At the Rebbe's Table

Tim Sparks

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At the Rebbe's Table Review

by Steve Loewy

This is Tim Sparks' third album as a leader for the Tzadik label, and as with the others he interprets tunes from the repertoire of traditional Jewish song. Here, he takes a few pieces from the noted modern composer Naftule Brandwein, along with an eclectic selection of traditional Yemenite, Sephardic, Hasidic, and Klezmer melodies. This album is distinguished, at least in part, by the unusual collection of musicians, such as avant-gardists Marc Ribot on guitar and Erik Friedlander on cello, all of whom were handpicked by executive producer John Zorn. Zorn even contributed one of the compositions, the traditional-sounding "Mashav." Sparks stamps each piece with his own unique concept that incorporates elements of modern folk music and some jazz. He transforms the traditional Jewish repertoire so that it barely resembles the way in which the songs have typically been played. They are mutated into lovely, tuneful melodic excursions that, although not vigorous enough to serve in their usual roles as dance music for weddings or religious holidays, are paragons of loveliness. In Sparks' fingers, these tunes are given new life as modern folk tunes, with Cyro Baptista's consistently rhythmic percussion giving them a forward-reaching thrust. Rejecting simplistic explications of the Jewish niggun, Sparks treats the melodies respectfully as serious guides to a people's past, and in the process explores the life-affirming nature of the music.

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