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Cantorial Music Rocks Out on “Schizophonia”

Lawrence Bush
January 1, 1970
Logo 3SCHIZOPHONIA is a series of cantorial recordings as you’ve never heard them. Led by New York guitarist/composer Yoshie Fruchter (Pitom, Zion80), this “Rosenblatt-meets-Radiohead” project offers rock and roll interpretations of music by some of the great Jewish singers of the 20th century, including Yossele Rosenblatt, Gershon Sirota, and Leib Glantz. The band covers acres of sonic ground, with vocal echoes of the Icelandic post rock band Sigur Ros, instrumental echoes of Bill Frisell, and source recordings driven by the virtuosic and performative voices of the cantors. But SCHIZOPHONIA takes the music in a completely different direction to create rock masterpieces full of sonic texture, deep groove and heavy riffing. Fruchter is well versed in Jewish prayer music, and his voice lends the songs an ethereal, almost ghostly vocal undertone. The source material (including home recordings by Rabbi Alfred Fruchter, Yoshie’s grandfather), covers records from as early as 1903 and hearkens to an era when liturgical music was popular and cantors were like rock stars. SCHIZOPHONIA forges new ground with these old melodies, with fearless, huge, guitar-driven arrangements and textured vocals. The title of the project comes from a term coined in 1969 by composer R. Murray Schafer, identifying the schizophonic phenomenon, which labels sound recordings as separating sound from its original source. Expanding on this theme, author Jeffrey Shandler points out in his book, Jews, God and Videotape, that in the case of cantorial music, sound recordings “removed cantorial singing from the synagogue and the specific occasion of worship.” SCHIZOPHONIA is the first band of its kind and forges a new path in interpreting historical recordings that is both respectful of and challenging to the tradition. Jewish music is ready for its next renaissance, and SCHIZOPHONIA is ready to rock the new frontier. Joined by Fruchter in the band are longtime bandmate and collaborator Shanir Blumenkranz on bass (John Zorn, Yo Yo Ma), Brian Marsella on keys (Cyro Baptista, John Zorn), Yoni Halevy on drums (Firewater, Sharon Jones), and Rich Stein on percussion (Lauryn Hill, Gato Loco). Every one of them has the musical vocabulary and skill to cross genres and boundaries with great fluidity. They play with a genuine love for the music and with an edginess that could only come from the New York City downtown music scene. Bassist and noisemaker Shanir Blumenkranz has been on the avant-garde scene in New York for over fifteen years and frequently collaborates with John Zorn, leading and producing some of his bands. Blumenkranz is an extremely busy sideman with artists such as Yo Yo Ma and Yemen Blues. Brian Marsella is a virtuosic pianist and keyboardist who can play just about anything. He is a master of sounds and textures using all kinds of instruments. Marasella plays in Cyro Baptista’s Beat the Donkey, Zion80 and also leads his own cinematic supergroup iMAGiNARiUM. Drummer Yoni Halevy is another cross-genre virtuoso, and his playing is crucial for the changing musical moods of SCHIZOPHONIA. He is a member of the bands Firewater and the Apples and is also a regular sub with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Percussionist Rich Stein is a master of instruments from all over the world and brings a unique pop sensibility to everything he does. He tours with the the psycho-mambo band Gato Loco and has played with Lauryn Hill, Marco Benevento, and many others. SCHIZOPHONIA’s founding member and guitarist/vocalist Yoshie Fruchter has been making his mark on the New York Jewish and experimental scene for almost ten years. His band Pitom has released two albums for John Zorn’s Tzadik records and he has performed Zorn’s Masada tunes as a solo guitarist, with the band Abraxas and as a member of Afro-beat super group Zion80. He also plays in Sandaraa, a Pakistani/Brooklyn collaboration that is quickly making waves in the world music scene; Deveykus (Tzadik), a doom metal interpretation of Hasidic songs and many others; and Collapse Quartet, a Fred Frith-inspired electric guitar quartet. Blue Thread Music is an imprint of Jewish Currents, a 69-year-old magazine and media company committed to the creative renewal of Jewish ethics and identity as insurgent forces for change.

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.