PASHTES|SIMPLICITY by Lenka Lichtenberg & Brian Katz CD review by Stanley Fefferman

Sunflower Records, 2006

This album is subtitled “Music to the Poetry of Simcha Simchovitch”. “Music to the poetry of…” implies that the music respects the poetry. Together, poetry and music make song. These songs of Simcha Simchovitch are dedicated to the “downtrodden and humiliated”, to “days to come…/when the sun of freedom will shine for all/and all will joyously create and sing.”

The vision of this poet is bent double by sorrow and loss: his glance often falls into the gutter of despair, where a glint of sunlight reflected in the filthy water uplifts him to song. This shift is the focus of the poetry that Lenka Lichtenberg and Brian Katz write music to.

Lenka writes most of the music and sings. Brian writes the arrangements, a few songs, and leads the ensemble with his guitar. Both musicians have been working together for the past few years as a concert duo relying on Lenka’s commitment to the Yiddish songbook and Brian’s mastery of guitar styles from classical to jazz and world music.

What is interesting about this particular collaboration is that the music, despite being sung in Yiddish, does not sound particularly Jewish (a.k.a Klezmer). They have managed to generate a unique sound based on sonorities of Latin, Arabic, and jazz, to name just a few.

The title tune starts out klezmer with a weepy violin that hoicks up its ‘tsitsis’ into a weddlinglike ‘freilach’. Very Jewish, like the fifth cut “Tsum Kval”, which again relies on Kathleen Kajoika’s elegiac fiddling (here on viola). But that’s it. Otherwise you get, as in the fourth tune, what sounds like Anne-Sophie Van Otter singing Elvis Costello in Yiddish.

Make no mistake–this epithet is definitely alluding to the training, purity and colour control in Lenka’s vocalizations. Her style is cabaret recitative, melismatic, authentic as a ‘knaidle’, and bubbles with emotion. The melodies she writes are kind of uniform throughout.

Brian Katz’s contribution are highlighted in “Garden Party” where Lenka sings his melody—a sophisticated Latin cum Euro-jazz creation, and in “Calcutta”, a solo instrumental based on single notes and a drone in an East Indian mode.

Ernie Toller on winds brings a breath of middle-eastern inspiration as well as new music weirdness, especially in the closing tune “ “A Lid”. Alan Hetherington imports the full richness of Brazilian percussion, supported by jazz bassist George Koller. With sonic flavours of French horn (Joan Watson), cello (Jill Vitols), accordion (Sasha Luminsky), more drums (Daniel Barnes), and more winds (Kathryn Moses)—well, maybe you never heard anything quite like this album “Pashtes” before.

It is beautifully produced. All the lyrics are given in Hebrew script, also transliterated into roman script if you cannot quite follow Lenka’s dialectish pronunciation that swallows consonants here and there. Translations into English are by the poet himself.

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