"the most exciting, inventive, beautiful, and just plain interesting Yiddish album in years"
Ari Davidow, The Klezmer Shack - January 2009
"Smolkin's voice captured my attention in every cut"
Tiina Kiik, Wholenote Magazine
Mitch Smolkin / A song is born
Review by Keith Wolzinger
Right from the opening notes from the Didgeridoo, you can tell that Mitch Smolkin’s A Song Is Born is going to be an interesting listening experience. Smolkin leads us on a wondrous journey through Yiddish song, infused with world music in such a way that the album transcends the way we relate to this music. South American flutes and Harmonica add depth to the music, proving that the music of the shtetl can be brought to the world at large, taking elements from other cultures and enhancing the music in the process, rather than diluting it. In fact, adding these elements brings us closer to the Yiddish culture of those who emigrated outside North America.
Smolkin is a gifted musician whose voice soars above the band with grace and smoothness rarely seen among today’s performers, of any genre. And his dynamic range from a whisper to full voice is captured with all the emotion intact, and the interplay between singing and spoken word is used to great effect.
Kudos also to vocalist Aviva Chernik who presents, with her beautiful voice, the perfect counterpoint to Smolkin’s singing, as well as speaking the English narration.
The music runs an emotional gamut from hope to sadness, love, loss, joy, and humility. Fueled by Smolkin’s research into his family’s past, he pays tribute not only to their memory, but to all those who share an ancestry in the Yiddish cultural experience. In fact, one aspect that I find most intriguing is that each track on the album has a dedication written by friends and family members who helped fund the project.
A Song Is Born begins and ends with "A Nign," a wordless song, which evolves into the familiar "Chiri Bim."
"Libe" is the most beautiful yet delicate track on the album. Smolkin shows his passionate side here with great support from the band, including a lovely Violin background and a sensitive Trumpet solo from Paul Brody.
"Unter Dayne Vayse Shtern" starts with an Argentine Flute Interlude, overdubbed so as to sound like multiple flutes. It has a wonderful sound, and features the very talented Marcelo Moguilevsky, who also provides a nice Clarinet solo later on. I also liked the Clarinet/muted Trumpet duet.
On the waltz "Vu Nemt Men A Bisele Mazl," I liked the sound of the Accordion, Bass, and Penny Whistle, as well as Chernik’s beautiful vocal harmony. The song’s last chorus is an a capella four-part vocal that left me wanting to hear more.
"Ergets Vayt" makes good use of English narration and Yiddish lyrics. I found this to be an enjoyable piece, featuring a Piano solo from Cesar Lerner and more Trumpet/Clarinet that works so well here.
My favorite track is "Di Zun Vet Aruntergeyn," what I would call a Bluesy Slow Hora, with a spot-on Blues Guitar solo from Levon Ichkhanian, growling muted Trumpet, some great sounds from the Fender Rhodes, and again, the Didgeridoo. This song sets the context for the album, where all the world music elements combine to bring Yiddish song to a new level.
"Vilne," the longest track, is the centerpiece of the album. It is a song of longing for the old homeland, full of emotion, and has the richest, most orchestral arrangement among these songs. Singing of Vilne, the lyric says “Ah, how often your name calls forth a tear from my eye.” Could we say the same of our hometowns of today?
I enjoyed the middle-eastern feel of "S’iz Shoyn Farfallen," with the emphasis on Percussion and featuring a smooth middle-eastern Electric Guitar solo and the Argentine Flute.
"Shabbes" is a four-part chorale, a lush piece that stands on its own apart from the other songs on the album. The arrangement by Sid Rabinovitch is outstanding and gives Smolkin the platform from which to soar over the other voices in a very ethereal setting.
After the last song on the album Smolkin has added a hidden track, a recording of a live performance by the group that became the basis for this album. It provides some insight into the group’s development and approach to the music.
The sound of the album is superb, with a deep, rich sound field and some of the most pristine vocal reproduction I have heard on CD. Smolkin and Chernik sound magnificent, with such clarity that it seems they are in the room with you. The rest of the band sounds equally fantastic, but I have to single out the beauty of the Argentine Flute, which as with any Penny Whistle or other high-pitched instrument, can be piercingly strident in the upper register. Here, the sound is clear without any edginess. A truly remarkable job by the engineering team of Jeremy Darby, Jim Zolis, and Peter Bond.
The 12-page CD booklet is an equally beautiful work of graphic art, with a common theme of colored smoke in the background of each page. The booklet includes full Yiddish and English lyrics, some nice photos, introduction, and thank you page.
It is difficult to keep in mind that this is Smolkin’s debut CD, as the performances are clearly those of a veteran performer, with all members of the group displaying a high level of musicianship. They all create a real connection to the music, and as a listener, I am drawn into the musical landscape they have worked so hard to create. I believe this is the right direction that Yiddish song needs to be headed, and I can give this album my highest recommendation. A Song Is Born, and so is Smolkin’s rising star.
