Why should afikoman presents only go to kids? What if you are an adult, but happen to be the youngest at your seder, asking the four questions by default? And why shouldn't the person who prepared the seder get a gift, too? Making sure the matzoh was there in the first place is surely as gift-worthy as finding the afikoman later. Here are six new CDs, all different, but all guaranteed to last longer than that wine, candy, or flowers you were going to bring
Matzah to Menorah: Alberto Mizrahi and Trio Globo
Chicago's own Hazzan Mizrahi is joined by Grammy winner Eugene Friesen on cello, Glen Velez on percussion, and Grammy winner Howard Levy on piano and harmonica. While they now form Trio Globo, the first two belong to the Paul Winter Consort, and Levy is a Flecktone. This eclectic ensemble sets Passover mood with the first eight tracks. The emphasis is on less familiar works, like a Sephardic "Dayenu" and a Ladino "Chad Gadya." Velez is one of the world's experts on frame drums; he is a perfect choice to accompany the tale of Miriam and her timbrel. Later in the year, play the Chanukah songs- their spin on "Sivivon" really swings!
The Spirit of the High Holy Days: Voices of the Conservative Movement
The Spirit Series was a pioneering effort in cantorial music, gathering the cream of the Conservative cantorial crop… back in the mid-1960s. Covering holidays, Israel, weddings, and more, it is finally available on CD. Volume 3 of this series is the High Holiday one (Volume 4 is for Passover). These 20-some cantors perform both in synagogues and the studio, with a variety of musical accompaniment and sometimes the Western Wind chorus. This series is especially recommended to those seeking new arrangements to try for their own services- and those who love cantorial, operatic, or just very pretty music.
Vocolot: at 25
The ensemble's name is a portmanteau of the English word "vocal" and the Hebrew word "kolot," meaning "voices." The Hebrew word is feminine, which is apt, since all the members of Vocolot over the past quarter-century have been women. This collection will delight fans of Sweet Honey the Rock or The Roches. In fact, Vocolot is sort of a collusion of those two sounds- ethnic and ancient, yet sophisticated and stylish. Steeped in tradition from Beit Lechem to Bleecker Street, it is both global and worldly. Linda Hirschhorn, Vocolot's founder and constant member, has taken the threads of Jewish song and used it to weave her own tapestry- gorgeous, warm, and strong.
Heavenly Gates: On Your Wings
The cornerstone of all Jewish music and prayer is the Tehilim, the Psalms. Seven of these 10 ethereal tracks comes from King David's poetry. Also here are "Pischu Li," from the Hallel series of Psalms, and one from a more recent spiritual tradition, the Chasidic nigun. Most of the tracks are in English. The only instrument here Aaron Burnstein's warm guitar, and his folksy voice is heard on some tracks. But the album's, ahem, revelation is the gossamer, feathery voice of Yvonne Bruner, which recalls that of Sarah McLachlan.
Aaron Novik: Secret of Secrets
This five-song EP stands within the traditions of its fellows on the Tzadik label in that it is thoroughly instrumental-and thoroughly innovative. Structurally, each song is a form of klezmer. Thematically, each song explores a different set of "secrets"- those of creation, the Holy Name, or other kabbalistic concepts. But sonically, each is a unique soundscape that evokes melancholy, apprehension, or other complex emotions. Novik, a clarinetist, borrows freely from classical, Sephardic, and Goth rock. At first hearing, this is provocative; deeper listens reveal that it is thought-provoking. Nine Inch Nails fans, your Jewish album has arrived.
Susan Salidor: Songs in the Key of Chai
Full disclosure- I am not really unbiased here, because she recorded a song I wrote on one of her many adorable children's albums. But as a parent, I love Susan Salidor's albums because, with her honeyed voice and acoustic arrangements, she presents music from a wide range of cultures, including a Jewish track or two. On this album, she collects 17 of these sing-along-able, family-friendly favorites, and some surprises (of course "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" is a Jewish song!). Parents have confided in me that they have listened to her CDs when the kids aren't even in the car.
Remember, if you find the afikoman, you get the present, no matter how old you are! And, whatever melodies you use at your seder, keep in mind all the centuries we Jews have had to have our seders in secret- and sing nice and loud!