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The best kept secret in music


"Bulletin Correspondent"

CD Review: Rich and silky sounds mark new Davka CD
Bulletin Correspondent

Davka -- a Hebrew slang expression meaning "contrary to expectations" -- is a three-man band that lives up to its name. The musical group creates an unlikely synthesis of klezmer, Middle Eastern music and jazz. What emerges is not only contrary to expectation, it's also very good music.

Davka's second CD, "Lavy's Dream," demonstrates the group's fine musicianship in pieces that range from haunting to infectiously danceable. The compositions are a product of the group's improvisations. But as performed in "Lavy's Dream," the numbers are not tentative and ragged as improvisations often are. They are finished, polished pieces, complex in conception, intricate in rhythm and musicianship, but silky smooth and a pleasure to listen to.

The blend of the plaintive wail of the klezmer violin with the clipped percussion of the zarb (a Middle Eastern drum), and the intricate harmonies they create, mark Davka's unusual style. The group can shift from hard-driving drum rhythm in one number to a dreamily languid sound in the next.

The sound is so rich at times that it's hard to believe that there are just three musicians playing. On the CD, Daniel Hoffman plays violin; Moses Sedler, cello; and Adam Levenson, percussion, performing on the zarb and doumbek.

Several of the compositions on "Lavy's Dream" were inspired by Jewish mysticism, including "The Golem" and "The Dream of Rabbi Lavy." Rabbi Yehudah Lavy was a medieval mystic who is best known in mythic lore for his creation of the Golem, an artificial human being endowed with supernatural powers.

Other pieces include "Yizkor for Rabin"; "Di Terkishe Khasene" (The Turkish Wedding), a traditional klezmer tune; "Watchnight," a musical interpretation of the events of the Exodus from Egypt; and "Xan," a composition based on a North Indian folk melody and augmented with a bit of Yiddishkeit.
The group's versatility and innovation are impressive.



August 9, 1996
CD Review: Davka's seamless blend of world music is the real thing
Bulletin Staff
Does world music mean any music in the world?
Sift through the bins labeled "World Music" in Tower, Virgin or other record megastores and that's what you'll find: A little Greek folk music, maybe some Brazilian pop, some Tibetan chants and perhaps the Throat Singers of Tuva.

But God forbid you should want a little Jewish world music! What you find in those bins would make a cantor cringe, a klezmer clarinetist quake, an Israeli popster puke. Some 25-year-old records by "the Israeli Neil Diamond," Arik Einstein; The 27th International Rabbinical Melody Contest; and Shloimie Pupik Sings For You.

But any Tower worth its name should start stocking "Lavy's Dream," by Davka, the Bay Area-based trio whose members are Daniel Hoffman, Adam Levenson and Moses Sedler.
Defining the Hebrew slang term that forms its name as "contrary to expectation," the trio redefines world music with seamless compositions inspired by a mishmash of klezmer, classical, Middle Eastern and Asian rhythms, jazz and avant-garde.

These guys don't simply sample a few Yiddish-tinged licks and loop them with a disco backbeat. Davka is the real thing, and all three musicians have the chops to prove it.
Hoffman, a classically trained violinist since childhood and a member of the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, discovered klezmer in Israel and began experimenting with Arab-klez blends. Percussionist and dance music composer Levenson rocks on the doumbek and zarb (not exactly the bongos), and cellist Sedler brings influences ranging from Eastern Europe to North India.

Take "Yankel's Pocket," the last of 10 cuts on the band's second CD (after 1994's self-titled debut). Described as "surfing the Garment District," it's an aural romp through the Lower East Side. You can practically see the pushcart guys hawking herring and feel yesterday's crumpled edition of the Forverts beneath your feet.

You might have to cross the Brooklyn Bridge to fully appreciate "Xan," where Bombay meets Brownsville. It has a South Asian feel with some Crown Heights twists.
Once you're there, try "Sefirah" -- the title refers to one of the divine levels of kabbalistic enlightenment. Its tune echoes the interior of a Chassidic yeshiva in full throttle. Prayers bounce off the walls in song.

