Black Ox Orkestar Nisht Azoy

[Constellation; 2006]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: folk-fusion, Jewish folk-rock
Others: Cerberus Shoal, Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores, Sun City Girls

Progressive anti-Zionist political stances, diasporic Jewish identities, the birth of telepathic rock-folk-jazz group polyglot — all topics Black Ox Orkestar's music raises, and all worth discussing, but also distractions: if you try to turn this shit into a cultural studies thesis, you'll quickly forget how visceral it is. I've heard enough Sun City Girls and Cerberus Shoals records buckle under the weight of their cross-pollination to grow skeptical of "ethnic" rock even when the players have an appreciation for freeform fireworks; all that genre-crossing can sap a group's energy. Those bands are often most engaging in theory. With Black Ox Orkestar, thankfully, the case is the opposite. Two albums into their life, and the Orkestar still haven't transmitted a far-reaching political program through either of their recorded documents. Here they simply reinterpret Yiddish folksongs through the lens of avant-garde rock and jazz and perform a few of their own compositions; lyrics are impressionistic and decidedly apolitical. Outside of this music, the band does espouse radical ideas, though, and once you learn about them, it's easy to read them into the songs. But I'm not sure we can glean anything other than a broad, open-ended politics of cultural exchange and group communication from Nisht Azoy; sound does most of the talking here.

More specifically, the drums speak loudest. The first side of the record is full of jarring percussive smacks, sounds of a dude pounding the skins like February air hitting your lungs during a 6 A.M. 5K. Guitars and strings thread sullen folk melodies with noodly post-rock fibers, but the lively drums dispel any potential dourness and staidness. The liners credit a guy named Pierre-Guy Blanchard with "amazing drums" on three cuts from the long-player's B-side, and they aren't just giving homeboy a handjob — Blanchard's freeform, jazz-indebted playing opens the album up to even more adventurous terrain. Nisht Azoy's second leg plays like Balkan Henry Cow rather than cinema rock with a kick. I'm not sure if I'm listening to protest music, an affirmation of life, or both, but when Black Ox Orkestar open up their song forms, I trust their every move.

1. Bukharian
2. Az Vey Dem Tatn
3. Violin Duet
4. Ikh Ken Tsvey Zayn
5. Ratsekr Grec
6. Tsvey Taybelakh
7. Dobriden
8. Golem