Fun fact of the day: Did you know that the name “Künstler” is German for “artist”? It’s appropriate, then, that the Kunstler family is one of the most recognized musical families in Jewish Music today. From Avi Kunstler’s vocal heroics in the last generation, to Dani Kunstler performing as a member of the Miami Boys Choir in the early ‘90s, to Aryeh rocking the house on the guitar at hundreds of weddings a year, we are accustomed to seeing members of the Kunstler family occupying prominent places in the Jewish music industry.
V’Havienu 4 is the fourth joint musical project courtesy of Dani and Aryeh Kunstler and Yitzchok “Scratchy” Yenowitz, following up on the first three V’Havienu albums and two solo efforts from Aryeh. Dani composed and arranged most of the songs, plays piano and keyboard, and is the lead vocalist; Aryeh plays guitar (of course) and bass, and also sings; Scratchy is the third vocalist in the group; and Avi Kunstler shows up for a guest spot composing and singing.
V’Havienu’s style is similar to what you would find from other small Jewish modern bands like the Nochi Krohn Band or ABD: a kind-of folk-rock/world style of music with enough Jewish flavor so as to still be easily recognized as such. Dani’s arrangements are classic, and unmistakably Jewish, but still unique—you will not confuse the songs on this album with those of Shwekey or Benny Friedman.
The songs on the album are distinctive, impeccably arranged, and Aryeh’s recording and mixing skills really enhance the sound of the album—everything from guitar fretting and splash cymbals to bass and distorted electric guitar are present in the mix. While I find it unlikely that too many of these songs make it into the standard wedding playlist, the album is still very pleasant to listen to—and, really, isn’t that the point?
All songs composed by Dani Kunstler unless otherwise noted.
Track 1, “Tzomah” (Composed by Shloime Buksbaum): V’Havienu 4 begins with a medium-speed ballad, which shows off both the vocal and instrumental talents of everyone involved in the production of the album. Especially nice is the Yanni-esque violin solo by Daniel Ahaviel around 3 minutes in.
Track 2, “Min Hashamayim”: This song is a beautiful slow rock song, and Aryeh’s guitar and bass playing form a floor which is strong enough to walk on. Scratchy Yenowitz takes the lead for most of the high parts of this song, and Baruch Kunstler makes a solo appearance as well.
Track 3, “Hashem”: This song begins as a folksy waltz before it morphs into a 3/4 rock ballad. Nitzan Ein Heber enhances the song with a solo on the soprano saxophone, Yaakov Kunstler takes the kid solo role, and Aryeh takes it home on the guitar at the end.
Track 4, “Zeh Hashem”: Our first legit disco/rock song in the playlist, this song is my favorite fast song on the album.
Track 5, “Yerushalayim”: Is it just me, or does the flute solo in the intro of this song (also by Nitzan Ein Heber) remind anyone of “Keracheim Av” of V’Havienu 2 and Miami Boys Choir fame? Regardless, the track is a nice, soft, kumzitz style song with a great vocal arrangement which starts at right around the 3-minute mark, plus it features the one and only Yitzy Spinner on the piano.
Track 6, “Sois”: More Nitzan playing sax in the intro to this wedding disco, which is definitely a good thing. Yes, I like sax. Sue me.
Track 7, “Al Naharos Bavel” (Composed by Avi Kunstler): Quite possibly the best overall song on the album, this song definitely has the most unique arrangement. It begins with a long, violin-centric intro, and transitions into a slow, haunting melody featuring the patriarch himself, Avi Kunstler. The last two and a half minutes of the track showcase Aryeh’s arrangement abilities, starting with just piano, and then gradually adding in bass, strings, guitar, and brass before finishing with Aryeh absolutely shredding it on the electric.
Track 8, “Sameach”: Written in memory of Sameach Music founder Izzy Taubenfeld, this is the folksiest song on the album, with a lot of clean guitar and a gradually increasing tempo.
Track 9, “Rachel”: Moshe and Baruch Kunstler join the rest of the family for this sweet 3/4 ballad, which features another great vocal arrangement on the second verse. Nitzan gives us another flute solo as well.
Track 10, “Kamu”: Here’s our contractually required Eishes Chayil rendition of the week! I love Jewish music. Anyway, this song treats us to more Daniel Ahaviel on the violin, as well as another arrangement from Aryeh which continues to escalate in intensity as the song continues.
It has actually been quite some time when the songs of a new album spontaneously get stuck in my head, but that’s exactly what happened with V’Havienu 4. I was pleasantly surprised by the overall quality and production value of the album, but, frankly, I shouldn’t have been. The V’Havienu albums have always been of consistently high quality, and the fourth entry into the series is no exception.