NYMJH Festival Opening Night


Pharoah’s Daughter

Taylor McFerrin

Regina Spektor

Taking Cover
by Starre Vartan
Matisyahu crazy beatboxing with Taylor McFerrin (yes, the famous Bobby’s son); Pharoah’s Daughter doing a middle-eastern rhythm version of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain”; Regina Spektor stripping down Madonna’s music to it’s core, sounding downright virginal; Marc Ribot playing an inexplicable plucked guitar-only Billy Joel song. These artists, and several more took the stage for at the opening night concert at the New York Jewish Music and Heritage Festival and delivered way more than ‘Jewish artists playing Jewish composers,” which was the theme of the evening.
Truthfully, I was expecting a bunch of honorary covers, played in a similar style to the original songs, but all of the artists delivered something way more creative. Tovah Feldshuh sang various vignettes from Gershwin classics, interspersed with stories about her father teaching her to dance, the Gershwins’ Bar Mitzvah-inspired songs, and her own 96-year-old mother’s opinions on Jewish women. Pharoah’s Daughter jammed, complete with congos, kit drums, two guitars, an electric violin, and a clarinet, to “I Haven’t Got Time For The Pain,” a sappy song they made more than listenable. The song was barely recognizable as Carly Simon, and in my book, that’s a good thing. Maybe it helped that “Half the band had never heard the songs before,” according to lead singer, Basya Schechter.
Regina Spektor covered both the controversial choice of Madonna (she says, “I got a lot of mail questioning that one. Some people were not into that.”), as well as two Leonard Cohen songs, including “Hallelujah”, taking her cues from the heartbreaking style that Jeff Buckley originally covered it in. For anyone who hasn’t heard Regina, her voice is a hell of a lot better than anything you’ll hear on American Idol (so turn it off!) It actually brought tears to my eyes.
And surprisingly, so did Matisyahu’s performace. The man’s falsetto is impressive, and the passion with which he sings even more so. Even more unbelievable was the fact that “There was no rehearsal for tonight,” said Taylor McFerrin. “We haven’t beatboxed together since we were both at the New School four years ago.”
Covering two Schlomo Carlebach songs (both of which included quite a bit of improvisation, drumming and other added rhythm). It was intense in the best meaning of the word. And I have to mention Uri Caine, who played a 10-minute improvisational melody of Aaron Copeland’s works. His performance was so beyond my musical understanding it verged on supernatural. That too, is a good thing.
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