Here are two questions for you:
1) Do you like the piano?
2) Do you like Yossi Green’s music?
If the answer to both of these questions is “yes”, then you should pick up Shades of Green: Pianesque, featuring piano master Mendy Portnoy. Mendy, who also just released an all-piano compilation of Carlebach songs called Esa Einai, is back with this lovely interpretation of fifteen (!) Yossi Green classics in his own unique style.
Like the four previous Shades of Green albums, Pianesque is a compilation of reimagined Yossi Green songs, mostly (but not all) of relatively recent vintage, and including some songs which have appeared on other Shades albums. Mendy’s piano playing is beautiful and solid, with majestic arpeggios and complex chord progressions throughout, and just jazzy enough to keep it interesting without going full-blown Yaron Gershovsky on us. On a related note, the piano is the only instrument on this album, so if you were waiting for the rest of the orchestra to show up…well, keep waiting. What you have here is an hour and a quarter of some of the best piano playing you will hear this year, and that should be good enough for anyone.
All songs composed by Yossi Green
Track 1, “Loy Avoy” (originally from Bein Kach u’Vein Kach by Avraham Fried): One of my favorites to start off the album. Mendy somehow did not include the soaring key change from the Fried original, but he replaced it with a really nice jazz riff at the end of the song.
Track 2, “Plioh” (originally from Pliah by Kuppy Elbogen): I had never heard this song before I heard it on this album, but I am now a fan. This song about Dovid Hamelech’s amazement at Hashem’s world is a gem that needs to be rediscovered.
Track 3, “Yedid Nefesh” (originally from Hold On by MBD): Love it. The 1984 version of this haunting melody was great enough, but Mendy takes it to a whole other level with his arrangement, with the almost Japanese-like feel in the beginning of the melody to the way he adds in his own sweeping solos into the transitions between stanzas.
Track 4, “Koidesh” (originally from Nissim by Shloime Gertner); Track 5, “Vayehi Binsoya” (originally from Leap of Faith by Lipa Shmeltzer): These tracks are pretty much straight-up, if slightly toned down, covers of the originals.
Track 6, “Zechoir” (originally from Emes V’Yatziv by Avremi Roth and Yossi Green): Another song that was under the radar when it was a new release, redone on the ivories.
Track 7, “Uvashoifar” (originally from Letav Ulechayin V’lishlam by Dudu Fisher): Who knew? Yossi Green composed songs for the King of Broadway! Just listen for the arpeggios—it never ceases to amaze me that piano players can move their fingers that quickly.
Track 8, “Shma” (originally from Maher by Yoeli Falkowitz): This song started off as a chassidishe pop ballad, but has been transformed. I particularly enjoyed the fancy little arrangement at the end of the song.
Track 9, “Chavivin” (originally from Kedai by Shloime Daskal): Some songs sound so much better in their reinterpretation, you almost forget their source—and that isn’t meant as a criticism to Shloime Daskal, who has done plenty of his own reinterpretation of other people’s music.
Track 10, “Ain Lecha” (originally from Acheinu by Shloime Dachs): Remember the nineties? Way back when Shloime Dachs used to put out albums? If I remember correctly, this song was popular for around ten minutes in 1998. Kudos to Yossi and Mendy for resurrecting it for this project.
Track 11, “Bar Yochai” (originally from the collaboration album Kedai R’ Shimon bar Yochai, performed by Avraham Fried): This paean to achdus is has had a few releases. As you have come to expect if you’ve made it this far, come for the familiar melody, stay for the arpeggiated chords.
Track 12, “Elokai Neshama” (originally from V ‘ohavta by Dedi): Back in the mid-nineties, I remember comments going in the following progression: 1) “You know that Israeli guy with Yossi Green in the background? With the ‘Tatte’ and ‘Imma’ songs? Pretty good.” 2) “Wow, do you hear his range? He’s really good!” And finally, 3) “DEDI IS A GOD OF MUSIC!!!!!” “Elokai” is from Dedi’s third album, and we’ve heard many re-recordings of it over the years. This one can definitely be added to the rotation.
Track 13, “Vezakeini” (originally from Keep Climbing by Avraham Fried): One of the more recent songs on this album, “Vezakeini” is a song that highlights the long history of collaboration between Avraham Fried and Yossi Green, dating back to Avremel’s first album, No Jew Will Be Left Behind, released in 1980, and still going strong. Incredible, and a tribute to both Yossi’s and Avremel’s longevity in an industry where it is very hard to “make it”.
Track 14, “Yetzav” (originally from V’eirastich by Ohad): Besides for his composing for the MBDs and Avraham Frieds of the world, Yossi Green often helps to launch the careers of new artists, including Dedi, Tzudik, and Ohad Moskowitz. This track is another song that may have slipped under the radar from Ohad’s first album—a nice side effect of having over 700 songs in your repertoire. Speaking of new artists….
Track 15, “Ki Hidlakti” (originally from Bayis Ne’eman B’Yisroel by Sruly Werdyger): …now Yossi is getting the next generation of artists going. Eli Marcus (Avraham Fried’s nephew) and Sruly Werdyger (MBD’s nephew) have both been beneficiaries of Green’s artistic prowess recently, and this track is just one example.
In summary, Pianesque may be the best instrumental offering in Jewish music since Shlomi Cohen’s Breather. In a genre with very slim pickings, Mendy Portnoy and Yossi Green have put together a collection that, while by all means not for everybody, is a very well-done album which is definitely worth your time.