London, a Grammy-award winning composer and trumpeter, provides a beautiful presence on the record with his trumpet and keyboard. His instruments mesh smartly and impeccably with the poignant and intuitive voice of Sklamberg, the lead singer of Jewish-American roots band The Klezmatics.
The title is taken from a Yiddish text and means “sugar-sweet.” Jewish imagery frequently uses sugar as a metaphor for the divine sweetness of our lives, so it stands to reason that a record comprised of Hasidic holiday songs honouring the spiritual and physical realm. With songs for Sukkot, Pesach, Rosh Hashana, Purim, Simkhes toyre, Yom Kippur, and the fast days, this is a delightful collection that reveals Jewish culture in fresh 21st century context.
Released on John Zorn’s Tzadik “Radical Jewish Music” label, tsuker-zis infuses Jewish tradition with elements of modern jazz, folk and avant-garde electronic. Featuring the musical talents of Ara Dinkjian on oud, Knox Chandler on guitar and Deep Singh on percussion, the global aroma of tsuker-zis is palpable with each note.
“A Sukkah of Branches” opens the proceedings with a mysterious mood and Sklamberg’s penetrating, emotional vocals. Based on a poem by Abraham Reisen, the song details a father comforting his daughter and floats naturally through the air.
Other songs surge with instrumental power, like the trumpet-led “Blessings Without End” or the rhythmic “Increase Our Joy.”
Where tsuker-zis really succeeds as an album is when it reaches beyond the traditional and pulls in modern elements of a more avant-garde persuasion. London is a fearless composer, expertly melding the works of ancient traditions with jazz fusion and other musical avenues.
Led by an electric scream, the album’s most interesting track is the epic “Mighty, Blessed, Great, Prominent, Glorious, Ancient, Meritorious, Righteous, Pure, Unique, Powerful, Learned, King, Enlightened, Exalted, Brave, Redeemer, Just, Holy, Merciful, Almighty, Omnipotent is Our God.” Skalmberg’s breathless singing rolls through the extensive title while Chandler unleashes scratchy guitar that could be described as, I daresay, Morello-esque.
With its impeccably talented musicians and daring, contemporary compositions, London and Sklamberg’s tsuker-zis modernizes ancient spiritual tradition fruitfully and compellingly. The record is a treat, culling glorious Jewish spirituals with fiercely exceptional arrangements for a one-of-a-kind listening experience.