Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Shaleim (Ari Markowitz, Avi Stern)

Album can be previewed/purchased at Mostly Music.com

Reviewer: Mindy

Shaleim! The most long awaited album in the history of this JM group! Finally, finally, it’s out, it’s in our hands, and we can listen and critique.

I must admit, the past few months, I had been a little skeptical. I kept thinking to myself, what can two guys possibly come up with. There’s no shortage every day of any number of guys coming out with their own little album of their own compositions. And since it took so long in coming, there were days when I wondered idly whether Shaleim was real. I was also a little worried that I’d be under pressure to like it because of my loyalty to Avi.

Well guess what. There are albums you have to listen to two or three times before it grows on you. Not Shaleim. The minute I heard the first track, I was sold. At the second track, I was hooked. And by the third track, I knew it. This album is GOOD. I like it. It’s very well done. It did not fall short of its expectations. It’s very pleasant listening. It’s a combination of kumzitzy Shalshesy singable classic-type songs, as well as a few rousing horas which make you get up and dance.

The vocals, of course, are done by Avi Stern and Ari Markowitz. The music is done by Mordechai Kushner. There are no live instruments on the album; all the music is by keyboard. But the music is still good. You wouldn’t know the difference. It’s amazing when you look at the insert; ALL of the work was done by these three talented young men. It’s not a tape of 10 compositions bought from Yitzy Bald, Yossi Green, and Pinky Weber for megabucks, directed by some bigshot names in the biz. It’s all self-composed, self-arranged, and self-produced. A work of pride, the fruit of some very real labor.

From the tape jacket:

Produced by: Avi Stern
Vocal Arrangements by Ari Markowitz and Avi Stern
Music Performed by Mordechai Kushner
Arranged by Mordechai Kushner
Recorded and mixed at AKA Studios, Monsey, NY
Vocals by Avi Stern and Ari Markowitz
Harmony Arrangements by Ari Markowitz
Engineered, Mixed, and Mastered by Mordechai Kushner
Cover Design by Avi Stern & CompuGraph

As you can see, it was all self done, with little outside help.

And… ladies and gentlemen… for the very first time… the JM Music Group is thanked in the credits!!! YAAAA! And so is Yossi Sharf and so is Zevy Stark : ). Kool!

Okay on to the nitty gritty details. The songs themselves.

As said before, there are two voices on this album – Avi’s and Ari’s. The first voice to open the album is Ari’s. He has a deepish sweetish voice, kind of like Boruch Aryeh from Shalsheles only a little rougher. The weird thing is that I thought this was Avi’s voice and I was like, uh-oh, I’ll have to get used to this voice, because it does take some time getting used to. Guess what. Surprise. Avi’s is the SECOND voice on the album. His is much softer and lower and not as strong. It’s a great combination of two voices and they blend well together. The harmonies on this tape are all amazing.

The other funny thing is that I love most of the fast songs but I found some of the slow songs to be a little too long. And every time I checked the album after a song to see who composed it, it just happened to be that Avi was the composer of the song I liked! It was so coincidental!

OK let’s get down to the business of analyzing songs.

1. Az Kanamer. I love this song. It’s a rocky hora song, and the tune is very original and pleasant. Ari starts off the low part of the song and Avi does the first high. This song was composed by Avi. An excellent opener for the album. The music is very good. The harmonies are great. I rate it a full 10, because I like it so much.

2. Hamalach. This is my favorite slow song on the album. It has such heart and gefeel to it. It was composed by Ari. Ari starts off the song again, and Avi is the second voice, with Ari harmonizing. Ditto for the high part. The music is nice. It’s really a gorgeous song. I rate it another 10.

3. Mogen Avraham. My absolute favorite song off the entire album. Another Avi Stern composition. It’s a freilach, a fast, lebedig song with a twist. A real foot-tapping, rousing dance number. The vocals are great, the harmonies are great, the music is great. Not one word of criticism on this song; I can hear it over and over again. A resounding 11!

4. Hinei Onochi, composed by Mordechai Kushner. This is where my unconditional praise ends and the constructive criticism begins :-). I find this song to be just a little bit too long and tedious. It’s over six minutes long. That’s long for a slow song. The tune is nice and the harmonies are good, but I think it’s a little bit too slow and long. You hear Avi’s voice doing most of the melody and Ari doing most of the harmony. Maybe if there would have been good moving music it would have been a little more interesting. I’m not saying the song isn’t good. It is. It’s just a little to long for me. Mordechai sings in this song, but I didn’t yet catch where; I’ll have to listen again. I’d rate it a 6.

5. Menucha V’Simcha, composed by Ari Markowitz. Slightly faster than Hinei, but still a little on the slowish side. Avi starts off the song and Ari takes over. Later Ari goes up an octave and he sounds EXACTLY like Boruch Aryeh! It’s a nice kumzitzy song. Beautiful harmonies. It changes keys at the end. It’s cool. The song ends abruptly. I feel a faster song was in order after Hinei Onochi, but then again who am I. I’ll rate it a 7.

6. Mi Chomocha. Another song composed by Avi Stern. Excellent song. I like this one a lot. It’s beaty, I don’t know if it’s rocky enough to be called a hora, but it has a very catchy tune. I find myself tapping my foot to it. Vocals on it are excellent, as is the music. Rate it a 10.

7. Psach Libi/Oseh Sholom. Composed by Avi Stern. Starts off slow and kumzitzy, nice pleasant listening. Then it suddenly quickens and become a fast song. There’s something that’s off about the low part of the fast part of the song, I can’t place my finger on it. Maybe the voices are just a little too low for the fast part, or it perhaps could have used better music. The “Oseh Sholom” part of the song is great though, and the harmonies are good. I’ll rate it an 8.

8. Adon Olam. Composed by Ari Markowitz. Another nice slow pleasant song. Ari starts off the song and then Avi takes over. Very heartzig. Isn’t it weird that Adon Olam can be found on other albums as a freilach, or a hora, and now here it’s a slow song. It’s a really nice tune, and pretty original sounding too. It’s also a very long song, close to 7 minutes long, but it’s very good and the harmonies are beautiful, so the length isn’t really noticed. Wow. This is intense stuff. I’m listening now, and the harmonies are gorgeous. Rate it an 8.

9. Kavei. Composed by Avi Stern. I think Avi will have to help me out on this one; I don’t know the correct terminology to call this song. It’s not swing, but it’s not pop, rock, or freilach either. It’s a semi-fast, upbeat song. I don’t know how to classify it except to say that this is a very original sounding song with a lot of kool shticks and harmonies in it and some great guitaresque music. It goes up a few keys at the end, which is very cool. Rate this another 8.

10. Boee Kallah. Ready to sit down for a Friday night kumzitz? Well, here we go. This song is close to 8 minutes long! Another Avi Stern composition. He starts off the melody in the song. Very relaxing tune. At 3 minutes into the song it sounds like there’s a huge yeshiva choir singing together. Kinda cute. The voices are perfect for this kind of songs. I like it a lot. Rate it a 9.

So, all in all this album rates an 87/100… not bad, not bad at all, this is a gr8 tape, definitely worth getting, and after 8 months of hearing about Shaleim, I mamish can’t believe that I’m actually hearing it, enjoying it, and among the privileged few who are privy to the entire background and behind the scenes of this album…


Yes brothers and sisters… Shaleim is finally shalem…..

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