Idan Raichel waits for ‘Quarter to Six’

Israel’s favorite world music practitioner speaks to the ‘Post’ of his journey during the making of his latest album and the importance of finding the right collaborators.

Idan Raichel performing at Ceaserea Amphitheater 370 (photo credit: Hadas Parush)
Idan Raichel performing at Ceaserea Amphitheater 370
(photo credit: Hadas Parush)
Idan Raichel’s way with words isn’t limited to his lyrics. The Kfar Saba-born world music virtuoso is equally poetic in the realm of the meta-musical – vividly marketing his work as music to live by, distilled experience. Hidden in the enigmatic title of his recently-released album, Quarter to Six, is a hint at just that. While past chart successes have worn this unironic sensibility on their jackets – Out of the Depths, Within My Walls – the March release is best framed by an anecdote, Raichel explains.
Quarter to Six is a quote from a Yossi Banai book and movie called Letters in the Wind, in which he meets with his mother in the last weeks of her life. And he sees that she’s a bit morose, and asks her why she’s not fully there.
So she answers, ‘I feel like a quarter to six. Soon it will be dark.’” The album, Raichel tells The Jerusalem Post, is inspired by the observation that some wallow in melancholy through life transitions, while others “go out celebrating the night.”
True to its name, the Idan Raichel Project’s newest release is nocturnal through and through, flecked with dark, lowing sounds and consisting of such tracks as “Yored Haerev” (Evening Descends), “In Stiller Nacht” (In Silent Night) and “Balaila”(At Night).
Well-developed theme aside, this is not terribly novel territory for the Project: with the exception of Traveling Home, an upbeat 2011 double-album of live tracks, its oeuvre is almost uniformly autumnal, downbeat and reflective.
Quarter to Six makes its mark, however, as the grounded climax of a decade of cross-cultural experimentation – earthier and more Israeli than any of the Project’s previous albums. Gone are the African jams and the sirenic preludes in Amharic and Hindi, but missing just as conspicuously are the celestial, biblically-inspired Hebrewlanguage grooves at the heart of the Raichel canon.
In their place, a dark, stripped-down sincerity prevails.
The album, recorded semi-professionally in hotel rooms along the road, succeeds smashingly as a unified whole – perhaps in part because 11 of its 16 tracks are in Hebrew, an uncommonly high proportion by the standards of earlier albums. The story Raichel uses to explain this shift in artistic vision is a poignant one, as much a general guide to appreciating Quarter to Six as a case in language shift.
“This album was recorded on the road, on mobile gear, on laptops, in hotel rooms. We traveled from Africa to Germany, all over. And I felt that just when you’re traveling around the world and moving the fastest, you begin to long most for home. And so on the road, I read more books in Hebrew, and I had a sense of wanting to return to the things on which I grew up.... And so I looked inward.
“I felt that on my previous albums, I was shut between four walls, whether at home or in my studio, and I dreamed of getting out, but now, my source of inspiration is home itself.”
But in the background of Quarter to Six’s native, personal sense is something of a loss: in the absence of frenzied international experimentation and dreamlike biblical inspiration, the Idan Raichel Project loses a sense of the epic. Unlike past albums, which lack in unity but shine with a few knock-out hits each, Quarter to Six fails to produce anything with the instant canonicity of “Mima’amakim” or “Shuvi El Beiti.”
Nevertheless, Quarter to Six retains a sense of texture and unevenness despite its well-worn maturity – as on any album, there are peaks and troughs (albeit shallow ones) along the way. The early-release single “Achshav Karov” flutters forth with an Ethiopian flute riff, dissolving in and out from crisp, image-rich verses to a fuzzy, strings-accompanied chorus – all in all, a stellar debut performance by Tamir Nachshon.
Anat Ben-Hamo makes a strong return to the Project with the breezy, pretty “Rak Oto,” a two-and-a-halfminute acoustic pop lament for an unrequited love.
And despite Quarter to Six’s return to Hebrew roots, it happens that two of its highlights are among the album’s few foreign-language tracks. The inimitable Mira Awad drives hard with “Ana Ana Wenta Enta,” an upbeat number which makes break-ups look fun and sets the bar as the Project’s strongest Arabic-language number to date.
The crown jewel of the album, however, is “Sabe Deus,” a track led by Ana Moura in lilting Iberian Portuguese and accompanied by Raichel himself in Hebrew – seeming, in its dream-like quality, bilingualism, and divine content, to belong to an earlier phase of the Project’s work.
Quarter to Six is at its midnight best as Moura and Raichel cue in the song together in breathy Hebrew, accompanied by graceful, spare piano: “There is truth in the words you speak / A simple truth in the guiding hand / Just breathe in, against the sea that remains behind us / The day ends, night calling in a new beginning.”
Dry, exotic strings cut in, and Moura proceeds to take off in angelic Portuguese.
No song on the album is as disappointing as the aforementioned are heartening. But “In Stiller Nacht” is certainly an odd choice, breaking the no-frills, earthy Hebrew continuity of Quarter to Six with the saccharine, Catholic notes of a German countertenor. “Im Hayita Ro’eh” is a bit too much foreboding tension for the end of the album, but is effectively balanced out by the bright, cavernous final track, “Or Kazeh.”
In the final account, Quarter to Six is an artistic success – and a great listen, if better-suited to some times of day than others. Where Raichel and the Project’s newest album stands strongest is in the thematic big picture: it is even-keeled, unified and impeccably true to its dusky title.
But in the midst of Quarter to Six’s impressive consistency, listeners can’t be faulted for letting the songs run together in their ears, a few gems standing out in moderate relief. Though the sounds and textures of Quarter to Six are more like than unlike Raichel’s past albums, the emphasis on album unity over song-level punch – stripped-down nativity over trans-oceanic experimentalism – promises a wholly different listening experience.
Apply Idan Raichel’s life advice to his music, and celebrate the transformation.