Lehodot Ulehalel and Razei Olam
Hazzanut and the pathos it inspires are the name of the game this time of year. The greatest cantors still pull the heartstrings, but there was a time when they were revered as the superstars of Jewish music. The vinyl recordings of the classic hazzanim continue to be culled by archivists and reissued on CD, but the compilations don't always stick to the highest standards of sound or even vocal quality.
The singing of Shlomo Eisenbach, who served as cantor for many years at Jerusalem's Heichal Shlomo synagogue, is the newest addition to this trend, with Noam Productions having recently released two CD compilations of Eisenbach's old recordings. The sessions preserved here feature Eisenbach on the organ, accompanying himself with the help of a series of his peers on vocals.
On "Shomea Kol Bekhiot" (Hearing All Wails), "Retzeh Vehahalitzenu" (Be Pleased and Let Us Rest) and "Ki Hu Levado" (For Him Alone), Eisenbach's heavy, emotional, real-deal singing style meanders higher and higher, like it should. A similar approach falls flat elsewhere, however, particularly on Eisenbach's rendition of the Sabbath eve Kiddush, with dead notes and over-the-top theatricality. Eisenbach's free-meter performances are the discs' strongest, though staccato piyut and folk songs like "Lo Tahmod" and "Yevanim" lack the emotion that can make hazzanut such a painful pleasure.
SOUL TUNE SINGERS
Music from the Mountain
About six years ago, Mindy Kornberg wrote a series of songs she envisioned as a Jewish holiday suite for children. She couldn't get the project off the ground, however, until she teamed up with Reva L'Sheva keyboard player Chanan Elias, who also works as a freelance sound engineer and session man. With Elias - who Kornberg calls a "roving minstrel" - on board, the Soul Tune Singers were born.
Music from the Mountain was recorded in Jerusalem using Elias' arrangements, production know-how and vocal contributions, as well as the singing of locals Shirel Djaoui, Yael Decklebaum and Gaby Shine. David "Harpo" Abramson, Danny Roth and a slew of other musicians were recruited to fill out the sound. The disc was originally released in 2000, and it has recently been reissued as an Internet release (available through iTunes and many other paid services), just in time for the Tishrei holidays.
The Rosh Hashana-themed "Time to Return" features cabaret-style jazz and sports a nice bass solo. Upbeat, alto-led country music in the style of Dolly Parton's "Nine to Five" dominates "The Sukkah in Our Yard" and "The Ballad of Mordechai and Esther." "Plant a New Life" uses an authentic roots reggae groove but steers off course once the melody kicks in, while "I Ate Too Many Hamentashen" is a cute blues number. Kornberg channels gospel spirituals on "The 50th Day," while the closing "Shabbat Shalom" lullaby uses a children's choir to create an angelic atmosphere.
Music from the Mountain employs a hodgepodge of styles, but it's almost all very cheery and sing-along-friendly - attributes which help make it a worthy children's record. Of course, the best children's entertainment is amusing for adults as well, and Mountain does offer some pleasures on this level, too.
Ben Jacobson can be reached at email@example.com.