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TIM SPARKS

Marc, Tim, Erik, Cyro, Greg

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At the Rebbe's Table


At the Rebbe's Table
Released: 2002

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This set contains three tunes by Naftule Brandwein. The first, "Fun Tashlach", refers to the Rosh Hashnah tradition of casting bread on the waters, thus the English title "Returning From the River". Brandwein came from the Polish province of Galicia, a musical crossroads situated between the Carpathian Mountains and the Crimea, and his songs reveal a wealth of these influences. For example, "Terk in America", which was recorded on Tanz, an earlier project I did for Tzadik, is set in a rhythm like a Greek Kalimatiano. "Der Heisser", or the "Tartar Dance", is written in a Persian sounding 6/8 meter. "Fim Di Mekhutonim Aheym", a wedding song, alludes to a tradition of musicians "Walking the In-laws Home" in the early morning hours at the end of the wedding party.

There are two more Klezmer gems mined from old 78's by the Abe Schwartz Orchestra: "Baym Rebn's Sude" and the "Sadagora Chusidl". I learned "Abu's Courtyard", an Israeli Hasidic tune associated with Mount Meron, from a version by Klezmer violinist Yehoshua Rochman.

"Kefer Yefefiya" is from an old Yeminite chant, which is demonstrated on the Beth Hatefutsoth Museum's recording titled Ahavat Hadasa. It's a song about Jerusalem and translates as Beautiful City.

The Sephardic tradition represented by three selections, "La Serena" was taught to me by David Harris, who has traveled and done fieldwork to collect Sephardic songs and their variations. he found this version in one of the oldest Sephardic communities in the Balkans; Salonika, Greece. David also introduced me to Flory Jagoda. Flory is a big inspiration, and her guitar style in particular informed my own concept for adapting Jewish music to fingerstyle guitar.

I first played "La Jave Espana" in a concert with Flory and her family band at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan. Flory came from a village in Bosnia near Sarajevo. The first Sephardic immigrants had arrived 400 years earlier after being expelled from Spain. Hoping to return someday, many families kept the keys to their homes, and passed them down for generations, thus the title, "The Keys From Spain". "Todos Si Hueron" is a Ladino dialect for "They Have All Gone". This is a haunting tune about Flory's return to her old village decades after the end of the Second World War. Flory wrote this song especially for David's group, Voices of Sepharad.

Finally, "Mashav" is by John Zorn and means "Thought". There's a Yiddish saying, "Man thinks and God laughs." This song shows a quieter, meditative side of the iconoclastic composer.





For this recording, John Zorn invited guitarist Marc Ribot and cellist Erik Friedlander, in addition to Greg Cohen on bass and Cyro Baptista on percussion. We wanted to try a variety of textures and you'll hear solo guitar, guitar duets, guitar and cello, guitar with cello, bass and percussion, and so on. Collaborating with these great musicians was exhilarating to say the least. If you're enjoying this collection of tunes, it's due mostly to all the ideas they contributed.

There's a way in which a guitar can uniquely embody these Jewish songs, something about the guitar having evolved from the medieval Judeo-Arabic culture in Spain. Cyro suggested we ask Marc Ribot to bring his nylon-string and happily, he did. At one point, Marc looked at me with a slight smile and said, "Classical guitars get jealous if you don't play them." Fortunately, Marc and his guitar made up, as you can hear in his solos.

Erik Freidlander brings all the skill and poise of a consummate classical musician to the table, and then improvises and plays great time - and when he plays he has a great time and you have a great time playing with him! I especially like Erik's take on At the Rebbe's Table,which we made the title track for this CD.

Now Cyro Baptista is like some kind of force of nature. I never worry about what he's going to do. It just bubbles out. In fact, watching him work out is as much fun as listening. This is the second recording I've done with Greg Cohen and I've come to realize he doesn't merely play incredible bass but has a sense of humor and personality that puts everyone at ease before he plays a note. Greg suggested many improvements to these arrangements, and for this, we can be thankful.

A word of thanks also to Jim Anderson, who came out to hear us play, and also took the time to sit in on a rehearsal in order to get a sense of the ensemble sound, which he captured very well. Scott Hull did the mastering, tweaking things and generally putting the icing on the cake, and lighting it just right for the presentation.

This is the third volume in a series of guitar explorations of Jewish musical traditions for Tzadik and I'm grateful to John and Kaz for the opportunity to record some of the most beautiful music I've ever arranged for guitar. Kazunori Sugiyama is a man of few words. He just calmly shepherds the organized chaos of this process toward a happy conclusion. And John Zorn, what can I say? Two words come to mind, Contagious Enthusiasm. That, and he plays a mean abacus.

- Tim Sparks, 2002


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