Posts Tagged ‘arabic’

Bruce Kaminsky: Playing for a higher authority

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Bruce Kaminsky is a bassist, jazz educator, recording artist, and inventor of the popular, acoustic/electric hybrid, the KYDD bass. Since the early 1970s, when he burst on to Philadelphia’s then-bustling jazz scene as one of late bass guru Al Stauffer’s finest students, there has not been a style of music he hasn’t played. Those styles would include swing, bop, fusion, klezmer, and just about every type of world music imaginable, from Armenian to Israeli.

He has never lost sight, however, of respecting “the tradition,” whatever that musical or ethnic tradition might be. For the past several years–both independently and as director of several ensembles at Philadelphia’s Drexel University and University of the Arts–Kaminsky’s love for what he calls a “World Music/Philly-style tradition” is now geared toward a higher calling. World peace.

According to Kaminsky, “The Philadelphia Middle East music scene is steeped in a tradition crossing ethnic, religious and cultural boundaries. Greeks perform with Turks who perform with Armenians who perform with Arabs who perform with Jews. The music becomes the only issue.”

What’s left unsaid, of course, is, that if music is the only issue, there can be nothing but peace between all races, religions and creeds.

This incredibly uplifting vibration was very much in evidence at a June 3rd concert at Drexel University, entitled “Middle East Peace…Philly Style,” a program directed by Bruce Kaminsky that featured Drexel’s Mediterranean Ensemble and the Philadelphia-based Middle Eastern ensemble of Arab and Jewish musicians, “Atzilut.”

The packed, Mandell Theater house was singing, dancing, cheering and clapping throughout this touching, and yes, swinging, show. Very peacefully, of course.

Atzilut is a mini, musical United Nations, that features Hassan Jack Kessler, a Hebrew Cantor on guitar and vocals, and Maurice Chedid on Arabic vocals and ‘oud. Rounding out the group are Roger Mdgrichain on ‘oud, Joseph “Flip” Kessler on electric violin, Joseph Tayoun (son of the famous James) on doumbek, and Lenny Seidman on tabla. The group performs for the cause of peace all over the world, including, not surprisingly, at the United Nations, the Royal Opera Theater of Copenhagen and for Munich Gasteig.

The music they play, both written and in many, inventive improvisational passages, is not easy to master, given the system of micro-tones indigenous to many world music’s, and the time signatures that often veer from straight, four-four. The players, without exception, are technically astounding, and make everything sound and look simple. It’s clear that they love what they’re doing as well. Their enthusiasm knows no bounds and seats just cannot contain several of the players.

As “front men,” if that term applies in this case, Kessler and Chedid are affable and sensitive players and singers who cover a lot of international ground in their program. “Syrtos” is a composition that comes from the Jewish community of Greece. “Avram Avinu,” fmeaning, or “Abraham, our Father,” comes out of the Spanish Ladino tradition. There were solo numbers for each and a rousing Arabic/Hebrew closer called “Ranenu/Debke,” which translates roughly into, “Sing forth, all you righteous.” If only the world could be so joyous. And simple.

The second part of the evening’s concert featured Drexel’s Percussion Ensemble, also directed by Kaminsky, that had as a subtitle, “The Drum Solo” Show. Percussion ensembles, no matter what their level of talent, can sometimes be an acquired taste. This one, with accompaniment by The Drexel Brass Quintet, was refreshingly musical, with compositions that included Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” Lalo Schifrin’s “Mission Impossible” theme, Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon” and the venerable “Sing Sing Sing.” The 16-strong ensemble of drum sets, marimbas, xylophones, bass drums and assorted Latin percussion was quite musical throughout, but above all, this was about fun. Remember, that’s why it’s called “playing.”

On a personal note, I’ve known Bruce Kaminsky personally and professionally for over 30 years. It occurred to me, while sitting in the audience and experiencing all this, that his June 3rd event represented the absolute fruition of virtually everything he’s been doing, musically and otherwise, for the last 30 or so years. Indeed, his idealism and dedication has helped catapult his singular musical vision to the level of a much higher calling.

Those on stage and in the audience had no doubt that all of us can work, live and exist peacefully together. After all, as Bruce Kaminsky has said, “The music becomes the only issue.”

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