Concert Review: Jon Madof's Rashanim and the Jason Caplan Quartet

by Roger Reid

Last evening I had the pleasure of hearing Jon Madof's Rashanim and the Jason Caplan Quartet (playing as a quintet). They were the show at the Bridge Shul up in Washington Heights last night.

When I try to describe these groups to people, I sometimes say "Reb Shlomo Meets the Grateful Dead". That's of course an awful simplification of some fairly complex and well thought out music. So much of the popular music in frum communities ends up being the familiar old Yossi Green or Suki and Ding cookie cutter synth pop kretch-kvetch with simplistic religious messages pasted poorly onto seemingly unrelated pop melodies - always with the key change in that last verse. But I digress.

Let's talk about Rashanim first. To continue the "meets" device, how about "The instrumentation of Cream meets the creativity of the Dead by way of the rhythms and harmonies of Dave Brubeck - playing traditional liturgy, Carlebach tunes, and original compositions". By avoiding lyrics, they steer clear of the vulgarization of the lyric. Instead, they take the idea of the nigun - getting the words out of the way so you can express yourself to the Holy One, and instrumentalise it instead of singing it.

Jon Madof is a guitarist of great talent and feeling. Mathias Kunzli plays drums and percussion percussion with stunning technique and creativity - I think a description of his playing style would make it sound affected. But instead its effective. If he mutes a drum with his foot, it's for a good reason.

Shanir Blumenkranz seems to be one with his bass, and uses it in novel ways, adding to the poly-percussive sound of this band.

I very much enjoyed their take on the standard Friday night tune for V'Shamru. Not at all how I am used to hearing it, but it was clear they had the meaning of the words in place as they came up with this arrangement.

They had a CD out on the Tzaddik label, and a web site with some sound samples. I heartily recommend them if they come to your town.

Turning now to JCQ. I met Jason Caplan at my shul, where he is "Mr. Caplan", one of the afternoon Hebrew school teachers. We had gathered a ragtag band for Hanukah last year and he got recruited to play guitar. I figured him for your typical guitar strumming accompanist for USY songs (or whatever the NCSY equivalents are). BZZZZT. Wrong.

Part way through some corny Hanukah standard he takes off on a Jerry Garcia styled riff with the bass player tagging right along. I tried to work in on the tsimbl - it was fun. But I'm digressing again.

I'd wanted to check out what he does on his terms when he calls the tune. Well, it's good. In "meets"-speak, the Breslovers meet the Grateful Dead with Tito Puente sitting in.

Tonight they had Latin percussionist Annette A Aguilar and drummer Larry Eagle of the Andy Statman Trio holding forth on the beats. Using lots of open harmonies, Caplan creates a structure with plenty of room for players and listeners alike to bring their own music and spirit into the weave of melody, harmony and rhythm.

Although hampered by a poor mix - the vocals and keyboards were barely audible, as no one was running sound - the vitality of this music came through. Jason expresses the intent that this become a form of prayer for performers and the audience, and for those who are open to the concept and enjoy the style - as I do - I think it works. The only thing I didn't understand was why I was the only one dancing. (I have the same problem in my own shul).

JCQ has a website on but it does not seem to be kept up to date as to events. A better source is BluePrint's music section (click on the MUSIC button), or the Yahoo NYC Jewish Music list

Reviewed by Roger Reid, 17 Nov 03

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