A Song Is Born forges the creative talents of a group of internationally-acclaimed musicians brought together by their love for making music. The album is based on a series of songs that in many ways define the evolution of not only Yiddish music but also the Yiddish experience. The arrangements move from being elegantly simple to wildly contemporary, inviting the listener to profoundly connect with the music and its strong lyrical and melodic content. The dream project of singer Mitch Smolkin, former Artistic Director of Ashkenaz Festival, pushes the boundaries of Jewish music and invites in a world of new sounds and rhythms. In addition to Mitch Smolkin on vocals, the project features Cesar Lerner (keyboards), Marcello Mogulevsky (winds), Boris Sichon (percussion), Paul Brody (trumpet), Levon Ichkhanian (guitar) and Aviva Chernick (vocals).
A Song is Born is grounded in the 1000-year-old cultural history of the Yiddish language and its people. It situates itself in the more recent explosion of cross-cultural collaborations in world music. The album brings together the virtuosic talents of a host of local and international musicians to create a new sound. Relying on the profound improvisatory instincts of the collective, A Song is Born transcends the musical tradition it stems from and offers a rich pallet of sounds, emotions and unforgettable melodies. A Song is Born offers a sincere and intense effort to capture the human spirit in song.
Almost entirely in Yiddish with English peppered throughout, the album has been a long time coming for Smolkin. “I spent years deciding what my first album would be,” says Smolkin, “then in 2006, as I was publicly saying goodbye to my role as AD of the Ashkenaz Festival, I performed with Klezmer En Buenos Aires and Boris Sichon who I had brought together for an exciting concert. Everything clicked, and what came out of me was sincere, powerful and resonant.”
A Song is Born features 13 songs plus a hidden track that’s a live recording of the original performance that gave birth to the idea for this album. The album is framed by a traditional tune entitled A Nign (“A Melody” in Yiddish). In the song a “kabtsn” or “pauper” can only communicate with God when he sings a certain melody. At the beginning of the album, the man’s journey is introduced as he begins to sing and attempts
to communicate with the divine. By the end of the recording, he is in ecstasy. But it has not been a frivolous journey; he has been tested over and over again. That journey embodies the essence of Smolkin’s debut album. The album moves through time, covering periods of great hope, great loss, and great humility. Mitch Smolkin explains, “I
believe that the music conveys a very thoughtful perspective on the human condition, reflecting our propensity to feel deeply as we move through our lives and deal with the monumental events that challenge us but also teach us the immense joy that is possible.”
A collective of musicians assembled from around the world augments Mitch Smolkin’s powerful vocals. They include a striking diversity of talents, forging a broad range of cultural traditions from three continents. This includes the playing and vision of producer
and guitarist Levon Ichkhanian, the inimitable duo of Marcelo Moguilevsky and Cesar Lerner from Buenos Aires, the multi-instrumental genius of British Columbia based Boris Sichon, the improvisatory flare of Berlin based trumpeter Paul Brody, and the vocals of Toronto based songstress Aviva Chernik.
Mitch Smolkin is a Toronto based actor, singer, and cultural innovator. He recently released his debut album to critical acclaim and is preparing to tour wordwide. This year, he was Artistic Associate for Harbourfront Centre curating for Luminat'eau, the closing of Canada's largest festival Luminato. He also returned to New York City numerous times, most notably performing at a tribute to Carl Reiner at the Town Hall sharing the stage with Mandy Patinkin, Jerry Stiller and Theodore Bikel. He was the artistic director of the internationally renowned Ashkenaz Festival from 2001 to 2006. As an actor and singer, Mitch has toured extensively having been seen in concert and on the stage in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, New York, Chicago and a host of other American cities as well as recently in Europe.
Mitch made his New York debut at Lincoln Centre 2006 performing alongside some of the most esteemed performers in the United States. Mitch has since returned to New York numerous times, appearing on the same stage as such notable performers as Peter Yarrow, Andrea Burns, and Grover (yes, Grover!). Mitch was invited twice to sing at the Toronto Mayor’s gala and appeared with The Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the renowned trombonist and musical director Russ Little and his orchestra. Also in 2006, Mitch appeared Off-Broadway with the Folksbiene Theatre and Tony nominee and Broadway star Bruce Adler.
In 2007, Mitch performed the role of Billy Bigelow in Carousel to much acclaim. Rounding out the year, Mitch just completed his first solo album in the fall toured throughout the United States.
Mitch is most at home in musical theatre and singing from the vast Yiddish repertoire. He also delves into numerous genres, and his work can be heard currently at the permanent sound installation in the Michael Lee Chin Crystal's Spirit House that forms part of the Royal Ontario Museum.
He can be seen regularly in concert with his beloved award-winning pianist Nina Shapilsky.
Mitch is a proud member of Canadian Actor’s Equity, American Actor’s Equity Association and the Toronto Musician’s Union.
