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Paul Shapiro Releases ‘Essen,’ a Tribute to 1940s Yiddish Jazz

New York-based saxophonist Paul Shapiro’s third album, Essen, to be released on June 24, pays heartfelt homage to the Yiddish swing jazz of the 1940s. Essen-the Yiddish word for “eat”-plays off of the same themes as Shapiro’s Ribs and Brisket Revue, a monthly concert held in New York City under Shapiro’s leadership.

The album features songs previously performed by such artists as Peggy Lee, Cab Calloway, Slim ‘n’ Slam and the Barton Brothers, rearranged by the funk and R&B-influenced Shapiro. With a track list full of songs clustered around the theme of food, Shapiro creates an album in the unique category of Jewish jazz, or Yiddish R&B.

Shapiro’s website describes the sound of the Ribs & Brisket band as “’40s style Jewish Jazz, Yiddish Swing, and various kosher-style blues.”

Essen includes Brian Mitchell on keys, Booker King on bass and Tony Lewis on drums, the same lineup that worked with Shapiro on his first release, Midnight Midyan, and his 2006 follow-up, It’s in the Twilight. All three of Shapiro’s albums are available on composer John Zorn’s label, Tzadik Records.

Shapiro, who formerly played with the Microscopic Sextet, is a co-founder the jazz, funk and spoken word collaborative Brooklyn Funk Essentials. He’s recorded with a variety of artists including Lou Reed, Ben Folds Five and Khaled, and played on numerous pop and hip-hop remixes as a saxophonist.

Notable songs on Essen include the Catskills comedy routine-inspired title track, Slim Gaillard’s “Matzoh Balls,” and a rendition of the klezmer-blues “My Little Cousin,” also known as “Di Grine Kusine.” Singer Cilla Owens performs on Shapiro’s arrangements of Sophie Tucker’s “Mama Goes Where Papa Goes” and Mildred Bailey’s “A Bee Gezind,” as does Babi Floyd on a rendition of 1939’s “Utt-Da-Zay.”

Originally Published