Two new albums deliver beautiful and elegant musical moments worthy of your interest.
The self-titled debut album of 22-year-old jazz singer Sophie Milman reflects a deep and mature understanding of her chosen musical idiom – almost incredible for such a young performer, and especially so for a singer.
Born in Russia under the Communist regime, Milman and her family immigrated to Israel, and when Sophie was 15, to Toronto, where she grew up listening to her family's LP record collection of American jazz superstars: Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson, Duke Ellington.
The styles and idioms of these performers – and the music they played and sang – obviously made a deep imprint on her soul; seven years later, she has recorded her first album of 13 traditional jazz vocal standards and new compositions.
All 13 songs are accompanied by a virtuoso ensemble of several jazz musicians performing idiomatic arrangements produced by Danny Greenspoon and Bill King. The music is superbly recorded, and the disc sounds fabulous when played on any good sound system.
The unifying force of this album is her interpretive skill. Although Milman seems more self-assured in the up-tempo songs, she handles the ballads and torch songs with great flare, singing in an intensely personal style. The opening selection on the album, "Aqua de Beber," is a Brazilian samba, and Milman's truly electric performance – accompanied by a fabulous instrumental arrangement – had me playing "air drums" along with her infectious and high-energy delivery.
Milman's reading of "I Can't Give You Anything but Love" reveals her great admiration for Ella Fitzgerald. She uses a more sustained, deeper and legato vocal production in "Dark Eyes (Ochi Chernye)," recorded in her native Russian with a hint of humor.
The weakest tune on the album is her take on "I Feel Pretty," written by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim for the landmark "West Side Story." Her interpretation journeys too far from the original song as set by Bernstein, now considered a classic of the Broadway stage.
The great 80-year-old American soprano and Broadway star Barbara Cook pleads with her master-class students never to sing material that's not truly reflective of their life experiences. Clearly, Sophie Milman must have experienced many complex emotions in her 22 years, and is thus able to bring them to her diverse material in this first album.
She's an artist to be watched (www.sophiemilman.com).
• • • For many years, klezmer violinist, scholar, author and ethnomusicologist Yale Strom has been collecting manuscripts of authentic 19th- and early 20th-century klezmer music on his frequent trips to Eastern Europe, where this music was originally written and performed at Jewish life-cycle events.
Together with his small group, Hot Pstromi – featuring clarinetist Norbert Stachel, accordionist Peter Stan and bass player Jim Whitney – Strom has recorded a new album, titled "The Absolutely Complete Introduction to Klezmer." Published by Transcontinental Music, it's a new venture for the major supplier of Jewish choral music for synagogues and Jewish community choirs in North America.
The disc contains 36 selections in every possible klezmer genre.
But the disc does not contain the big brassy sounds associated with other groups, such as the Klezmer Conservatory Band or the Klezmatics. There are no percussion instruments on this album; instead, the listener finds truly authentic East European Jewish songs performed with great intensity, beauty and energy.
The quartet of musicians and their songs reminded me of the small group of itinerant community klezmorim in the Molly Picon film classic, "Yidl Mitn Fidl." Don't expect to be overwhelmed with large sounds and blasting drums; instead, you'll be intrigued by this quartet of virtuoso contemporary klezmer musicians. The album can be ordered at: www.TranscontinentalMusic.com.
Cantor David F. Tilman, conductor and music educator, serves as chazzan of Beth Sholom Congregation and synagogue-skills instructor at the Forman Center of the Perelman Jewish Day School.