It is, one imagines, a ritual common to almost all cultures. A bunch of young men get together casually, someone starts humming a tune they all know and — wham — you have voices raised in dulcet, close harmonies. A lot of very, very fine music has come out of such encounters, and when someone pulls a few such voices together in a more formal way, the result is frequently enchanting. That was undoubtedly what Charlie Bernhaut was thinking when he gathered the threesome he is calling “The Cantorial Trio.” Zevi Muller, Yanky Lemmer and Shimmy Miller are among the most promising voices in contemporary hazonos in the area. At 34 Miller, who is the choir leader at Young Israel Beth El in Borough Park, where his father is chazan, is the oldest of the group, so it’s clear that whatever comes of their debut concert on Feb. 20, these are three voices we can expect to be hearing for decades to come.
“We come from different backgrounds within the field,” Miller says. “I grew up with it in my home. I had a head start; it goes back generations in my family. Yanky grew up in a house where his father is tone-deaf. He’s a natural talent.”
Lemmer, 27, confirms at least one of Miller’s statements.
“My dad can’t even carry a tune,” he says, chuckling. “But he listened to chazanos all the time. I guess it had some sort of impact.”
At the very least, it sent him eventually to Miller, whose choir was the seedbed for Lemmer’s career. He is departing his current berth at Congregation Anshe Sholom in New Rochelle for a bima in New Jersey.
Muller, 24, is happily tucked into the pulpit at West Side Institutional Synagogue. Like Miller, he comes from a family of chazanim, including his uncle Benjamin Muller and his brother Moshe who serves a congregation in Israel. Working in the trio has been a learning experience for him.
“Just spending the hours with Israel Adelson, who has been writing arrangements for us, has been a great experience,” he says. “But it’s not only about the music. I’m learning from working together, knowing how to complete one another and make one another sound better.”
Muller is emphatic when asked where the trio can go from this first gig. “One concert isn’t enough to access what we have,” he says with obvious pride.
The Cantorial Trio will make its debut, accompanied by Danny Gildar on piano, on Feb. 20 at Merkin Concert Hall (129 W. 67th St.), 2 p.m. For information, (212) 501-3330, http://kaufman-center.org/merkin-concert-hall.
JDub’s Big Ears:
From Manhattan to Mali.
JDub Records has been lucky. As a nonprofit with many irons in the fire, the downturn in the economy and all-but-total collapse of the record industry hasn’t really affected them too much. Co-founder Aaron Bisman breathes a sigh of relief as he explains its continued growth in the worst of circumstances.
“We’re not a record company, we’re a nonprofit with a mission,” he says. The record company had always been a primary focus, but our artists are now doing 200 events a year, we run the blog Jewcy and we do consulting work with Nextbook and Tablet on marketing and communications. There’s a lot of pieces to our work. As a nonprofit our goal isn’t only to sell records.”
Of course, they still want to sell records, and this spring sees JDub with a full slate. Among the most exciting projects on the schedule is a sudden and unexpected turn by one of their most enigmatic and yet thrilling artists, Jeremiah Lockwood. In a typically unpredictable yet promising turn, Lockwood and The Sway Machinery went to Mali for a music festival last year and came back with a new recording featuring Malian music giants Khaira Arby, Super 11, Vieux Farka Toure and Djelimady Tounkara. The new CD, “The House of Friendly Ghosts, Vol. 1,” comes out at the beginning of March, and the band is launching it with a benefit concert March 5 for ASSADEC, a consortium of 300 women’s groups from small desert villages in North Mali, which provides AIDS information and instruction and is hoping to move into micro-financing in the near future.
Is the combination of Lockwood’s Delta blues-meets-chazonos-meets-punk sound with Bisman demurs.
“We never set out to be a pop label,” he says. “Our [personal] tastes were left of center. With JDub we do the same thing. Jeremiah’s album is definitely out there but in the context of what’s going on in world music, it sits in a pretty particular space that’s been getting a lot more attention. … We see an audience for this. There’s some great Afro-pop dance songs on the album.”
The Sway Machinery with guest Khaira Arby performs March 5, 8 p.m., at The Bell House (149 7th St., Brooklyn). For information, (718) 643-6510, www.thebellhouseny.com.
A Musical True Believer:
Yemen Blues’ World Music.
Every musician likes to think he’s doing something more than just making music, and perhaps they are all correct. But you’d have to look far to find someone who is more convinced or committed than Ravid Kahalani.
Kahalani writes, sings, plays percussion and is co-founder of Yemen Blues, a singular world music fusion band. The group combines the Yemenite vocal tradition in which the Israeli songwriter was raised with the post-bop jazz that co-founder Omer Avital mastered, before adding Afro-pop, Delta blues, a variety of Latin percussion styles and underpinning it with a healthy dose of ‘70s funk.
Asked about the band, Kahalani says, “We didn’t just say, let’s mix these musics. Every one of us brought atmosphere to the room and it was blending like magic. I knew I had to write something to God and to the people, lyrics that people can understand and take as a way of life. It doesn’t matter to which god you are praying, the melodies come from the heart. We came here to be together and enjoy and sing together, to feel something really basic that connects all of us. And I hope people will take it seriously as a way of life.”
For a start, he’d be satisfied to have a record contract and reach a larger audience. If he’s going to change the world, it takes more listeners. One thing is certain, though — once heard his music is hard to resist. If it’s a revolution he has in mind, it will definitely be one you can dance to.
Yemen Blues performs March 9, 8 p.m., at Le Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker St.). For information, (212) 505-3474, http://lepoissonrouge.com. They’ll be back in town for a free gig at Summerstage in Central Park.