Sunday, March 05, 2006
Aaron Razel part 2
I love this guy!
I caught my first glimpse of Aaron Razel shortly after I pulled my van up in front of the shul, and he came outside to help us unload. That automatically gave him a +1 on the Psychotoddler Mentch-o-meter.
Aaron is a sweet, friendly guy with a typical Israeli laid-back attitude. "Don't worry, it'll be fine." Contrast that with my inherent anal-retentiveness ("Can you PLEASE fax us some CHARTS!!").
After we set up the band, we made some time to go over the music with him. Aaron's music is fun to perform. It's complex, not because it's difficult to play, but because it goes in unexpected directions. And yet it still has solid pop hooks that keep it listenable. It reminds me of many of my favorite bands, including Squeeze and Billy Joel.
I don't know what Aaron was expecting from a back-up band. We had initially been told that he would be bringing charts (sheet music) with him. I realize "charts" means different things to different people. I've played with musicians who brought drum charts with each bang written out. Others have provided "lead sheets", with the melody and chords written out, but leaving the individual instrument arrangements up to the individual players.
Aaron faxed (at my desperate insistence) charts to us from Israel a few weeks in advance. By then I had already learned most of the music by ear anyway. But the charts were just lyric sheets with some chords written over the words. So I devised with my Talmudical skills one of two scenarios:
1. There's no possible way that we could figure out the music from these charts, so he definitely won't be playing the arrangements off the albums.
2. We don't have to bother learning the music off the albums, because if he really wants it to sound like that, he'll be bringing much more detailed charts with him.
Having come to that stunning conclusion (which was not to bother with the album), the band and I quickly concluded that we were screwed and we should immediately go back to listening to the album and memorizing it by ear note-for-note. After all, you can never be over-prepared.
Again, I'm not sure what he was expecting from us. Probably that he would play and we would follow along as best we could. And to be honest, if we had done that, it still would have been fine because Aaron is a great performer and a good leader. But having gone through all the effort of learning the great arrangements off of his live album, we wanted to play them!
So we set up a little rehearsal, and started running through the album in order. About halfway through the first song, "Shir Tzion", there is a bridge where the guitar and bass play this line in unison. After we played it, Aaron put down his guitar and came over and gave me a big hug. We played through the rest of the album, and again, I think Aaron was shocked to see me threading my basslines through some of his elaborate bridges, and he just kept smiling. He kept asking us, "How did you learn all this? I can't believe you memorized the whole album! How did you figure it out?" "We're AMERICANS!" I answered.
Afterwards, we had to sit down and figure out what we would actually play. Because looking around, we could see a room full of round dinner tables and a big buffet table running down the middle. Not the best venue for an all-out rock concert. I had visions in my mind of little old ladies with their hands over their ears yelling at the stage.
Still, I couldn't fathom that they had brought Aaron all the way from Israel to play cocktail music. Turns out they hadn't. Because right when I thought we were going to start playing, a woman came in pulling a harp and wanting to know where she could set up for cocktail hour. We didn't actually get on stage for several hours, after some speeches and a slide show.
During that time I wandered amongst the crowd, trying to steal food from the buffet table. That was a dumb idea, because many people mistook me for a waiter (maybe because of the white shirt and dark pants that I had chosen to wear). At first, I answered their questions (mostly "Young man, what is THAT supposed to be?") with "I don't know." But after a while I just started making stuff up. "Oh, that's pickled cow gall bladder. It's great with a tangy mustard sauce!"
The crowd was a little thinner by the time we got on stage, but those who stayed (both for Aaron, and, surprisingly, for the MSB), were ready for a show. And a show they got. We did start off at half volume, just to avoid any injuries, but we didn't have to stay down there for long. For those who know Aaron's music, we played "Zman Hageulah", "Hayinu Smaichim", "Bnei Haneurim", "Esa Einai", "Shnayim Sucar", "Tze Min Hateiva", "Hasne Boer", and an assortment of Carlbach dance tunes. At one point, as people were dancing, Aaron came up to me and said "Uh, they are doing this dancing thing...how do I get them to stop?" There was a lot of dancing and a lot of singing. People had a good time.
There were a few of his other songs that we had rehearsed and really wanted to play, like his wicked "Haggigah", but then we heard the word every band leader dreads, "Maariv" and we knew the show was over.
Well, I know that I had a great time playing this music, and I hope Aaron will call me again the next time he's in the area.