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Music Review: Nicole – ‘Raizes/Roots’

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Raizes/Roots, the June release from vocalist Nicole, describes itself as “Jewish music re-imagined as Brazilian song.” It is an apt description of this celebration of her musical roots. Those of us who grew up spending vacations on the Borscht Belt in New York’s Catskills will immediately recognize familiar melodies, here wrapped neatly in bossa nova and other Brazilian rhythms. And while there is surely a pleasure in that recognition, there is perhaps a more significant pleasure in the musical transformation breathing new life into these memories.

“Dois Musicos,” for instance, is Nicole’s “re-imagining” of the title song of the very successful 1936 musical comedy Yidl Mitn Fidl (Yiddle with a Fiddle). “Com Saude,” which opens the album, is a bossa nova take on “Abi Gezunt,” from the 1938 film Mamele. Interestingly, both are classic films starring the delectable Molly Picon. These are beloved songs that, in their original arrangements, would likely have a limited audience today. Yet in the hands of Nicole and her assemblage of talented musicians, they may well have a more popular appeal.

The songs, translated and adapted into Portuguese by the singer, also include verses in Yiddish, “so people,” she is quoted in the liner notes, “could know how the original sounds.” Along with popular songs from the musical cinema, the album includes versions of traditional melodies like “Bulbes,” here called “Batatas,” and “Ontem,” a reworking of the Chassidic song, “S’Iz Nito Kein Nekhtn (There Is No Yesterday),” as well as new work like Nicole’s composition “Passarinho,” a lullaby based on a poem by Abraham Goldfaden.Nicole

Special guest artists include clarinetist Michael Winograd, who contributes some evocative solo work on “Chuva” as well as a bit of klezmer on the romping “Nova Danca.” Frank London adds some inventive trumpet work to the haunting anthem, “Cantando Por Um Mundo Melhor (Singing for a Better World).” The bulk of the work is handled by a quintet featuring Pablo Aslan on acoustic bass, Rob Curto on accordion, Vyro Baptista on percussion, Paul Meyers playing nylon-string guitar, and Brandon Seabrook on mandolin and electric guitar.

Yiddish melodies in Brazilian dress, world music melded with Latin jazz—Raizes/Roots is an album that deserves your attention.

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