Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Odd Couplet

My mind occasionally plays nasty tricks on me.  The other day, as I was exiting from the Montgomery Street BART/MUNI station, I noticed a series of posters advertising Emirates Air. Something short circuited in my brain and, instead of reading the words Nonstop Excitement, I thought Nonstop Excrement. Last Wednesday night, at the opening performance of Grease, I know I wasn't the only person in the audience who swore he heard the cast singing Born To Hand Job instead of Born To Hand Jive.

Sometimes fusion cuisine works (pecan pie with lime sherbert, pork chops with haroset, roast chicken stuffed with kasha) and sometimes it fails miserably (peanut butter and braised tongue sandwiches). The only way to see if two items will blend well is to do a little bit of brave experimentation. A group of Welsh farmers recently teamed up with some border collies and an LED engineer to form a group called The Baaa-Studs. Their music video Extreme Shepherding, was posted on Ewe Tube, and instantly achieved viral success.

One of YouTube's earlier viral sensations involved a pair of Chinese college students who began lipsynching to popular songs and commercials in front of a webcam in their dorm room. After uploading their videos to the Internet, they became national -- and then international stars. Originally known as Two Chinese Boys, they morphed into Back Dorm Boys, started making television appearances, and and began recording commercials for companies like Motorola. Here they are in a sentimental vein.

Thanks to the power of the Internet, this talented comic duo have become international mini-celebrities. They have since renamed their act Housheboy and have a blog on which they have periodically taken requests from their fans.  Here they are in one of their wilder moments, lip-synching to music from the Beijing opera in their college dorm room:

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Although I was unable to attend the opening night of the Bay area's 24th annual Jewish Music Festival -- which featured Joshua Nelson ("The Prince of Kosher Gospel") performing with the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir -- I was extremely grateful when someone put up a video clip taken during the event.

On the festival's closing night in San Francisco, the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco (in association with the Jewish Music Festival) presented two jazz bands: Toronto's Sisters of Sheynville and San Francisco's Gaucho in what proved to be a highly entertaining performance.  The men of Gaucho (a gypsy jazz sextet that performs on Wednesday nights at Amnesia on Valencia Street) have a winning sound.  With Michael Groh and Dave Ricketts on guitar, Rob Reich on accordian, and Ari Munkres on stand-up bass, the group has been performing together since 2002.

"While we base much of our repertoire in the music of Django Reinhardt and the gypsy jazz of 1930's Europe, we also find inspiration in the rhythmic drive and collective improvisation of New Orleans swing music and the gut bucket sound."
Some of Gaucho's musicians perform on multiple (and rather unusual) instruments. Percussionist Pete Devine also performs on the jug, washboard, and can produce amazing sounds on what he calls his "Cheek-o-Phone." Ralph Carney's collection of horns and woodwinds ranges from piccolo and flute to a variety of saxophones. In the following clip you can see him performing in a duet for flubberphone and slide clarinet.

After intermission, The Sisters of Sheynville took over the stage, stressing that they like to combine "the Yid with the Yang."  Songs like Johnny Mercer's classic "I'm An Old Cowhand" got the Sheynville female vegan treatment with references to Old-Cow Yentas. 

Having recently been named Vocal Group of the Year at the 2008 Canadian Folk Music Awards, the group performed a variety of blues, jazz and klezmer selections with Kinneret Sagee doing some splendid work on the clarinet.  Lenka Lichtenberg and Isabel Fryszberg are the band's primary vocalists. Fern Lindzon also performs on piano with Lorie Wolf on  drums and Rachel Melas on double bass. 

You can listen to clips of The Sisters of Sheynville on their MySpace page. Or, if you prefer, you can download MP3 files from (each one costs 99 cents)  for Yidl Mitn Fidl, Di Grine KuzineChiribim, Oooh, Mama! and other selections.

At the end of the evening the men of Gaucho joined with the Sisters of Sheynville for an impromptu jam session during which the "blues" were replaced by the "oys." Rest assured that a good time was had by all.

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