Ora Sittner

Hebrew Songs from Israel and the Orient

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Ora Sittner is a singer. Youval Micenmacher is a percussionist. They are the only performers on this disc from the Mediterranean specialists Al Sur. But what at first glance might appear to be minimalism turns out to be lush music making. Micenmacher is an infectiously rhythmic drummer whose beats extend beyond the Middle East to Africa and the Americas. He is listed as playing tof, zarb, daf, bendir, jarre (which are all drums of the region), and "objets metalliques" -- metallic objects, which seem to include tin pans and, who knows, maybe a wok. He is never less than captivating and the songs are short enough that he never outstays his welcome, even on his four solo tracks. As good as Micenmacher is, however, the real find is Ora Sittner. It is her task to fill the spaces left by the lack of accompanying instruments. She accomplishes this with her beautiful mezzo-soprano voice, an instrument capable of sustained sound production and a seemingly infinite variety of quavers and glides. Sittner can sound brash and bold or hushed and reverential as the music demands. They make an unbeatable team. The songs vary from the religious to the nostalgic to the romantic. The words are, of course, in Hebrew. Unfortunately the liner notes provide only French and Hebrew lyrics, although there is some English commentary explaining how this is the music of Jews who lived in the Muslim countries of the Middle East (the "Orient" of the title) in the centuries before the founding of Israel. But none of this has the air of folklore preserved in a museum. Even the songs 600 or 700 years old sound fresh and living. The last track is, believe it or not, a Jewish hand jive. Highly recommended.

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