(photo credit: Courtesy)
Diane Kaplan is on a roll. Now 55, over the last 30 years Arizona-bred singer songwriter Kaplan, from Moshav Yodfat near Carmiel, has become a staple of the local folk and bluegrass scene, particularly of the Jacob’s Ladder Festival roster. This Saturday Kaplan will showcase material from her latest album, Like an Olive Tree, at the festival, at its Nof Ginosar venue by the Kinerret.
Jacob’s Ladder Festival patrons will probably most readily identify Kaplan as a member of the Ada and Diane duo she shared with Galilean singer-flutist Ada Moriel. The two put out three albums over a decade of fruitful synergy but Kaplan has been exploring new textual and musical territory in the last two or three years. Like an Olive Tree contains 11 tracks based on verses from Psalms, with Kaplan providing the charts. It represents something of an incremental leap for her.
“This is the biggest project I’ve ever worked on,” says Kaplan.
“About 30 people worked on it, and Eyal put so much into it.” “Eyal” is Eyal Luman who has his own recording studio at Yodfat and, besides sharing responsibility for arranging the material together with Kaplan, he also plays qanun and a wide assortment of percussion instruments on the album.
Growing up in the States in the Sixties Kaplan initially fed off the unparalleled sonority and searching lyrics of Joni Mitchell, as well as various stalwarts of the still strong folk scene, the likes of Bob Dylan.
“I played [Joni Mitchell album] Blue over and over again and learned every nuance of every phrase,” Kaplan recalls. “She didn’t do Psalms music but she had her own psalms.” A little later bluegrass suddenly veered onto Kaplan’s musical radar screen which, in fact, was her entry into the Anglo-Israeli music scene, and was the start of her enduring association with this weekend’s event.
“I met [local blue grass musicians] David Ring and Danny Sherban at [original Jacob’s Ladder venue] Mahanaim,” says Kaplan.“There was a Jacob’s Ladder folk cub at Mahanaim on Friday nights. David and Danny also played there, just after their Galilee Grass band had broken up. I had seen them playing in Haifa not long before and I was very impressed. So when they asked me to join a new band they were putting together I was only too happy.”
A long serving bluegrass quartet, including bassist Allen Meyers, was duly established, and played the folk club scene all over the country for some years.
“It was the harmonies that drew me to bluegrass. The thing I liked most about it was this tight three-part harmony. I used to listen to a lot of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I’d put a record on and I’d try to identify the voices and sing one of the parts, then sing the next one once I’d got it. That’s how I got my ear tuned for harmony.”
THERE ARE some succulent harmonies on Like an Olive Tree, some provided by Kaplan’s son and daughter Edan and Mya. There are also plenty of cultural colors in there, with the personnel list including Jacob’s Ladder perennial Celtic harpist Sunita Staneslow, and Hagit Rosmarine on Irish whistle and flutes, with various instruments from the Latin and Middle Eastern ethnic end of things also very much in evidence.
It was Kaplan’s mother’s death, three years ago, that eventually spawned Like an Olive Tree.
“When I realized she was dying [in the States] and just grabbed my
guitar, and someone gave me a book called The Jewish Way in Death and
Mourning. It was a great comfort and it had Psalms in it which I started
putting to music and singing for mother. Even though she was in a coma
she reacted to my singing.” Kaplan now sings for dying people and their
families here. “Music is so powerful and can help to deal with death,”
Kaplan’s music and spiritual path has also been significantly influenced
by her work in Germany in the last three years. “I’ve been there
several times to work at vocal workshops, in the summer, singing Israeli
and Hebrew and my songs.” Many of the people who have attended the
workshops to date have been the children or grandchildren of Nazis.