Dance of the Idiots - An Israelite Odyssey
If John Zorn had never produced a single note of his own or released anybody else's album, any true music lover and especially any lover of Jewish music would still owe him a great debt of respect and gratitude, even affection, for having the vision to back as outstanding and fine an album as Koby Israelite's Dance of the Idiots, just released on Zorn's Tzadik label.
Dance of the Idiots is a journey of exploration of Jewish
music and the Jewish experience on a truly Homerian scale. Koby Israelite, a highly gifted and versatile multi-instrumentalist, utterly defies and indeed defeats any silly genre classification with his epic Dance of the Idiots - the idiom is clearly and decidedly contemporary, and the music clearly deeply rooted in the various Jewish musical traditions, but that's about as close to "genre" as it would be wise to venture. I don't think it would be possible to describe this music much more aptly than John Zorn did in his press release for this album, "Cantorial Death Metal, Nino Rota Klezmer, Balkan Surf, Catskills free improvisation". Israelite takes elements like rock, metal, klezmer, Ladino, Balkan, Sephardic/Middle Eastern (there's even a hint of Andalusian), cantorial/liturgical, chassidic nigunim, classical, jazz, and smashes them together in an explosion of imagination. The result is not only a highly individualistic idiom, but truly inspired music that's accessible to anybody who loves great music, and music that is immensely stimulating as well as immensely enjoyable. Witty and humorous, celebratory as well as contemplative at times, this music never fails to both surprise and delight. Call it avantgarde if you must, but if this is avantgarde, let's have more of it!
The liner of Dance of the Idiots quotes Albert Einstein: "Imagination is more important than knowledge..." Imagination is something that Koby Israelite certainly isn't short of. Equally, he also isn't lacking in "knowledge" in the form of fine musicianship and technical skill on his multitude of instruments. Koby Israelite is more than ably aided and abetted on Dance of the Idiots by his ensemble of distinguished guest artists. Most notably, these include the stellar Gilad Atzmon, probably the most outstanding clarinetist/saxophonist of his generation. Atzmon here, among other things, gives every klezmer clarinetist cause to be thankful that he doesn't specialise in klez. Several other members of Gilad Atzmon's recently expanded Orient House Ensemble are also included. Also notable is the appearance of Howard Davies on didgeridoo. The ensemble playing is remarkable.
Koby Israelite also excels as an arranger on Dance of the Idiots, with all tracks to his credit, as well as in his capacity of composer. Of the twelve tracks, nine are Israelite originals, and a further one co-written with Igal Foni. The two remaining tracks are a traditional Ladino song (Zemirot le Shabbat) and a traditional Romanian hora, respectively.
The Odyssey kicks off with Saints And Dates, a lively, tango-ish and very catchy tune. An adaptation of the Ladino Zemirot le Shabbat follows under the title of Toledo Five Four - the beat here is totally irresistible. Next stop, shul (synagogue)! Not quite, perhaps, but all the same the "cantorial death metal" of If That Makes Any Sense is just awesome and touching on the mystical. Diego is an almost traditional rendition of Hora Miresei, with just accordion and some very imaginative drumming. With Battersea Blues, Koby Israelite again takes us towards the mystical. We are at sea, sailing on calm waters, glimpses of distant as yet unknown lands being revealed to the traveler here, now, the sound of the sirens tempting him there, then... Just float along with the flow, on "streams of consciousness", let go! I Used To Be Cool, in lovely lilting triple meter, has overtones of nostalgia and also reflects a multitude of influences. String parts that are reminiscent of both Jerry Goodman and Mahavishnu, and L. Subramaniam and brother L. Shankar, are contrasted with some almost improbably fine klezmer clarinet and fidl, interspersed with some very jazzy trumpet. Middle Eastern percussion and a wordless, at first distant, vocal start off In The Meantime, and again the traveler approaches distant lands, many different sights and sounds and scents, familiar as well as exotic, contrasts everywhere. The scene keeps shifting, the pace and tempo changing. Moods and emotions turn here, then there, then come full circle. Wanna Dance continues in a similarly adventurous spirit and with equally wide-ranging contrasts, and closes with an almost unbelievably mocking, supremely controlled clarinet. On Truah, funk and jazz influences predominate to some extent, sometimes contrasted with snippets of Sephardic/Arabic sounding melody. This odyssey doesn't linger, it moves ever onwards, and 2nd of Tamuz takes the traveler past a series of islands, drifting through space and time, and there is an air of urgency. The title track, Dance of the Idiots, finally takes the traveler towards home, the mood turns cheerful, even joking, satirical (the brief quote of The Simpsons theme is inspired!). The jovial ska beat comes as a total surprise and is completely irresistible. Happylouge, the closer, takes the epic journey full circle.
Describing Koby Israelite's Dance of the Idiots in "streams of consciousness" writing is probably the only way to even get close to doing this wonderful album any justice. This music is itself an epic "streams of consciousness" exploration of just about every form of Jewish music and the Jewish experience, and beyond that, of music itself, and the human condition. But forget all that, just surrender to the experience, enjoy this inspired music for itself, it is utterly compelling.
If you're in London or elsewhere in the UK, watch out and try and catch this remarkable young artist and his remarkable music live. I know I shall make a point of it!
NB: I am reliably informed that plans are in hand for live appearances in the future - watch the "News"
section of the Jewish Music page for announcements once arrangements are
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