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Exclusive Book & Movie Reviews: An Introduction to American Jewish Music Introducing the World of American Jewish Music, Milken Archive of American Jewish Music, Naxos, (2003), $6.98

by Mitchell Bard

The Milken Archive is producing an astounding collection of American Jewish music – sacred and secular – with the collaboration of distinguished artists, ensembles and recording producers. This disc offers highlights of some of the works that appear on the 50 CDs that will initially be available.

Beautifully recorded, this disc contains 19 tracks with more than 79 minutes of music that begins with Dave Brubeck's jazzy Gates of Justice, a dissonant oratorio that doesn't sound “Jewish,” but combines texts from the Hebrew Scriptures and the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to explore some of the common issues of American blacks and Jews. It is followed by Leonard Bernstein's recording of Hashkivenu, which is sung in Hebrew. After these two musical giants, most of the compositions are by less well known musicians and range from soaring cantorial works to foot-tapping klezmer tunes. There is beautiful string music, such as Paul Shoenfield's Viola Concerto, and glass-shattering vocals, such as the Ladino Songs of Love & Suffering belted out by soprano Lucy Shelton

This is an excellent first choice to get an idea of what the series is like. Truthfully, some works remind me of nails on a blackboard, but that's partially my own antipathy toward modern music, but there is a wide variety of styles and tunes to appeal to any lover of Jewish music. Beyond the joy of listening to beautiful music, the Milken Archive is also performing an invaluable service in collecting and recording the spectrum of American Jewish music.

Like all the CDs in the series, this disc comes with a marvelous booklet describing the project, offering notes on each recording, and providing the lyrics of the songs. Information is also available at the Milken Archive web site.

We will be reviewing more of the collection in coming weeks.