A perfectly entertaining mix of music, mindset with just a bit of midlife crisis thrown in to keep things interesting.
Every so often an album comes along that’s a statement rather than merely a collection of songs. The difference? A statement album “answers to a higher authority”—as in the performer/producer’s own standards, rather than the usual panel(s) of experts, whose only real goal seems to often be to finding a way to emulate (without sounding like you’re emulating) the sound/style of someone who has already “cracked the code” and produced a hit or two.
As anyone who’s experienced Lenny Friedman’s new album will attest to, “ Brand New”(the name of his project and the vision behind it) , is definitely a “statement album”. Does it have it’s “mainstream moments?” For sure, there’s 2 live recording appropriately entitled “ Lenny’s Jewish Jams”, as well as a tribute to “Abie Rotenberg featuring Lenny on “acapella trumpet’(4+ tracks of it) augmented by some gently nuanced percussion (also courtesy of Lenny). On top of that, there’s also a selection that showcases Lenny’s brass-work on standards like “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” as well as a number of original songs with lyrics by Lenny and vocals by the irrepressible Michael Ian Elias. Is “Brand New” anywhere near your cookie cutter JM production with the typical rock ‘em ,sock em, “Yid Hop” deja vu or another “Shlomo inspired” soul piece in need of soul and a bit more peace?.
Hardly. When your father studied with the legendary Gene Krupa, you’re going to hear music–any music differently and perform it refreshingly. Add to that Lenny’s own disconcerting level of discipline & determination—he spent the 80’s as a hot, up & comer “club-date” brass player, until he took a self-imposed hiatus for 25 (or possibly closer to 30) years during which time he raised a family and built a business.
Then, after deciding his self-imposed hiatus was over even though that meant essentially starting over, that’s what he did… start over. FYI when it comes to an instrument like trumpet—or any instrument you’re serious about, 25 days without practicing is way too long to “pick up where you left off”. Now multiply that by 25 years, then add the vagaries of old(er) age, and how Lenny’s playing seems to be impervious to it—and feel free to be impressed by the result. In short, personally and professionally, Lenny’s not one of those people “who have something to prove”…
Something to say? Well that’s another story, and in his case it was about the current state of the union of Jewish Music as well as hitting that point in life when you’re looking for an alternate form of “self expression”. For some, it’s a convertible, for others a new hairstyle & face lift (though if you know Lenny then you’re already smiling because he’s disturbingly well grounded and annoyingly 30 something looking despite being close to twice that age). For Lenny it was something “ Brand New”.
Is Brand New for everyone? Hardly, we live in a world of 24 minute (not a typo, just a reality) news cycles, vine-length videos and a nano-seconds long “Ridalin ready” media culture t… consequently projects like “ Brand New” which require one to actually listen… not just hear, tend to fall by the musical wayside while those that put less demands on our minds, go from “hit” to “who?” faster than you can say “yesterday’s news”. Before you think I’m wearing “ Brand New” blinders that make it impossible to hear any flaws in the project…think again, (sorry Lenny). Fact is, there are parts of the album that could’ve used some more inspiration and/or TLC… case in point, based on the standards set by albums like Journeys and Variations, some of the lyrics may feel a bit too “camp”…. fyi that’s camp as in the color war/visiting day sense… not camp in the sense of Mel Brooks… also the mix/audio quality is a bit less than consistent. While the reason for this obvious (the numerous venues used for recording), I have to believe that in the age of auto tune and technology that makes 50 year old vinyl sound pristine, there had to have been ways to get the overall sound to be more ‘even’ from track to track.
Again, in the scope of things these “kvetches” are relatively minor… not to mention subjective. In fact, when I shared them with Lenny he didn’t get defensive or for that matter offensive, but instead thanked me for my candor and then remarked how nice it was to meet “one of those people” who don’t just hear but also listen.
“Brand New” isn’t for everyone, but that’s just fine, there’s nothing wrong with a little intelligent exclusivity—especially in this case, where there’s so much that’s right with it.
NOTE: The opinions expressed in the preceding article are those of the author not Jewish Insights. I mean they may be, but then again they may not be, we don’t really know…and life’s just too darn short to waste it on pondering stuff like that. Furthermore, this is not a review, I was not asked or hired to do this, I offered to do this for Lenny because to me it’s a public service announcement that was inspired by my respect for anyone (in this case Lenny) with the drive and vision to bring to market a project like Brand New. More than good music, it’s also good “chizuk” for all of us who end our sentences with “but not at our age”… Also thanks to the everyone at Jewish Insights, for giving cantankerous souls like me the occasional forum to share an opinion that may not be shared by as many people as other opinions that people who share opinions share. If you’d like to share your opinion with me, I can be reached at IHATEQUARTZ@gmail.com, if you’d like to NOT share your opinion with me, I can be reached at email@example.com.
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