WE LIGHT THE FIRST TWO CANDLES WITH A PAIR OF OUR FAVE JEWISH MUSICIANS
A rare Monday installment of our regular classic album salute in honor of Hanukkah, which began at sundown last night.
Despite the draw to fill up Madison Square Garden several times over each tour, Neil Diamond doesn't always get the critical respect he's due. Even though he's been experimenting since his late '60s debut with elements like African musical forms, complex orchestration and studio trickery on par with any of his '60s peers, Diamond will probably always be regarded as a mainstream pop wonk, capable of mass appeal music but not really an "artist" to many folks. But, there's few more bulletproof endorsements than Robbie Robertson of The Band, who produced Diamond's 1976 concept album, Beautiful Noise. The two men were neighbors in Malibu, CA at the time, and Robertson was fascinated by Neil's really old school musical roots, something referenced in the original vinyl sleeve's note: "Tin pan alley died hard, but there was always the music to keep you going." Like much of Diamond's work, Beautiful Noise is sprawling, unrepentantly sentimental, catchier than you first suspect and crafted to a dustless sheen. It also has a personal flavor missing from some of his more radio-oriented outings since it's based around Diamond's early struggles to earn a living with his composing skills. From the New Orleans shuffle of "Stargazer" to the Robertson co-write "Dry Your Eyes," the album just works (as long as you can abide the polish and schmaltz), and stands as a lesser known gem in a long and still growing catalog.
Here's Diamond with The Band performing "Dry Your Eyes" at The Last Waltz.
Far less well known to the masses is Klezmer pioneer Mickey Katz. A member of Spike Jones and His City Slickers, Katz took the clarinet into strange new places and helped birthed the modern parody song. The wild, cartoony stylings of his '50s albums can ring a little off to contemporary ears but underneath the yucks and Yiddish resides some real musical meat. The proof of this is present day clarinet monster Don Byron's Plays The Music of Mickey Katz, a stunning introduction and exploration of Katz's music.
This 1993 release introduced a whole generation of goyim to Katz's wild ass music. Arriving out of left field from Byron, a musician closely linked at the time with the Downtown NYC jazz/avant garde scene, Plays The Music of Mickey Katz swings, yet retains some of Katz's innate silliness. There's a rump-pinching spirit to Katz that remains strongly intact in his compositions, and Bryon and his collaborators – including Uri Caine (piano), Jay Berliner (mandolin), Dave Douglas (trumpet) and Avi Hoffman (vocals) – clearly delight in romping through his material. This album is the rare combination of extremely high musicianship and broad yucks. A real delight, and a strong reminder of the richness of Jewish music and culture.
Here's Katz (the one with the clarinet) and Spike Jones clowning onscreen in 1947.