Sefarad Records 5766

Renaissance Spain refers to the glorious time period of 8th - 15th century Al-Andalus when Islamic, Hassidic and Christian influences coexisted peacefully on the Iberian peninsula to give rise to a high cultural epoch. When a change in rulership made being openly Jewish in Spain or Portugal cause for persecution (the infamous Alhambra decree of 1492 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and King Manual of Portugal in 1497), the Spanish Jews once again dispersed. Their musical traditions of that diaspora are often simply referred to as Sephardic songs and thus distinguished from the Askhenazy traditions with their Germanic/Polish roots. If presented in an attempt to honor actual origins, Sephardic music will always feature a mix of Arabian/Moorish and Spanish Flamenco flavors to stand in for how, looking backwards in time, modern artists envision the various cultural strains of that epoch mixed and intermingled.

The Gerard Edery Ensemble has a number of albums on the Sefarad Records label dedicated to Sephardic music. The latest, Amid the Jasmine, combines songs in Ladino, Spanish, English and Hebrew in contemporary instrumental settings around guitar, oud, mandolin, violin and bass, with Gerard Edery and Nell Snaidas on male and female vocals. These musical settings pale somewhat when compared to Consuelo Luz' earlier Ladino album and are completely outclassed by both Abed Azrié's Suerte ensemble and the Bustan Abraham formation which works in this general Al-Andalus metier (though to date very rarely with vocals and never yet exclusively dedicated to Sephardic material).

Still, Amid the Jasmine is a pleasant album that will have special significance for Jewish listeners familiar with the relevant religious undertones. Such listeners might at times be hard-pressed knowing how best to introduce a far younger audience to its cultural values and history. Jasmine slots right into present-day World Beat, goes down easy and stays entirely clear of riotous klezmerfication. For those properly prepared, there's deeper meaning to be found in the lyrics presented by Edery's baritone, or by recognizing certain melodies from very different contexts. Jasmine thus already practices a pan-global perspective and message, simply by focusing on Sephardic traditions which themselves were informed by multi-cultural tolerance and exposure.