Berlin: Songs of Love and War, Peace and Exile
Winter & Winter
Lest you miss Theo Bleck-mann and Fumio Yasuda’s attempt to tune in to a bygone era, the vocalist and pianist begin this collection of early-to-mid 20th century German songs with the sound of radio static. The white noise is gone by the end of the second track, Eisler and Brecht’s “Das Deutsche Miserere,” and its absence suggests that the musicians found what they were looking for. But what should we make of what they’ve found? That everything here dates back to the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich is hardly indicative of an exercise in nostalgia. Bleckmann, according to his Web site, is a “Genre-bending, -skipping and -skirting vocalist and composer.” And Yasuda works in both the classical and jazz realms.
Yet there’s little about the conservative Berlin that bends, skips or skirts. Take Weill and Brecht’s “Moon of Alabama,” for example. You’d never guess that this art-song rendition of the well-known tune (“Oh, show us the way to the next whisky bar”) was performed by anyone with jazz or experimental roots. Even the Doors’ take on the song is more adventurous. Perhaps the best clue about the musicians’ intent comes from the label’s PR: “Somewhere in a New York hotel room, some musicians seem to be making music just for themselves, and we can listen in.” Those who do so will hear impeccable performances. Just don’t expect to find anything modern on the dial.