100 Days of Practice Round 2, Day 54: ALJASHU (Gesundheit!)

Say "Yes" to ALJASHU at Berklee on Thursday:

Not that I want you to miss the chance to see me play baritone saxophone with the Stage Door Canteen swing band during the Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest at Liam Maguire's in Falmouth on Thursday night ... but.... my friend Julia is putting on this most amazing-sounding concert at Berklee:


On Thursday, December 10,, 2009 from 4:00 – 4:50 PM, the newly formed Sephardic music group ‘ Aljashu’ will be performing at Berklee College of Music’s ‘Loft’ space at 939 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215 (enter through 921 Boylston St., take elevator to 3or 3-A and pass through the student activities lounge). The concert will be a set of 12 songs of all-acoustic music sung in Ladino, also known as Judeo-Español, and played on the stringed instruments of guitar, oud, saz, and cumbus with percussion including cajon, dumbek, riq, zils and chimes. This is an all-acoustic music concert.

Aljashu is the dreamchild of vocalist Julia Madeson. Along with her music partners Tev Stevig, and Brian O’Neill, the trio form the foundation of the project whose name derives from a Turkish-Jewish Passover dessert of matzoh piled with dried fruits and nuts, drizzled with honey. With this metaphor of an often afflicted past wherein Jewish populations have been forced to exit from various places over their history, while adopting the sweet and savory local gifts, and the intention to find happiness, Ms. Madeson hopes to bring this exquisite modal infused music to a wider audience.

This concert is one of two planned by the group under the grant sponsorship of Berklee College of Music’ s Office of Cultural Diversity. The December concert’s theme is Hanuka – A Celebration of Light., and is dedicated to the joyful legacy of singer, musician, songwriter and ethnomusicology scholar, the late Judy Frankel. Judy Frankel performed Sephardic music around the world, and wrote down the songs she encountered from her travels, and from mebers of the Ladino speaking community in and around her adopted city of San Francisco.
Ms. Frankel recorded several albums of music, and she is the subject of independent documentaries. Her generously spirited legacy has helped make this concert possible. The Spring concert (date and location to be announced) is titled Everlasting Spring.

The concert songs will all be sung in the Ladino language, also referred to as Judeo-Español, that has traveled with Sephardic Jews since the Judaic and Islamic expulsion from Spain in 1492. Having lived harmoniously in a multicultural religious environment of Catholics, Muslims and Jews for several centuries before the rise to power of Ferdinand and Isabella, it is widely believed that 90% of all Jews lived in Spain and Portugal at the start of the Inquisition. While many Jews remained on the Iberian peninsula, openly converting to Catholicism but secretly practicing Judaism (Conversos), there was a large exodus by ship to the welcoming Ottoman Empire. Jews relocated from Spain to cities such as Istanbul, Izmir (then Smyrna) and numerous locations extending beyond the Greek islands including Rhodes and Salonica.

The music to be performed on Thursday has also traveled over this distance and time. Songs range from several centuries old to two modern compositions by Ms. Judy Frankel. The choice of instruments is based on current practices ranging over the span of geography and time indicated by the pieces. As Ms. Madeson is surrounded by talent in the Berklee guitar department, she chose to feature players on the Turkish oud -- a lute and guitar relative, as well as the banjo-like cumbus -- manufactured only in Istanbul, and fretted and fretless guitars.
The percussion instruments represent the cajon -- widely used in Spain, and the dumbek, riq and zils, played extensively in Turkey.

Julia Madeson has been a vocalist since she could speak, and has performed a range of styles from blues and folk to opera. She has appeared as a soloist with orchestras and choirs from New York City to Australia. Formative childhood experiences with her parents’ involvement in social justice and peace activism work stoked her interest in cultural preservation. Ms. Madeson works as staff at Berklee College of Music as the Guitar Department Coordinator.

Tev Stevig is a graduate of Berklee College of Music where he studied jazz as a guitar performance major. He now works for the college in the City Music program, teaching guitar to students at the Roland Hayes School in Roxbury, MA. Tev leads several music projects and plays a wide array of instruments he has collected on his travels. Most recently this includes a custom made guitar he received directly from the luthier in Granada, Spain. Tev’s musical explorations include Ottoman Classical music to contemporary Bulgarian folk-fusion, and he has performed in festivals of Balkan music in Europe, Canada, and the U.S.

Brian O’Neill is a graduate in percussion of Northern Arizona University. Brian comes from a background as a vocalist and pianist, leading him to vibraphone and currently he plays percussion and leads and performs in world music groups from trio to orchestra. Well versed in styles ranging from opera to disco, his musical pursuits have brought him on journeys from Hawaii and Japan to Mexico.

Also joining the group for this concert will be five Berklee College of Music students from four continents. This Thursday’s program features Sabi Saltiel on guitars and saz. Mr. Saltiel was raised in Izmir, Turkey in the Sephardic tradition and is set to graduate next week and move to Los Angeles to pursue his music career. Enamored with metal guitar music, Sabi did not expect to find himself playing the saz when he first arrived at Berklee, but that all changed when he decided to perform with the Middle East Ensemble led by Berklee faculty member Christiane Karam. One of the songs on the program, Los Bilbilikos (The Nightingales), is credited as originating in his home city of Izmir (ancient Smyrna), and he is showing the group the way it is played around the homes at family parties and gatherings in Izmir.

Fellow Turkish student Cagri Erdem was born on the European side of Istanbul, but more recently lives in Asian Istanbul. Cagri performs jazz guitar and his recent jazz compositions and arrangements were heard in the Berklee Performance Center for the Berklee College of Music’s guitar department 2009 Jazz & Blues Student Showcase Night. That evening also featured student Jussi Reijonen performing an original piece dedicated to his private guitar instructor the iconic jazz improviser Mick Goodrick. Cagri and Jussi also play in Berklee’s Middle East Ensemble. Jussi purchased his first oud while backpacking in Morrocco six years ago. Rounding out the program are classically trained guitarist Jean-Pierre D’Alençon from Santiago, Chile -- Jean-Pierre has also been arranging and performing tango for guitar, and guest vocalist Sarah-Jane Pugh. Sarah-Jane is a musician, singer, and songwriter, as well as an accomplished dancer and actor.

For further information, contact Julia Madeson; 857-389-2434

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