Rashanim – Jon Madof
Tzadik Records 7178
Okay, I have a little bit of an embarrassing story to tell. I hopped onto
the train, expecting to get some work done.
Rashanim was one of four CDs I had with me — the other three were the new
Klezmatics album, the Romanian gypsy brass band Fanfare
Ciocarlia, and a Romanian taragotte – sax/clarinet hybrid – virtuoso. I
needed something I could write to, something without lyrics, grooving,
not too in-your-face, but engaging enough to take my mind off of semi-
brainless tasks. I chose Rashanim, an album I had listened to once
before. I put it into my Discman, pressed play, and turned on my
computer. Then I promptly reprimanded myself for wasting two sets of
batteries, turned off the Discman, unplugged the headphones, and popped
the CD into the computer. I started the Windows Media player, but no
sound came out. I unmuted the computer and heard only faint sounds. I
raised all the volumes to max and the sound was just about right.
About two minutes after getting to work, the man in a suit sitting behind
me tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around. He asked me if I could
turn it down a bit. I looked at him quizzically, took off my headphones,
and realized that the sound was coming rather prominently out of the
laptop. I turned beet red, profusely apologized, and scurried to plug
the dangling miniplug into the headphone jack of the computer. As I was
doing so, the older man in on the other side of the aisle protested, "No,
it’s good, I like it, just turn it down a bit."
The girl sitting in the seat across from me, with whom I had been trying
to figure out how to start a conversation since I sat down, giggled, nose-
stud shimmering. I looked at her. "Sorry," she mumbled, waving her hand
in a forget-about-it-I actually-kinda-liked-it gesture.
"Well that was
embarrassing," I said.
She said "Oh, I thought you were just trying to
"Yeah, my laptop ghetto blaster," I tried to quip. A
better man would be able to tell you that the conversation only steamed
up from there, resulting in the acquisition of ten special digits. But,
no, I meekly slipped the headphones back onto my ears and got lost in
Rashanim land. And quit doing my work.
I wonder what all those folks might have said had they known that the
name of the track was "Der Khusid Geyt Tantsn," a melody lifted from a
traditional Jewish klezmer tune, buried in a rocking, grooving,
improvisation-heavy three-minute jazz/rock song. This is a band consisting
of electric guitar (Jon Madof), electric bass (Shanir Ezra Blumenkrantz)
and drums (Mathias Kunzli) — and they turn any ideas you might have
of such a collection of musicians and what you might expect from what
appears to be a very Jewish CD, on their heads. Of course, defying
expectation is what John Zorn’s Tzadik/Radical Jewish Culture label does
The album is a mix of Madof compositions and reinvented traditional
songs — including some very popular Jewish tunes from weddings and prayer
services reworked in odd meters and other interesting ways. It includes
influences of rock, jazz, funk, Middle East, meditation and prayer
played by three extremely competent musicians. You might say it does for
klezmer what Bela Fleck did for bluegrass. They bring it out of a folk
realm and into a more diverse and contemporary one. They’ve created
something very musically interesting but also quite accessible in the
process, as evidenced by the positive reviews from my train companions.
It is heavy on infectious groove and improvisation, and rocks
hard. The idea of rock and roll klezmer will inevitably bring comparisons
Dale’s surf rock renditions of "Miserlou" and "Hava Nagila" several decades
ago. That was rawer, this is richer.