At the Rebbe's Table
The Jewish music agenda of John Zorn's Tzadic label takes a gentle left turn with the albums of acoustic fingerstyle guitarist Tim Sparks. As heard on his pleasing new collection, At the Rebbe's Table (Tzadik), the familiar twang of the steel-string instrument gives an unexpected musical spin to material from the klezmer songbook (including the title song), tunes by guitarist Flory Jagoda and other corners of the Jewish musical universe. On a tune like "Todos Si Hueron," Cyro Baptista's undulant percussion and Greg Cohen's coolly seductive bass put us in mind mainly of Brazil. As noted in Sparks' notes about the project, one historical link is to the Judeo-Arabic culture in Spain, the guitar's ancestral homeland. When Sparks and Marc Ribot (on both steel string and classical guitar) delicately interweave and swap licks, the Spanish interpretation rings true. On Zorn's own tender tune "Mahshav," from the radical's soft side, Sparks' sensitive solo reading begs a more universal appreciation. Whatever the heritage or cultural pedigree, it's simply touching music.