Record Report (#9): September 28, 2006

Art Brut: Bang Bang Rock & Roll (Downtown): Unlikely to succeed in their ambition to write "the song that makes Israel and Palestine get along," let alone one "as universal as Happy Birthday." But they vary their guitar-band art punk with enough panache to wow critics, or anyone able to savor their references or cope with the irony of decrying songs about sex and drugs after exclaiming over seeing a new girlfriend naked and demanding a drug that works. A- [rock]

Gilad Atzmon & the Orient House Ensemble: Musik (Enja): Part of the second diaspora, the anti-Zionists who've left Israel to return to the European civilization of their forefathers. He plays sax in a Coltrane vein, but lately he's explored song forms more broadly. On Exile, he taunted his homeland by taking Israeli pop hits and Arabizing them. Here he delves deeper into Europe, re-arranging the 20th century, starting with Weimar cabaret. B+ [jazz]

Maurice El Médioni Meets Roberto Rodriguez: Descarga Oriental: The New York Sessions (Piranha): Algerian pianist El Médioni traces his family tree to pre-Inquisition Spain, but that affinity matters less than what Roberto Juan Rodriguez brings to the party. After coming to Miami, the Cuban percussionist worked bar mitzvahs and fell in love with klezmer, inventing a marvelous synthesis on El Danzon de Moises and Baila! Gitano Baila! (both on Tzadik). But where Ashkenazi music had forced him to reach out, Sephardic music had long been part of his Cuban matrix. Here they unpack it together. A- [world]

Irving Fields Trio: Bagels and Bongos (1959, Reboot Stereophonic): Given the '50s mambo craze, the exotic ingredient in this simple Jewish-Cuban fusion was the klezmer. But even so obvious a concoction as "Havannah Nagilah" works -- the piano remains front and center, the bongos a thin schmear on top of the bagel-rhythms. A- [jazz]

Ayelet Rose Gottlieb: Mayim Rabim (Tzadik): A song cycle based on the "erotic biblical love poem Song of Songs." Sung in Hebrew, I suspect the translations lose something -- "My beloved stretched forth his hand from the hole/And my insides beat wildly"? The voices radiate over clever arrangements of clarinet, piano, cello and percussion, unpeeling the popular artifacts of Jewish music to reveal roots that sound timeless. B+ [world]

The Klezmatics: Wonder Wheel: Lyrics by Woody Guthrie (JMG): America's greatest folk singer wrote some 3000 lyrics, most never fitted out with melodies. Billy Bragg and Wilco produced two remarkable albums setting Guthrie lyrics to their straightforward folk-rock. Lorin Sklamberg's klezmer ensemble takes a different angle, weaving motifs from Eastern Europe, maybe the Middle East too. But more striking still is the sweetness of his voice, alone or paired with guest Susan McKeown -- high but never lonesome. The lyrics grew out of the '30s, the Great Depression and the specter of Fascism, but sometimes they transcend to everyday life: "But if you'll sing songs of your dreamings, then you will reap treasures untold." A [folk]

Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars: Carnival Conspiracy (Piranha): The trumpeter behind Hasidic New Wave and the Klezmatics brings together forty-some musicians from eight countries, singing in four languages, the internationalist anarchism interleaved with brass-filled instrumentals. It's a carnival because everywhere you look something's happening. It's a conspiracy because you can't have this much fun or mischief alone. A- [world]

Rufus Thomas: Stax Profiles (1967-75, Stax): A popular Memphis DJ, he entered the studios on his daughter Carla's coattails, scoring with novelties like "Walking the Dog" and "Do the Funky Chicken" -- reworkings of early '60s dance crazes with only an injection of James Brown funk suggesting the later dates. He was more comic than singer, so you can guess where his studies of Brown, Chubby Checker, and Elvis Presley headed. A- [r&b]