| MARCH 23, 2005
Weds., March 30
Not too long ago, someone asked what record label I'd pick if I could suddenly inherit its entire back catalogue. I couldn't choose just one, even in the hypothetical, but John Zorn's Tzadik label was high on the list. Apparently the Museum of Jewish Heritage is also a fan. They've dedicated every Wednesday evening in March to showcasing Tzadik artists, and to conclude the month-long mini-fest, Jewlia Eisenberg's Charming Hostess project and Basya Schechter with Pharaoh's Daughter will split the bill.
Schechter's work calls to mind a caravan of traveling musicians who have been wandering so long they're no longer sure what year it is or what country they started in, but they can recall a piece of every place they've seen with a scrap of melody.
Jewlia Eisenberg pushes harder, musically and intellectually. A close reading of her bio, which includes a childhood spent in a black and Jewish commune in East New York, hints at how this came to be. No stranger to issues concerning nationalism and genocide, her reading of the Bosnian poet Semezdin Mehmedinovic's portrayal of life during wartime in Sarajevo Blues became the focus of Charming Hostess's most recent release.
"Sarajevo is amazing," explains Eisenberg. "There's a long Sufi tradition, and it's also a center for Sephardic and Franciscan learning, so depending on where a poem hit me I felt like I had a super-wide palette." Marika Hughes and Cynthia Taylor join Eisenberg in performance to form a powerful chorus with the vocal talent to bridge a number of disparate styles. At some points a small orchestra of instruments join in, but the most striking moments are found on tracks that expose the group in raw a cappella with nothing but human beat-box accompaniment.
Eisenberg says the spare instrumentation is intentional. "What I have to say doesn't come out of an electric guitar. Words are a way to communicate; bodies are another wayógesture, touch, spirituality, sex."
For as weighty as the material is, it can be a high-energy affair all the same. Listening to one track, I forget myself and start dancing along to their self-described updated doo-wop before I'm stopped cold by the lyrics underneath the beat: "I'm running across an intersection to avoid the bullet of a sniper/In Sarajevo, death is a job."
Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Pl. (betw. Little West St. & First Pl.), 646-437-4200; 7, $15/$12/$10.
Volume 18, Issue 12
© 2005 New York Press