MARILYN LERNER and DAVE WALL at the Victory Cafe (581 Markham), Saturday (December 15). $5. 416-516-5787.
when someone mentions yid-dish, I think, "Oy vey." Mike Myers doing his Linda Richman impression, Fiddler On The Roof, matzo ball soup, gefilte fish and schmaltz. I don't think contemporary and I don't think jazz. But Marilyn Lerner and Dave Wall have other opinions. Their new album, Still Soft-Voiced Heart, is a collection of Yiddish poetry set to gorgeous, lullaby-like arrangements combining classical, jazz and Jewish music traditions. It's strikingly beautiful and surprisingly fresh.
The two first hooked up at a folk fest in Winnipeg, where avant-jazz pianist Lerner was moonlighting in an act that featured a woman in a vulva suit rapping about the wonders of the female anatomy, "which I think really informs our music," laughs Wall, ex of the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir. They went on to collaborate on several projects, including the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band.
While rocking the good-time Jewish vibe, Lerner and Wall discovered a mutual love of romantic lieder, the short song cycles of classical maestros like Schumann and Schubert, arranged for voice and piano for the love poetry of their day. It made sense that they'd start experimenting with the musical form. But why Yiddish?
"This is the language my parents' parents spoke with my parents," offers Lerner. "But I'm from a generation that wasn't really taught Yiddish. It was spoken when there was something we weren't supposed to understand.
"And there's a mystery surrounding the language. Because of the war and the exiles and the Holocaust, a lot of our history has to be inferred. So there's a mystical aspect to it."
Many of the poets whose works Lerner and Wall have set to music were at the peak of their careers during the second world war. Lerner's compositions are sophisticated, sometimes even edgy, but always melodic, softened even more by Wall's tender tenor.
"We could have chosen material by these poets that was about the Jewish experience in the Holocaust or about Israel or the Bible," says Wall. "But that's not why we're interested in it -- the poetry appealed to us because it's beautiful."
That doesn't mean the music has no political twist.
"Remember, Yiddish has been rejected by Israel. And for a long time there was a sense of shame about Yiddish -- it was the funny language our grandparents spoke, associated with pain and suffering."