FAME Review: Zohar's Nigun - The Four Questions
Zohar's Nigun - The Four Questions

The Four Questions

Zohar's Nigun

Available from CD Baby.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

This is an interesting CD in many more ways than one. Zohar's Nigun is composed of four gents who not only ply their instruments in a rather unique exposition of traditional and modern modes but who also explore the ethnic and cultural wherewithal which, in this case, generated the Jewish /Yiddish tradition. The Four Questons is in fact the most progressive application of distinctly Yiddish style I've ever heard, yet, while spinning the ancient mode out to its farthest reaches, they also manage to preserve its essence and, in doing so, pay lavish tribute to the genius underlying. That's not easy, I don't need to tell any reader, and the fact that the quartet then expands the notion of Chosenness into La Raza Cosmika, chiefly through their PR, as there are no lyrics here, is impressive as hell and Humanist to a very gratifying degree. In light of all the turmoil in the mid-East, Shlomo Sand's revolutionary The Invention of the Jewish People, and the revelations of Project Genome (there's only race on Earth: the human race, everything else is culture, ethnicity, whatever you want to call it; I call it 'artifice'), this document of time collisions and cultural transmigrations is so damn needed that I can't even begin to find the words. Ask Gilad Atzmon; he'll say it better than me…if, that is, you can tear him away from taunting the Likudim (heh!, my kinda guy!).

The group's play on the traditional Hallel is stunning, like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof smoked a bongload, got hip, and plumbed his heritage for all it was worth, a gift far and wide, not for just his countrymen. Ma Nishtana likewise flies past borders, prog-jazz infused, increasingly gloriously clumsy as it works its way through a Babel of disjointed riffs and lines falling apart with mad abandon until the song's just given up on. Hilarious! Daniel Weltlinger (violin) and Daniel Pliner (piano) tend to take the foreground, as such instruments are wont to do, but Simon Milman's bass occupies mid-ground rather than strict rhythm section duties as Alon Ilsar (drums) grabs the baseline more frequently and more firmly.

Much of Four Questions contains a good deal of space, simple and unadorned in a number of places, especially the opener, Yerushalayim, reflecting desert milieux while providing plenty of room for thought and emotion, but that doesn't mean the disc lacks for exuberance either. After all, like anyone with a brain, they're hip to the Klezmatics, and when you lay an ear to those cats, you'd better have yer jogging suit on, 'cause you're going to be dancing and frolicking with a big big smile on your face. Zohar's Nigun is, on whole, more serious than that and did not miss the lessons of Mahler, Penderecki, Takemitsu, or any of the gigantic brainiacs of the 20th century, deeply imbued with their variegated sonic literacies…still…there are puh-lenty of grins and giggles along the way.

My favorite cut? Enio's Wedding Dance. I dig klezmer and the more propulsive Yiddish musics, so how could one not love it? Dance just goes to town in happy giddy fashion. Oh, and so's ya know: the 'Zohar' is the foundation for the mystical Kabbalah, and 'nigun' is the term for Jewish religious music (often improvised). When you hear that way cool "ai ai ai" in Jewish musics, you're probably listening to nigun. So, in closing, is the title of this ensemble's CD a wry repudiation of religiosity? Probably, but, hey, ya should only live and be happy, nu? Mazel tov! You can forget the world only after you first remember it.

Track List:

  • Yerushalayim (N.Shemer)
  • Kohanim / Avinu Malkeinu (traditional)
  • Hallel (traditional)
  • Ma Nishtana (traditional)
  • Hinei Ma Tov U Ma Naim (traditional)
  • Interlude
  • Ahava Raba (D. Weltlinger)
  • Galaktaboureko (S. Milman)
  • The Wanderer (D. Pliner)
  • Enio's Wedding Dance (Mollar / Ilsar)
  • Shema (traditional)

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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