(Traditional Crossroads, 2001)

Named for the traditional ritual bath that is part of the cycle of Orthodox Jewish women's lives, Mikveh explores related events and themes through klezmer and Yiddish music. For the most part, Mikveh's members are musicians who have already made individual marks in this genre.

Mikveh is Lauren Brody (accordion, vocals), Adrienne Cooper (vocals), Margot Leverett (clarinet), Nicki Parrott (double bass) and Alicia Svigals (violin). Svigals and Leverett are founding members of the Klezmatics, and Brody performed with Kapelye, one of the early klezmer revival bands. According to the liner notes, Adrienne Cooper "is considered by many to be the leading female performer of Yiddish vocal music today." Parrott has made a significant name for herself in the world of jazz.

Together, this quintet produces music that is a potent and heady mix of passion and power. In their capable hands -- and voices -- the music on this self-titled CD transcends the ordinary and makes it personal. Knowledge of Yiddish isn't necessary to experience the emotional impact, and translations are provided in the cramped but informative liner notes.

The emotions evoked range from sorrowful to spiritual to celebratory. The opening track, "Royz royz (Rose, Rose)," is a somber, reflective piece which contemplates the elusiveness of the divine to the exile. "Heart of the World" is a dramatic, stirring melody with lyrics that explore the connectedness of living creatures. Cooper and Brody's intertwining vocals are underscored with accordion and accented with violin.

"Sorele's Bas Mitsveh" celebrates Cooper's daughter's bas mitsveh. The clean, clear sound is klezmer at its best. "A gutn ovnt Brayne (Good Evening, Brayne)" is an emotionally throbbing monologue by an abused wife; the shrill, dissonant note about halfway through is intentional and takes some time to become accustomed to it. The track ends with an instrumental variation on the melody in which Leverett and her clarinet shine.

Other tracks celebrate beet soup -- "Borsht" -- or consider what will happen when the Messiah finally arrives -- "Vos vet zayn (What will be?)." "Yosemame/Orphan Mama" is an exquisite yet wrenching song about a woman who has suffered a miscarriage and the image she has and holds of her lost daughter. "Legg dayn kop (Rest Your Head)" is a sweet melancholy lullaby for adults, acknowledging the need for comfort at any age. The closing track is a robust dance tune, "Baleboste Sisnke," liberally translated as "Sweet Woman." The saucy sassy exuberant lyrics celebrate women in the fullest.

These five women have produced a textured, varied and cohesive CD featuring musicianship and balance. Each woman gets a chance to shine, and together, they blend beautifully as an ensemble of transcendent personal expression.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 12 January 2002

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