Pharaoh's Daughter / Out of the Reeds

decent typography for a klezmer band featuring oud

Pharaoh's Daughter
Out of the Reeds

JAM/Knitting Factory Records, KFW-273, 2000

The first Pharaoh's Daughter outing, "Daddy's Pockets," was a diverse exporation of Jewish, American, and Mideastern music forms. It had a reasonably eclectic, American folk feel, and a lot of us enjoyed it a lot. This second outing finds the band far more focused on the Middle Eastern fusion, and very much a part of its new label's current fascination with Jewish liturgy. I like the album, but I haven't decided whether becoming yet another Jewish Middle Eastern fusion band is as exciting as the diversity of the first album, and I have no answer to the question raised by one album with recent lyrics, new album, along with several others released on the same label, exploring Jewish prayer. (I note as an aside that while the design of the CD notes is lovely, the introduction is sufficiently full of typos—and I'll not focus on the typographic illiteracy that further mars the text—that it isn't clear that I am citing what I mean to cite as I talk about the album.)

Daddy's Pockets album cover

Schechter's voice, of course, is hauntingly beautiful. What I find fascinating, given the focus on Middle Eastern-accented music, is how American her Hebrew accent is. While that accent emphasizes the youth of the artist, in a sense this is also a reminder that we need neither sound as though we are from the Old Country, nor do we necessarily need to emulate the modern Hebrew "simplified" Sephardic pronunciation. As is the case with all good exploratory music, this recording needs to not only pull in new sounds, but also to be true to the time and place, and in this case, accent of its musicians. Time and place come together in a most interesting way on the album's "West African Niggun," which very finely embraces a West African musical theme, but then folds that music into a wordless Hassidic nign that manages to sound as though it would be in place at, say, New York's Bnai Jeshurun synagogue. Bnai Jeshurun, of course, not only celebrates Jewish musical diversity in its services, but has recently released an album (With every breath) documenting that diversity and, indeed, featuring Schechter's voice, among others. On this recording, that connection is made explicit in the version of "Lecha Dodi" that follows the West African nign.

Despite the overall Middle Eastern feel (amazing what unending dumbek will accomplish!), the musical sources are diverse, and the surrounding instrumentation is sparse, leaving Schechter's voice at the fore. The recording is also very intimate and folky. Rather than being beaten over the head with the music's intensity, it is instead allowed to flow over the listener. Even when the words are familiar, as on "Lecha Dodi," or other traditional texts, hearing them sung lovingly, beautifully, in new settings causes one to hear differently.

While several tunes are shared with the Bnai Jeshurun CD, one gradually notices that the words here are, in fact, almost exclusively from traditional texts. Although the album closes with a traditional Ladino folk song, most of the texts are from liturgy, or from parts of the TaNaKh that are familiar in a liturgical context. In this sense, the album is exploring themes similar to those explored in recent works by Nigunim or Uri Caine with Cantor Bensoussan in their Zohar:Keter project. In that sense, this album, like those, is a new setting for old t'filah (prayer), and needs to be heard not just as interesting music beautifully sung, but as Jewish prayer, set to new music, and davenned anew, or as Jewish community, being re-explored, and worked out anew. As she chants, Passover song fashion on the fourth cut, the album is a "Taitch," a translation. For our pleasure, it is a beautiful translation, and a promise of deeper work to come.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow 6/11/00

Personnel this recording:
Jen Gilleran: tabla, vocals
Benoir: electric guitar, vocals
Martha Colby: cello, vocals
Basya Schechter: guitar, oud, vocals
Jarrod Cagwin: percussion (frame drums, clay drums, dumbek)
Tracey Love-Wright: flute, clarinet, crumhorn, vocals


  1. Hevel--Futility (music: Schechter; text: Ecclesiastes) 4:52
  2. Afilu--Even when (music: Schechter; text: trad.) 3:06
  3. Im Ein Ani Li Mili--If I am not for myself .... (music: based on Baly Othmani/Schechter; text: Pirkei Avoth) 3:31
  4. Taitch--To translate (arr: Cagwin/Schechter/Coleman; text: Exodus) 3:13
  5. Eicha--Alas (music: Schechter/Cagwin; text and melody of text: Lamentations in trop, and variations) 4:06
  6. West African Niggun (Schechter) 3:04
  7. Lecha Dodi--Come, beloved (music: orig; text: liturgical) 3:30
  8. Hamavdil--One who separates (music and text: trad. Ladino) 3:06
  9. Koomi Lach--Arise (music: Gilleran; text: Song of Songs) 3:56
  10. Shnirele Perele (music & text: trad; arr. Pharaoh's Daughter) 5:13
  11. Ija Mia (music: Schechter/Cagwin; text & music of song-within-the-song: trad., after Voice of the Turtle) 4:11

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