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(Older reviews archived alphabetically by artist name.)

  Dance of the Idiots  
  Koby Israelite  
Release Date:
  April of 2003  
Reviewed by:

The first thing I noticed about this CD was that it is on John Zorn’s label, Tzadik. The first time I saw John Zorn was at Incus Week in 1995. The Shaking Ray Levi Society hosted the music festival at the Hunter Museum in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and it was one of the first times I had been exposed to what Dennis Palmer calls “the old-timey avant garde.” Those of you who have never heard of the Society or its namesake improvisational duo, the Shaking Ray Levis, are really missing out on some incredibly inventive and original music. Childhood friends and native Chattanoogans Dennis Palmer and Bob Stagner have been bringing all different kinds of music, particularly free improvisation, to the South since at least 1986, not to mention creating their own unique style of free improv pretty much their whole lives. John Zorn was but one of many eclectic icons they have introduced to new eyes and ears, mine included. At Incus Week, they also showcased Fred Frith and Tony Oxley. At other times, they have attracted such artists as Anthony Braxton, Laurie Anderson, Amy Denio, Caroliner Rainbow, Eugene Chadbourne, and Japanese Butoh-inspired dancer Min Tanaka. In short, the Society is probably the best nonprofit arts society in the Southeast, and I count myself lucky to have been introduced to some really incredible music and performance art through it. But I digress.

John Zorn is not only one hell of an improvisational saxophone player himself; he also produces some world-class performers on his label, Tzadik. For those of you who don’t know, tzadik is one of the letters of the Hebrew aleph-bet (i.e., alphabet), and it has intense Kabbalistic significance. – It’s also cool because it’s pronounced “tz” and doesn’t get mispronounced like the letters chet and chaf, which should sound like you’re clearing your throat, but most honkies pronounce them like the “ch” in cheese. That’s right. Most of you people out there are butchering the word Chanukah pretty much every time you say it. Oh well, I can’t roll my R’s. So there. My point is that Zorn is not afraid to wear his Judaism as a fashion statement. The gist of this little Hebrew lesson is that he is particularly interested in producing Jewish musicians through his Radical Jewish Culture series. Drummer Koby Israelite is one such musician.

Koby Israelite offers us a kosher smorgasbord of instrumental delights. I don’t know who coined the term “comprovisation,” but that’s exactly what this is. Israelite has composed some really unique music that goes off on tangents here and there and always finds its way back to the score. It’s like Rabbi Meltzer meets Miles Davis. This is what you should have heard in Music Appreciation 101! It is unlike anything you’ve ever heard before, and yet, it borrows from everything that has preceded it. According to the CD liner notes written by Zorn, Israelite “enjoys smashing genres together and grinding them into dust.” Using a foundation of Romanian gypsy music with ethnic Jewish and Middle Eastern influence, Israelite adds a myriad of other genres, including, but not limited to, jazz, blues, classical, rock, electronica, and even drum and bass. I don’t think I can top Zorn’s own assessment of the mix of styles: “Cantorial death metal, Nino Rota klezmer, Balkan surf, Catskills free improvisation.” Each song begins in one groove and goes into two or three others along the way, and yet, you are taken along seamlessly. I listened to the CD probably twenty times before I even tried to review it, and I found it very hard to separate out the songs I liked the most because they seem to almost flow from one to the next, like a good album should. Still, let me give you some of the highlights of my favorites on the CD.

Truah is a song that can best be described as Rosh Hashanah meets speed metal. A truah in general is a succession rapid staccato blows of the shofar and is considered a spiritual "wake-up call." The song begins and ends with the sounds of cantorial chanting and has a juicy filling of electric guitar jam with a bridge of… is that chamber music? Israelite gets funky in the middle of Saints and Dates, combining wah-wah guitar with some sexy, sharp horns. Toledo Five Four is another funkfest in a more jazzy arrangement with a playful ending. And it is impossible not to get bouncy listening to In the Meantime. I swear it’ll make you grab people by the hand and start dancing in a circle. And to top it off, Israelite throws in a bar or two of The Simpsons’ theme song. Gotta love it!

Koby Israelite is an incredible musician who plays percussion, accordion, electric guitar, pocket clarinet, flutes, piano, keyboard, and melodica(!), and sings. He is meticulous in his craft and exceedingly creative in his “comprovisation.” (And apparently, he is in good company because everyone on the recording is very tight.) Interestingly, Israelite got his start playing punk and speed metal songs in Hebrew in his native Tel Aviv. It makes sense, and you can hear the influence infused throughout this work. I only wish he would go on tour. I love to see musicians of this caliber live, but I’d probably have to drive to Chattanooga!

I look forward to his next release on Tzadik, due out this summer, and recommend this to anyone who thinks s/he can appreciate it. Won’t you give a Yiddishe boy a chance?

Related Links: -- his official website  

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