If all that sounds too Old World for you, get modern with "Golem," which Davka defines as a "mute, soulless man endowed with superhuman powers." Rich in dissonant violin and percussion, this composition is like the Kronos Quartet Goes Krakow. And check out "Merkavah" (chariot). The liner notes say the song is based on Ezekiel's visions, but it sounds like Philip Glass does "Fiddler on the Roof" to me.

Once Davka's got you cutting the rug, groove to "Dream," a kind of klezmer-goes-bonkers number. Then the rapidly paced "Watchnight" reduxes a feverish run through ancient Egypt on the first night of the first Passover. It's an ethereal dream; Charlton Heston as Moses this ain't.

One piece that stopped me cold, however, was "Yizkor for Rabin," a salute to the slain Prime Minister. While I really wanted to get into the number, all I got was a martial drumbeat with a mournful violin. It ends quietly, which is not how the general went down.

"Nachshon's Wail," a plaintive plea to God as the Jews reached the Red Sea and the Egyptians loomed (you know what happened) also didn't move me. But then, who knew that Nachshon Ben Aminadav was a character from the Exodus Midrash whose faith and lack of swimming skills got God to do what Cecil B. DeMille captured in Technicolor?
If all this musical mishegas leaves you feeling a little dizzy, listen to "Di Terkishe Khasene" (The Turkish Wedding). In this comparatively relaxing piece, Davka sticks to traditional Ashkenazi klezmer roots. But the bass flute still makes you want to sip some dark, sweet Turkish coffee just the same.

A poem in the CD's liner notes, "Lavy's Dream," by 16th-century mystic Rabbi Yehuda Lavy Ben Bezalel, tells us what world music, and Davka, really means. It says, in part: "We are not Gods though/conjured in mud with cane/speaking the unspeakable/mysterious names..."


"Judith" 1999 on the Tzadik Label
"Lavy's Dream" 2001 re-release on Tzadik


Feeling a bit camera shy


Davka has been striving since its inception to create a new instrumental Jewish music based on the major musical influences of the modern Jewish world; klezmer/Yiddish music, Middle-Eastern/Sephardic music, Western classical music, and elements of American jazz and pop music.

The resulting synthesis of these seemingly disparate elements came together quite organically, and the band quickly began composing new music based on this dynamic new style that seemed to already exist and was yearning to be expressed. The boundaries of this style are, have been, and continue to be
hotly debated amongst the band members. Thus far, blows have been narrowly avoided.

Taking its name from the Hebrew slang for "contrary to expectation," Davka has kept its audiences expecting the unexpected for nearly a decade. Davka has refined its music into a forward-looking expression of universality; Old-world Jewish melodies meld with striking Middle-Eastern rhythms. Contemporary harmonies and daring improvisations combine with inventive and beautiful textures.

When pressed for a description of their compositions, they use a lot of hyphens: neo-Jewish-roots-fusion; Middle-Eastern Ashkenazi jazz; avant-retro-hybrid-postmodern-art-musik; fiddler-on-too-much-Turkish -coffee. Listeners have called DAVKA world music in a meltdown pot; klezmer run amok; the acoustic equivalent of a Chagall painting. Whatever the label, DAVKA's music is filled with passion, lyricism, and virtuosic interplay.

Davka has performed at numerous major international festivals and has appeared in concert throughout the US, Canada, Europe, and Israel. They have recorded three CD with Interworld Music and John Zorn's Tzadik label.

Ori Nir in Israel's respected daily Ha'aretz, put it this way:
"Davka does with Jewish motives what composer Bela Bartok does with traditional Hungarian motives. The result is impressive - the group creates rich, colorful, and polished harmonies infused with inspiration."

Taking its name from the Hebrew slang for "contrary to expectation," Davka has kept its audiences expecting the unexpected since its inception.