Jewish Music: An activist crooner and a Vaudeville hazan

Miriam Ahuvatel Iron's recent Devotional Songs to God is an elegant cycle inspired by the Psalms.

chazan disc cover 88 (photo credit: )
chazan disc cover 88
(photo credit: )
MIRIAM AHUVATEL IRON Devotional Songs to God Self-release A Jerusalemite who dabbles in peace activism, environmentalism and alternative healing treatments, Miriam Ahuvatel Iron comes from a long line of Karliner Hassidim. Her recent Devotional Songs to God is an elegant cycle inspired by the Psalms. Many of the album's songs come in pairs - either the same text set to different melodies (as in the case of two sequential "And I Trust" treatments) or counterpart texts set to similar melodies (as in the case of "You Are My Child" and "You Are My Daughter"). The "Be Gracious" song pair opens with lots of oud noodling before leading listeners into a free-meter verse recitation anchored by the strum of a guitar. The disc opens with two stark, clarinet-driven staccato folk tunes before the arrangements begin to cut deeper. "My God," part two of "And I Trust" and the whistled and chanted "I Extol You" all employ atmospheric vocal harmonies to create a beauty that pulls the listener in. "Ozi Vezimrat Kah," one of the selections Iron performed at June's Shalshelet liturgical Jewish music festival in the US, sports a Mizrahi folk-style phrasing and a creative bass line. Later, "The Lord is My Light" leads the listener toward the end of the song cycle in style, thanks to its jug-band ragtime niggun approach. YITZCHAK ESHEL V'te-erav Lefanecha Noam Productions The Noam music label continues to plunder and repackage the world's hazanut archives with this new collection from classic Cantor Yitzchak Eshel, who passed away in March. The tracks heard here were recorded in various sessions in 1958, when Eshel was based in Israel, but the story of his golden, emotive voice is not one of straightforward Zionism; Eshel's biography reads more like that of a wandering Jew-minstrel than one of a refugee-pioneer. Born in Hungary, Eshel became a rising star in the hazanut world at a young age, taking pulpits in his hometown before moving on to Manchester, Warsaw, Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv, Antwerp and Pittsburgh. While in Israel, he was drafted by the IDF and became involved in the army's clerical leadership. The sessions collected in Lefanecha showcase the talents of an old-time, Eastern European-style cantor at the top of his form. The opening High Holy Days suite ("Ata Chonantanu," "Mimkomcha" and "Chadesh Alenu") feature some excellent hazanut meandering, steeped in pathos and adorned with vocal harmonies and organ accompaniment. The theme returns later with the lengthy "Zochrenu Lechaim" and "Dos Yiddishe Lid" medleys, which include a Kol Nidrei service. "Probe" and "Tzevishen" reveals Eshel's more whimsical side, leading the listener through a parade of Yiddish folk songs accompanied by a full, accordion-led ensemble. These songs paint a picture of the hazan on the Vaudeville stage, dancing with a cane. Ben Jacobson can be reached at