With Chanukah coming early this year, coinciding with Thanksgiving, we're blessed with many musical and cultural 'gifts' this season… and much for which to give thanks!
If you're watching Boardwalk Empire, you know the past can be brought to life in vibrant fashion, but the HBO show is three decades late to the party. The Maxwell Street Klezmer Band has been doing just that since they began, and they celebrate their 30th anniversary this month. I was starting junior high and had just been given Itzhak Pearlman's In the Fiddler's House for Chanukah, and the two events helped me discover klezmer. Few such bands were in Chicago then, so when University of Chicago graduate student Lori Lippitz, who had also fallen in love with joyful klezmer noise, decided to start one, it was a remarkable event. Named for Chicago's Near West Side neighborhood where Jewish immigrants lived, peddled and prayed, the band has produced several albums and helped more brides, grooms, and bar and bat mitzvahs celebrate simchas than anyone I know. The times have changed, as has their roster, but their commitment to klezmer hasn't, capturing a sound of early 20th-century Jewish America influenced by the Yiddish stage, vaudeville- and the teeming waves of those who arrived on these shores seeking to balance the familiarity of their alter heim with their new one. Lori Lippitz and Alex Koffman lead the band's current and alumni members from the last 30 years. Sunday, 7p.m. Nov. 3, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4554 N. Lincoln, Chicago.
This month also marks the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, night of broken glass, when Nazi policy and vitriol finally manifested in physical violence against Jewish communities throughout Germany and Austria. Hundreds of synagogues were destroyed, sacred books and Torahs were set alight, and institutions and symbols of Jewish life were removed from the public eye. The preceding two centuries saw Jews integrated into German society as they created customs, culture, and liturgy all their own. Jewish music, a source of great communities' pride, was nearly ended that night, as the scores- and places where cantors, composer and choirs brought them to life- burned. Despite this, much of it lives on today and still more is being rediscovered every year. In my role as Cantorial Soloist, I am proud to work with a 16-piece choir to lead a Shabbat service featuring liturgical works the Nazi's tried, and failed, to destroy. The program features works of German composers Emil Dworzan (Laupheim), Julius Freudenthal (Brunschweig), Louis Lewandowski (Berlin), Samuel Lampel (Leipzig), Salomon Sulzer (Vienna) and Kurt Weill (Berlin). Yes, that Kurt Weill. 7:30pm, Friday, Nov. 8, Congregation Sukkat Shalom, 1001 Central Ave., Wilmette. Free.
Israeli mashup artists Balkan Beat Box began as a bit of underground novelty act in 2005. Their infectious beats and party-like performances won them legions of fans worldwide. It began with a couple Israeli expats living and working in the corner of New York's music scene that was populated by Eugene Hutz and gypsy punks and Balkan expatriates flowing through Brooklyn's Menahata Bar. Saxophonist Ori Katz was playing for Hutz's Gogol Bordello act and soon began fusing Bulgarian folk songs and Serbian brass sounds to electronic beats with producer Tamir Muskat. MC Tomer Yosef added his onstage antics, and Hebrew and Arabic lyrics, to the mix and became their front man. The small, dark-skinned Yemenite previously starred on Israeli TV, and has released two great albums of his own. His recent detention by the TSA after being mistaken for a terrorist became the subject of one of the songs on their new album, Give, recorded at Tel Aviv's Vibromonk East studio. "The songs and their subjects are also kind of darker and more political," says Muskat. It draws inspiration from the Arab Spring, Occupy and Israel's own massive social protests. All the band's members are now fathers, so their newfound role has colored their worldview and responsibility to change it for the future. Sunday, 7p.m. Nov. 24, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, Chicago. 18+.
This month also sees Silk Road Rising Theatre Company present the English World Premiere of celebrated Israeli playwright Motti Lerner's new work, Paulus. The play imagines the struggle of a visionary named Paul, who in the days of Roman rule over Jerusalem attempts to bring Jewish monotheism to an idolatrous world. He is taunted by figures looming large in his life: his own now 62-year-old rabbi and teacher, Jesus, and the second egomaniacal Roman Emperor Nero. The play, translated from Hebrew, is set in the latter years of Second Temple. The political upheaval and theological battles that defined the era's Judaism and early Christianity coincided with messianism, nationalism and an increasingly brutal occupation by Rome. The conflicts manage to reflect issues still relevant in the today's Jewish world. Runs Nov.7- Dec. 15, at Pierce Hall in The Historic Chicago Temple Building, 77 West Washington Street, Chicago. $15-35.
Brooklyn ensemble Barbez makes a rare local appearance to celebrate the release of a unique album, Bella Ciao (Tzadik), with their haunting euro-cabaret inspired, avant-rock sound. The band spent four years crafting an astonishing suite inspired by melodies of the ancient Jewish community of Rome, the oldest in Europe, and poems by Italian writers and partisans who fought Nazi occupation of Rome. Two acts open, so prepare for a late night. 9pm, Saturday, November 16, The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, Chicago, IL. $10
Adam Davis is the Cantorial Soloist at Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Wilmette as well as founder and executive director of KFAR Jewish Arts Center, a leading presenter and advocate of contemporary Jewish arts, music, and culture programs in and around Chicago. For more information on these events or to make suggestions or offer feedback, e-mail Adam at email@example.com.