Music for the Kabbala

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The Kabbala itself is not a singular object from a single culture, but a collection of teachings, poetry, and scripture from a number of Jewish groups after the diaspora. As such, there are elements of Spanish and North African culture in the Sephardic portions of Music for the Kabbala. Russian, German, and Baltic influences are found in the Ashkenazic portions, and there are Yemenite and Israeli influences in the Middle Eastern portions. This album represents that multiplicity well, with instrumentation covering a swath of land beyond that covered by Judaism (including some Indian and sub-Saharan instruments, largely percussion as is the wont for fusion groups), and the music and lyrics covering similarly wide areas and eras. While the lyrical content is indeed drawn from the Kabbalistic works, it is paired with musics almost incongruous at times. A basic piece from the Psalms is given an almost Celtic sound in Hallelu-Yah (as is a Baltic piece later in the set), and a bit from the Song of Songs an otherwordly feel with the featuring of a didgeridoo and a bullroarer. Included here and there are some nice pieces of klezmer, with music from the likes of Ray Musiker and a cameo from Frank London. It's in the more strictly Middle Eastern pieces that the Atzilut really shines. The percussion is used to great effect, and violins and ouds take center stage with the vocals. In a couple of cases Simon Shaheen provides some highly quality guest-work. The vocals and playing are both excellent throughout the double-disc set, with fine contributions from all parties involved, particularly Jack Kessler and his cantorial vocals. The only real detraction to be found here is the seeming incoherence of the choices of works and their ordering. The album jumps frantically from continent to continent, age to age, instrument to instrument. Still, as Jewish fusion goes, this is an outstanding example by all measures and the Kabbala makes a perfect platform for the cultural explorations.

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