Samuel Nelson grew up a secular Jew in Westchester, New York, listening to classic and edgy guitar rock from the likes of the Doors and Jane's Addiction. As a young adult, he embarked on a spiritual journey that led him to Zen Buddhism in Japan, Hassidism at the Bat Ayin Yeshiva, and now to family life and Middle Eastern sounds in Jerusalem.
Soon after arriving in Israel in the late Nineties, Nelson founded Shimshak, a band whose extended jams traversed the worlds of Jerry Garcia, George Clinton and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, with several Nelson originals taking shape as well. The group's weekly gigs at Mike's Place drew an eclectic and dedicated fan base. (Shimshak drummer Ari Leichtberg's appearance on the new Heedoosh album means that two of the most powerful and significant Jewish music releases of the summer have been from Shimshak alumni.)
After Shimshak disbanded, Nelson formed Eden Mi Qedem. The band plays original and classic piyutim accompanied by both sounds from the Arab world and driving, psychedelic guitar rock. Nelson describes the concept behind Eden Mi Qedem as the yearning to bring the ethnic and sonic harmony of the past into the future, a theme carried out via the disc's sound and lyrics.
The collection throws electronic rhythms and effects into the Eden Mi Qedem mix. While the recording is not always as invigorating as the group's more guitar-heavy and jammed-out live performances, it is a masterpiece of spiritual ethnic rock. Jangling strumming draws the listener into "Sof Davar" ("End of the Thing") while muezzin-style chants pepper interludes on "Yedid Nefesh" ("Soul Mate"). Layers of hand percussion and computer-generated beats build and collapse, while some of Israel's greatest players of exotic string instruments show off their chops. Nelson's stunning vocals drench every track.
THE L'CHAIM CHOIR
L'Chaim Tisch 2
Even those who don't particularly enjoy most Hassidic pop will recognize the difference between run-of-the-mill posturing and the real deal. This disc features real Hassidic folk songs performed by real Hassidim. A men's choir leads the listener through the rainbow of Hassidic sects, while child soloist Aharon Halevi displays remarkable control and tone with his pre-pubescent pipes, especially on the sweeping, piano-accompanied, cantorial "Rakhem" ("Be Merciful").
Some non-shtetl influence can be heard on the disc, as well, with "Shaveinu" featuring a Mizrahi guitar intro and "Lekha Dodi" showing off a stand-out Philouza-esque marching band arrangement. "Yismehu" is pure Hassidic fun, and its numerous "yum-bum-bum" refrains will make any listener bob his head from side to side.
Ben Jacobson can be reached at email@example.com.