The Eternal Question - Di Alte Kashe
Released in 2006 on Kame'a, Fraidy Katz's The Eternal Question - Di Alte Kashe comes some eight years after her last superb album with Klezical Tradition, Family Portrait. The present album represents something of a departure for Katz over the latter. Gone, apart from the bonus track, Vilne, is the strictly traditional style of interpretation, and instead the traditional and popular Yiddish material is given a more contemporary treatment with idioms ranging from bluesy to jazz-swing and even reggae, much in the vein of the great Wolf Krakowski who co-produced here (as well as singing duet with Katz on one track, Gedenk).
Was it worth the long wait for a new Fraidy Katz album? And does the change of style work? The answer to the former has to be an unequivocal yes. The second question is perhaps not so easily answered. The difficulty, however, lies more with the listener than the performer. You have to first overcome any preconceptions you may have about Fraidy Katz and Yiddish song. However, given that this style is so much Wolf Krakowski's very own, this is perhaps not always easy. Get rid of that baggage though and open your mind, and this album quickly grows on you.
Here and there one definitely misses, nay almost expects, the rich, gritty, wonderfully gravelly "voice of experience" of Krakowski rather than the normally soft, mellifluous one of Katz. This is especially the case with the opening track, Mit Gelt Tor Men Nisht Shtoltsirn. But generally, this album works and is an absolute treat. Particularly well work the reggae-styled A Shtekele and the jazzy-bluesy duet with Krakowski, Gedenk.
Here, in connection with the former A Shtekele, I must digress for a moment and take issue with the otherwise most excellent and learned and widely respected Seth Rogovoy's comments on the PR material for the album, who, I am sure, meant no offense. However, including, as he does, reggae among "quintessentially American styles" is really quite unacceptable and inexcusable, as well as quite upsetting if not offensive to most West Indians and particularly Jamaicans. Reggae is a quintessentially Jamaican style, having evolved out of Rocksteady and Ska. And last time I checked, Jamaica was still in the West Indies, or Caribbean. As somebody who has lived (elsewhere) in the Caribbean and with Caribbean family connections, I can assure you that the peoples of this region are thoroughly fed up of being considered as living in "Uncle Sam's backyard" or as American in any sort of way. Even geographically, most of the Caribbean is situated on its own continental plate. While American influences are sadly undeniable and sadly growing all the time, the cultures (plural, please note!) of the Caribbean are still distinctly their own. So, please, let us acknowledge reggae as as quintessentially Jamaican (not even Caribbean or West Indian) as it is and not further rob the peoples of this region of their identity and their achievements. Thank you.
But back to Fraidy Katz's The Eternal Question. The material itself is an absolute delight, with one or two of the songs new to me. Thanks to Katz's excellent diction, the lyrics are easy enough to follow, even with my (still, alas) fairly rudimentary understanding of Yiddish. The excellent sleeve notes include the lyrics in Yiddish, romanised or transliterated Yiddish, as well as English translation, albeit in a font size that requires me to use a good magnifier, having less than 20/20 vision.
Overall, in spite of previous comments, The Eternal Question is a delightfully consistent album. Fraidy Katz has delivered a heartfelt delight. And rather than stick with the safe option, she has had the immense courage to try a new approach. Works for me. Definitely a new Yiddish favourite here. Of course, Vilne, the bonus track, a more traditional rendition recorded in 1992, really is a bonus.
Surely Fraidy Katz's The Eternal Question - Di Alte Kashe ought to be in any good Yiddish song collection.
© 2010 Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore. All rights reserved.