Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hangin’ with the Homeboyz....

Each artist who passed through Studio A was asked to “sign” our musical guest book, by recording a pass on Am Yisrael Chai-The People of Israel live on! We combined an obscure old pioneer song with a newer, famous tune written by the legendary Shlomo Carlebach, and managed to hear a few tasty licks from just about everybody!

I just got back from 24 hours in LA, where I had the pleasure of mixing the P-FAC anthem “Am Yisrael Chai” with none other than the great Bob Clearmountain and the amazingly talented Keith Olsen, at Bob’s private retreat high in the hills (Thanks Beth, for making the introductions!).
These guys are responsible for mixing and producing some of the greatest recordings of all time, and it was a thrill to have them jump on in and get down with the entire P-FAC family. This was not an easy task, as the project contained over 90 tracks!
Most tunes we recorded consisted of five or six tracks, plus another six if drums were used. Twenty or thirty tracks is pushing it, forty is bordering on insanity, and when we hit sixty our computers were belching smoke.
But ninety....imagine a house where fifty teenagers lived together in one try to imagine straightening up after now have an idea of the task at hand. Bob and Keith did not bat an eyelash as they elevated our monumental undertaking to heights we never imagined. Props to Bob Horn and Brandon Duncan for an incredible display of Pro Tools wizardry. Most of all, to our own Dave Richards, for recording everyone so beautifully, and for his hard work, great ideas and cool vibe, and to DJM, who once again showed why dreamers come out on top. It’s not easy to record 90 tracks, but pioneers do what’s never been done...

The Prodigious Daughter

Basya Schechter and her cleverly named band Pharaoh’s Daughter have made a considerable impact on the world/acoustic scene. Her sweet voice, whether together with her full ensemble or in tandem with her guitar, is a pleasure to behold. The pioneer song “Hiney Achalilah Bachalili" ( I Will Play My Flute) is a perfect tune for Basya and company as they turn in a masterful performance that hints of George Martin and the fab four…..all in the name of raising funds for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.  

“Hiney Achalilah,” formally known as “Shirat HeChalil” is one of many odes to the ubiquitous instrument, written by nearly all the important composers of Israel. The term refers variously to the orchestral flute and to the recorder popular among the shepherds who entertained themselves and their flocks as they played. In particular, it was the musical influence of the Bedouin and Oriental Jewish herdsmen that struck an especially inspiring chord among Western-raised composers. The end result was a body of early songs with a decidedly Eastern flavor. “Hiney Achalilah” is a great example of these songs, with its dreamy, almost non-metrical verse, and the driving, debka-like rhythm of its spirited chorus.
Mordechai Zeira (1905 – 1968) is regarded as one of the “fathers of Israeli song.” Prior to his arrival in Palestine (from Russia in 1924) most of the popular songs were set to folk melodies brought from Europe with the new immigrants. It was during the fourth aliyah (roughly 1924 – 1931) that “composed songs” came to be written, and Zeira was one of the most prolific. He was also something of a “troubadour,” popularizing his tunes by singing them as he walked the length and breadth of his new homeland.(MBE)


When we decided to start recording old pioneer songs I knew that right away we would have invite one of my favorite artists, Noah Solomon. This man simply exudes music, and is one of the most important figures in the Jewish music renaissance of the past twenty years. He was raised on Moshav Modi’in, the legendary settlement of Shlomo Carlebach, home of the Maccabees of Hanuka fame. Noah comes from a musical family; his father Ben Tzion was part of the pioneering folk rock Diaspora Yeshiva Band, and is an authority of the spiritual music of the Breslav chassidim. His brothers all play and sing as well. Noah is a triple threat, in addition to his signature vocal style he is a wonderful guitarist and mandolinist. He is the lead singer of the iconic ethno jam band Soul Farm, and a member of NYC's premier bluegrass band, Citigrass.

El Yivne Hagalil (God will rebuild the Galilee), a famous old pioneer song, was one of the first recordings we made in Studio A, and features Noah together with Andrew Frawley on drums, Gilad on percussion, and our own Dave Richard's on upright bass. Check out Noah’s otherworldly vocalise in the middle!

“El Yivneh HaGalil” is the quintessential Palestinian folk melody, so popular that at least three variations on its tune have been documented. The best known of these utilizes the distinctive interval of the augmented second that is well known in both the Eastern European repertoire (think “Hava Nagilah”) and Middle Eastern music, making its origins a real mystery whose resolution hardly matters. While the egalitarianism of the kibbutzim (and the challenge to traditional family life represented by the “children’s houses” they created) did not initially draw religiously observant settlers, there were certainly pioneers among the second aliyah settlers who were driven by the theological imperative to rebuild the homeland of their forefathers. The notion that “God will build the Galilee” gave spiritual as well as physical strength to the young people who stereotypically worked the fields all day and danced a horah around the campfire all night. As they sang “Blessed is He Who builds the Galilee” they helped make this tune a “crossover hit” popular among secular farmers and yeshiva students alike. “ (MBE)

Here is Noah talking about how your support, through sharing this song, will help further cutting edge efforts of the Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center.

Noah is also prominently featured on the P-FAC anthem, Am Yisrael Chai.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Land Drenched in Sun....

Part of the thrill of being involved in the P-FAC project has been discovering songs that have slipped completely from the collective memory of the listening public. I found this one, "Omrim Yeshne Eretz", in an old collection of pioneer songs and was instantly struck by it's beauty, and subtle sophistication. It was a perfect match for one of my favorite singers (and favoroite people, as well...), the talented Seth Glass. Seth has been writing and performing his music around NYC for many, many years, and his late 90's release, " A Question of Faith", remains in my listening rotation. His voice was the perfect choice to introduce this song to today's audiences. Seth is joined on this track by old friends David Morgan, Dave Richards, Aaron Alexander, and yours truly. Also making an appearance is the fabulous quartet, String Nucleus.

"Omrim Yeshna Eretz was a poem written by Saul Tchernichovsky (1875-1943) in 1923. The text was set to music that same year by Joel Engel (1868-1927) in a version for voice and piano that reflected the composer’s interest in producing Jewish art music for the concert stage. Engel’s early work in ethnomusicology had provided the impetus for the creation in 1908 of the Society for Jewish Folk Music (Gesellschaft fur Yiddishe Folksmusik), and while the group produced some very sophisticated material, much of it was based on, or at least inspired by existing Jewish folk materials. The combination of Tchernichovsky’s optimistic text and Engel’s accessible melody made this song very popular, leading it, ironically, to be considered among the “folk songs” of the settler era. Indeed, a 1965 orchestral work by Noam Sherrif called “Israel Suite” included this melody among several others that the composer expected to be universally recognizable." (MBE)

They say: There is a land,
a land drenched with sun.
Wherefore is that land?
Where is that sun?

They say: There is a land,
its pillars are seven,
seven planets,
spiringing up on every hill.

A land where it shall come to pass
what every man had hoped for,
Everyone who enters,
meets up with with Akiva.

Peace to you, Akiva!
Peace to you, Rabbi!
Where are the holy ones?
Where are the Maccabees?

Answers him Akiva,
answers him the Rabbi:
All of Israel is holy,
you are the Maccabees!

They say: There is a land,
a land drenched with sun.
Wherefore is that land?
Where is that sun?