Basya Schechter / Queen's Dominion
Tzadik Records, TZ7193, 2004
CD available from www.tzadik.com
Basya Schechter is on a very short list of creative young artists making new Jewish music. After the very personal Exile, this fourth CD, the first under her own name, is an exploration new music for the santur, oud and other Eastern instruments. Although much of the music sounds Arabic, sometimes even Chinese (as on "Pasmina"), the truth is that, as on prior albums, Schechter has written her own music reflecting her own person music journey, and the result is a stunning, delightful, gentle, and always fascinating blend of music from the United States through Arab lands (including parts of the former Soviet Union) to India, China, and beyond.
Schechter says that the music grew out of years of playing, and then a huge outpouring of new music. Tunes would be worked out with percussionist Jarrod Cagwin and then recorded as her outgoing phone message for a week or so until the next tune replaced the last.
On the album, after opening with "Dead Sea," a traditional Arabic-sounding tune, "By Way of Haran" makes wonderful use of oud/flute call/response. It took me a few minutes to adjust to the new tune, as Laurie Anderson uses the same technique on the opening of "Sharky's Day", going to an entirely different place and including some brilliant violin by ensemble member Meg Okura.
The album is instrumental only, born of a road trip helping to move Jaron Lanier (virtual reality pioneer) and 1,000 instruments to Berkeley. If there is any specific inspiration, beyond years of playing and improvising with the music, it may be listening to the santur on that trip and driving, talking with the ensemble's santur player and primary solist on this album, Alan Kushan. The result is one of the most original and striking albums I have heard. Perhaps it is because this isn't an album "in the style of," but rather, an album of new music created based on how Schechter has assimilated these musics, and as created by this ensemble in this place.
The story of the album's name provides some stylistic hint and anchoring. According to Schechter the album was originally to be called "Hodu ad Kush" (India to Kush), evoking the time of the Persian empire when the Jews were living under Ahasuveros (the ruler in the Purim story). When she told the name to John Zorn, head of Tzadik, he complained that it sounded klunky. When he asked her what it meant, thinking of the Persian empire and Ahasuveros she replied "King's Dominion." Since this is Schechter's domain, not that of a long-dead Persian king, the obvious change was made to "Queen's Dominion" and here it is.
From the intricacies of "Midian", "By way of Haran" to the haunting, desert-spare "Wherewolf" and onward to a "Bedouin Tea Party" that may owe as much to American musicals or Gilbert and Sullivan as to the Arabic instrumentation that drives it, this is a richly beautiful album. When compared to Pharoah's Daughter albums "Exile" or "Out of the Reeds", this is not only a beautiful album, but signals Schechter's versatility and mastery of a wonderfully wide variety of musical idioms. When I write about "new" music, or new Jewish music, it is of people such as Basya Schechter to whom I am referring. Pick up your copy now and hear for yourself.
Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 10/4/04
Personnel this recording:
Basya Schechter: oud, percussion
Alan Kushan: santur, voice
Jarrod Cagwin: percussion
Meg Okura: violin
Daphna Mor: recorders
Noah Hoffeld: cello
Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz: bass
Jason Lindner: melodica
Albert Leusink: trumpet
Chiara Civello: breathing, vocals
- Dead Sea (Basya Schechter, Jarrod Cagwin) 2:57
- By way of Haran (Ismet Siral, arr. Carl Berger) 6:14
- Burning Bush (Basya Schechter) 5:44
- Pashmina (Basya Schechter) 5:32
- Midian (Basya Schechter) 5:07
- Under the Moes Tree (Basya Schechter; improv lead Alan Kushan) 3:51
- Bedouin Tea Party (Basya Schechter, Jarrod Cagwin) 4:54
- Dancing Georgina (Basya Schechter, Jarrod Cagwin) 5:46
- Queen's Dominion (Basya Schechter) 4:15
- Wherewolf (Basya Schechter; improv lead Alan Kushan) 3:58