Hebrew School

Machinery of Eden

The Sway Machinery play next Monday and Tuesday, September 29 and 30 at Le Poisson Rouge, the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Click here for details.

For those of you who didn’t manage to catch Sway Machinery‘s Rosh Hashanah show last year at Angel Orensanz, you’re about to catch a speck of kismet: It turns out that this life is shorter than we thought, and wouldn’t you know, it’s suddenly that time of year again. Fortunately, Rosh Hashanah occurs at exactly the same time as last yearon the Jewish calendar, of course. You’re in luck.

Maybe you didn’t come last year because the massively gorgeous, history-stained Lower East Side synagogue had reached capacity and you were turned away. Maybe you were travelling to be with family, or were making a pilgrimage to someone else’s idea of apples and honey (symbolic of a sweet new year). Or maybe you “don’t like to go to Jewish things.”

You know what? Neither do I. I’m often nauseated by the decrepitude of the ceremonial, the proprietary conflict lurking in the “cultural event,” the possibility of unspoken exclusivity within something intended otherwise. And if you’re a music fan, like me, you may be daunted by the unholy admixture of sacred and profane– the music, of course, being sacred above all.

The proposition is heady at face value: fuzzed-out guitar riffs, Afrobeat-inspired horns, enraptured cantorial melisma broken only by the sincerity of biblical storytelling (and re-telling)– all occurring when you might otherwise be at your Westchester grandma’s, or decidedly not there. But then you actually hear the music.

It’s a vexingly powerful– yep, swaying– exposition of everything a live music experience really ought to be. It’s profundity, graciously understated and overstated by veteran NYC musician Jeremiah Lockwood (vocals, guitar) and his screamingly gifted co-conspirators (among these: Yeah Yeah Yeahs drummer Brian Chase, tenor saxophone player Stuart Bogie and trumpeter Jordan McLean of Antibalas, and the Arcade Fire‘s Colin Stetson). In my opinion, as with all transcendent music, it’s a journey that renders unnecessary baggage (religious, cultural, otherwise) weightless, and vindicates the individual in a sweaty embrace.

Highlights from 5768’s performance. Get your tickets for ’69 now– these are sure to be sold-out shows.


Hebrew School at Banjo Jim’s

I’m happy to report on the success of Hebrew School’s first show this past Sunday at Banjo Jim’s. Since the show for me was somewhat experimental in nature– a way for me to chart the project’s musical direction in a live setting– I hadn’t publicized it widely outside of the blog. Nonetheless, a staunch group of dear friends came out to support me, including the amazing Jill Vogel, playwright Adam Mathias, director William Addis, Jorge Reichert, Innajara Simoes, and dear friend Kate Taylor.

Though tonight was largely a Six Points evening, it started out with a really fabulous singing and guitar-piano duo, the Pearl and the Beard.

above: Pearl, Beard

Clare Burson‘s new material is sweet and haunting.

My set, starting a little after 9:30, filled out the Super Bowl‘s calamitous fourth quarter for my hometown team, the New England Patriots. I literally watched the implosion occur as I played, on the TV screen above the bar. Nonetheless, the ruach (i.e., the Schwartz) was with me…

At a certain point I chose to ecstatically look at the ceiling instead. What would JJD?

…and thanks to the musicians I worked with, Taylor Bergren-Chrisman and Tim Monaghan, we did more than get the first downs. As a matter of fact, I believe we rocked.

Here’s a clip of the tail end of a work in progress entitled “He Looked at the Sun.” More videos to be posted on youtube soon!

The set included several more works in progress, including a song about hypocrisy in the Bible in the context of the current Israel/Palestinian struggle, an argument for atheism, and an incantation of love and reverence for God. Some songs use Jewish liturgical texts; some have original lyrics.

Dan Fishback phenomenized the defeatingly self-aware, post-structuralist woe of a twentysomething with the predictable vigor and candor.

Jeremiah Lockwood wove together a very different kind of blues, full of splendid tales of faith and murder, creatively and deftly accompanying himself– often in unison– with octave voicings on the guitar.

Thanks to those who came out, and keep an eye out for more Hebrew School in the not-too-distant future!

Links / events / etc.

I felt mixed feelings of sadness and living in some strange bizzaro world on today Sept. 11, coming in on the subway via the Manhattan Bridge.  The conductor came on the speakers and started singing the Star Spangled Banner. He did not have a very good voice, but to his credit it is a very hard song to sing. Some people applauded when he was done. Another man muttered, “It sounded like a prayer to me.” I was busy getting sucked into a conversation with my next door neighbor about how she continually sabotages her chances for “true love.” 

Some cool Jewish music blog spottings:
– Israeli-American band Sabra on the WFM-Jew blog.
– April Winchell’s OyTunes.

Also, my fellow fellows at Six Points have some events coming up:
– Jeremiah Lockwood’s Sway Machinery do a rock Rosh Hashanah event tomorrow at Angel Orensanz.  Jeremiah’s grandfather gave his debut concert there in 1949 when it was the Slonimer Synagogue.  RSVP here.
Ofri Cnaani has an exhibition at the Andrea Meislin gallery in Chelsea, opening September 20.

above: Ofri Cnaani

Have happy high holidays, Jews!