North Jersey Jewish sounds

North Jersey Jewish sounds

A Thread of Blue and Django Project perform in Montclair synagogue

Allen Watsky
Allen Watsky

There are musicians among us.

They make music as much for love as for money. They make their living as sidemen in big name bands, by teaching music, or perhaps in less musical careers.

They come together in bands of their own, friends playing together, carving out their own musical niche.

And on Saturday night, two such bands, made up of northern New Jersey musicians with a Jewish tinge, will play at Bnai Keshet in Montclair (see box).

Thread of Blue is headed by saxophonist and flautist Martin Fogel of Montclair, who played on some of Lou Reed’s recordings in the 1970s and toured with him.

“We’re basically performing liturgical music in a jazz and contemporary style,” Mr. Fogel said. The songs are sung by Cantor Talya Smilowitz of Congregation L’Dor V’Dor of Oyster Bay, New York.

Allen Watsky of Leonia is a guitarist and the leader of Djangle Box. The group was formed out of his desire to combine his love for klezmer and other Eastern European folk music with his love for the guitar. His interest in Jewish music started “in just the most innocent sort of way, mostly from the cantorial point of view,” he said.

“I was playing violin and learning the traditional niggunim and then I started being hired by some of the Canadian klezmer musicians, notably Josh Dolgin,” who under the name “Socalled” has combined rap and klezmer for records such as “HiphopKhasene.”

“I wound up working for about ten years with Josh and David Krakauer,” he said.

Martin Fogel
Martin Fogel

Mr. Watsky studied jazz and composition at Berklee College of Music and classical guitar at Mannes School of Music. The work he did on the klezmer scene “was a style I had been playing when I was in my twenties,” he said. “It wasn’t particularly relevant to me artistically.”

Djangle Project was an attempt “to try to bring something that was relevant to me and mash it all up together. It’s about me not playing the electric guitar in somebody else’s project.”

Djangle Project is a nod to Jean “Django” Reinhardt, the Belgian-born French jazz guitarist.

“He was also playing a French steel guitar,” Mr. Watsky said. “Also people derided the guitar as a jangle box. The name was kind of a joke on the whole idea of using a French guitar, which is really not an instrument used much in Yiddish music. People think klezmer is something mostly about the accordion or the violin — mostly anything but the guitar.”

The Djangle Project’s repertoire includes Moldavian songs Mr. Watsky learned at Klezcamp in Canada and chasidic and Ukrainian songs, but Mr. Watsky sees his innovation in the realm of rhythm.

“I’m trying to make a vibe,” he said. “What I was doing for Socalled and Dave was providing them with a rhythmic basis. I was trying to reconnect Jewish music to what I felt was its Middle Eastern origins, trying to interpolate Middle Eastern rhythm to this Eastern European folk music.

“Everyone wanted to call it funk, but in fact it’s overlaying Middle Eastern rhythmic schemes. I think it’s probably contextually logical in a timeline of klezmer music’s development. The scale most used in Eastern European music by Jewish people is called the Hijaz. We call it Freygish. It’s said to evoke nostalgia for the desert homeland. It’s not a surprise that these Jewish musicians — probably coming from the Ottoman courts — would focus on that as a vehicle for their expression.”

While the record he released for Django Project is two thirds Mr. Watsky’s own compositions, “on Saturday night we will be sticking to more or les traditional music,” he said. “The idea is to try to take something from every aspect of our musical journey and fuse it into something that is fun to listen to and also elevating to the listeners, to try to focus people’s attention on something that will help them achieve some sort of clarity.”

What: Jewish music concert

Who: Thread of Blue and Djangle Box

Where: Congregation Bnai Keshet, 99 S. Fullerton Ave., Montclair

When: Saturday night, December 17, 7:30 p.m.

How much: $25

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