Klezmer En Buenos Aires
"Surrender yourself to their ecstatic joy . . . dance with it. Moguilevsky and Lerner
are your hosts, satisfaction guaranteed." -Carlos Pages, Contumancia Magazine Cesar Lerner and Marcelo Moguilevsky are a brilliant virtuosic duo, direct from Argentina, presenting a stellar blend of klezmer, Argentinean folk music, tango and jazz improvisation. Their stunning virtuosity on flutes, wooden flutes, bagpipe, duduk (wind instrument), clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano sax, harmonica, accordion, piano and percussion makes the two of them sound like an orchestra.
Born of Russian and Polish grandparents who immigrated to Argentina at the turn of the century, Cesar Lerner and Marcel Moguilevsky have been the main proponents of Klezmer in that country for the past decade. Now on the international circuit, they bring audiences to their feet from Poland to Canada with breathtaking intensity.
Boris Sihon was born in 1954 in Dnepropetrovsk Ukraine. After Musical High School, where he studied percussion instruments, Sihon went to St. Petersburg to continue his musical education at the Academy of Music. During his studies he worked with the St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, where he performed with well-known Russian conductors such as Yevgeny Mravinsky, Shostakovich, Badchan, Karapetian and others.
After graduation from the Academy, Boris was invited to join the Jewish Chamber Musical Theatre in Moscow as a stage musician and actor. After six years Boris left the theatre to work as a stage musician, dancer and singer with the Russian National Folkloric Band. He performed in 25 different countries, on five different continents, where he started to collect traditional local instruments and learned to play by studying with well-known native musicians.
From 1990 onwards Boris worked with the Footsbarn Traveling Theatre (France) as a musician and actor. He traveled, collected instruments and gathered rare and valuable musical information. He spent five years in Israel, working with Habima National Theatre, teaching at Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, writing music for films and plays and performing.
Paul Brody studied classical trumpet and composition at Boston University and received a Masters from New England Conservatory, where he played with the Klezmer Conservatory Band. Since moving to Berlin ten years ago, Brody has composed for and led a number of groups. Tango Toy features a fusion of traditional Jewish songs and klezmer with odd grooves, impressionistic textures, Charles Ives tonalities, and singing lyrical melodies. "It's intersection music-the excited voice of humanity at those places where many cultures come together and share" according to a Klezmershack.com review of their debut CD, Klezmer Stories (Laika Records).
Brody takes a similarly eclectic, post-modern approach to American folk music with his DetoNation Orchestra featuring vocalist David Moss. Their debut CD, Animals and Cowboys (NRW Jazz), has been described as "A true product of American culture organically grown from the music of Captain Beafheart, Charles Mingus, Robert Fripp, Ornette Coleman, Harry Partch, Charles Ives, and Frank Zappa." According to Taggesspiegal, his lyrical trumpet playing "breaks the borders of blues, East European folk music, and modern jazz."
Contemporary jazz with world beat overtones aptly describes the music of Canadian/Armenian multi-instrumentalist/composer Levon Ichkhanian. A third generation musician and artist of great versatility, Levon is proficient on the fretted and fretless guitars, oud, bouzouki and banjitar. Levon's musical odyssey first took shape in Lebanon.
Levon's talent was sufficiently recognized throughout his formative years by various awards, most notably by the Canadian All Star Jazz Award received at the age of sixteen. Levon has toured throughout Canada, the Middle East, Brazil and the United States where he has played in clubs, concert halls and at international festivals, such as Peter Gabriel's WOMAD, MIDEM (Cannes), Chet Atkins Musicians Days Concerts (Nashville) and the Montreal Jazz Festival. He has performed with Mark Egan, Danny Gottleib and Muriel Anderson, along side Liona Boyd, and was featured in PizzaExpress'
(London, England) Guitar Masters Series, which included Birelli Lagrene, Larry Coryell and Martin Taylor. He has toured throughout North America and Europe with Peter Murphy (former frontman of the band Bauhaus).
A recipient of the Governor General of Canada's acknowledgment for musical excellence,
Levon has been recognized as a musical ambassador to Canada.
Aviva Chernick is a singer whose work over 10 years as a performer with a theatre and modern dance background informs all the artistic work in which she now engages. Her musical experiences have included a broad range of genres; Baroque, musical theatre, Middle Eastern, Sephardic, jazz, gospel and improvised music for dance. She works as a Cantorial Soloist where she lends her voice to Jewish spiritual practice throughout Toronto. She is also the lead singer in the world fusion ensemble Shakshuka. Her passion is Judeo Spanish music and she is presently focusing on the creation of a new
music project that uses this folk form as a launching point for her own sound. Aviva's concert series, Wine, Woman and Song, is an evening of World Cabaret music performed in concert halls as well as intimate club settings. This series brings together all of Aviva's varied musical interests into one evening.
Aviva has played with many of the country's leading jazz and world musicians including Andrew Downing, Tania Gill, Chris Gartner, Aaron Lightstone, Angela Hammar, Sundar Viswanathan, Chris Mckhool, Jeffrey Wilson, Mark Inneo, Ernie Tollar, The Sisters of Sheynville, Levon Ichkhanian, Debashis Sinha, Victor Bateman, Kevin Quain, Tony Quarrington, Kevin Laliberte, Edie and Lenny Graf.