was into jazz up to around 1964,” he says, “you know, bebop and hard bop, and also some avant garde – [avant garde jazz pioneer saxophonist] Ornette [Coleman], and I was really into [reedman] Eric Dolphy and [pianist] Cecil Taylor. Dolphy and Taylor are still my favorites.”
Feinerman tries to maintain that carte blanche approach with his sidemen.
“There are things which they have to play in a certain way, but mostly I tell them they can do whatever they want.”
The short classical music work on Cheese in My Pocket makes the listener perk up, betwixt the rock, country and other more expected sounds.
“That was inspired by Bartok,” explains Feinerman. “I really like classical music and I would really like to study it seriously some time. In the past few years I have gotten into orchestration.”
Feinerman has clearly come a long way.
One of the musicians he is delighted to have on the CD is pianist Yonatan Avishai.
“I remember going to hear him play and being so impressed. He was always a cut or two above everyone else.”
Stellar New York-based trumpeter Cohen is also a boon.
“I love the way he plays. I also play in his Big Vicious band.”
Considering Feinerman only spent three years in the United States, years when presumably he was not too conscious of his cultural surroundings, his exclusive preference for English-language numbers is surprising.
“American culture is the strongest element in my cultural development,” he says. “I have tried writing songs in Hebrew before, but somehow my hand always starts writing from the left. I have tried singing in Hebrew, but it sounds like someone else singing. It just doesn’t feel natural to me.”
Feinerman seems to be doing perfectly well with his English-language numbers.For more information: http://uziramirez.bandcamp.com/