Frank London

The ZMIROS Project

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The three musicians appearing on this album are leading lights of the New York avant-garde music scene. Frank London (trumpet and other instruments) and Lorin Sklamberg (lead vocals, accordion) co-founded the Klezmatics, an internationally renowned, radical klezmer band. Rob Schwimmer is a noted exponent of the theremin (an early electronic instrument played by manipulating sound waves), a busy keyboardist and arranger, and one half of an eclectic, hilarious music-as-comedy duo called Polygraph Lounge. However, for this album, the trio harked back to their Jewish childhoods, where ancient Sabbath songs called zmiros (zemer is the singular) were sung around the table during and following the three ritual meals. The poems for these are often centuries old, but each generation traditionally invents new melodies to accompany them. The settings can be poignant, hopeful, or celebratory, depending upon the lyrics and the prevailing mood of the gathering. Sklamberg's pure, high tenor leads overdubbed instrumental and vocal configurations, ranging from a simple piano line to large-scale, nearly orchestral ensembles. The program opens with two versions of "Sholoym Aleykhem," one of the best-known and well-traveled zemer texts. It translates literally to "peace be with you." The two melodies are very unlike; the first is wistful yet anthemic, while the second begins with light percussive sounds and moves on to an elegant and jazzy muted trumpet arrangement. The third track, "Veshomru," is technically not a zemer at all but an excerpt from the actual Sabbath liturgy. It is heard here as a dainty waltz, which neatly complements imagery praising the beauty of the Sabbath, which is pictured as a much-desired bride. The balance of the album is equally entrancing, but refreshingly, far less nostalgic than might be expected. The exhaustive, fascinating liner notes were written by Jim Loeffler.

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