Lady Of The Forest
Artist: Karen Malka
Catalogue Number: RD 4610
Release Date: 4th October 2010
Lady of the forest / Eshet hayearot
All and nothing at all / Hakol vehalo klum
My heart is filled by you / Libi malle
Come with me / Bo imi
Rebirth / Hitchadshut
See-through mirror / Mara’a shkufa
How good / Kama tov
Stream / Nachal
Looking for you / Mehapeset otcha
Have faith / Ta’amini
posted on The Marker Café 19/10/2010 by Adar Avisar
First of all, I would like to confess: I was never a great fan of Israeli music. My superiors at the various radio stations where I edited and hosted shows always confronted me, demanding that I sprinkle a few Hebrew notes. Now, advanced in years, I even grow frustrated with production ventures that overlook one basic fact – in order to make good music one must first be a good musician, an artist. It's better to set aside all gimmicks, public relation maneuvers and the "production," and just make good music.
The forefathers of the 60's and 70's; Clapton, Jeff Beck and the like, taught us this. Before they even dreamed of signing a fat contract with a label, they would roam the bars and concert halls, with no PR and no production team, until they felt their material had taken adequate shape.
I must admit that my narcissist, anti-patriotic view shifted drastically when I stumbled across a video of a performance by the accomplished bassist, Avishai Cohen, in the 2009 Leverkusen Jazz Festival. On stage with Avishai, a jazz icon in his own right, stood an amazing singer and artist, Karen Malka. Isolated from the virtuosity of Avishai and his band, this talented musician's vocal capabilities are stunning. She magically combines the jazzy feel of the grand divas such as Billie Holiday or Nat King Cole, with the ferocious bluesy energies of Janis Joplin.
And she goes about it without any pretence or ostentation. Shear music is what makes Malka a player in the band, masterfully playing her instrument just like all the other members.
I think of Karen Malka as the Robert Plant of Avishai Cohen's group; she harnesses her special voice and her absolute control over it to pull the entire band up to spheres to which only musicians of the caliber of Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, or, in quite a different tone, Hiromi, can aspire.
Malka does not regard herself as a lead vocalist, so to speak. She is a participant in a group effort, which is what makes her so great and unique. She does not take hold of the spotlights despite being the only woman in the band (which generally looks like a bunch of Kibutz boys joining an army entertainment outfit).
My resounding awe upon watching the video prompted me to exchange a few emails with Karen, who mentioned the release of her debut solo album…. Who? What? When? Typically, everything was done quietly and modestly, just like the celestial music she creates.
This is where European-based colleagues and friends of mine started on an album hunt resulting in Malka's "Lady of the Forest" being safely stored on my hard disk.
I grant you, my entire cynical arsenal did not suffice to prevent the goose bumps, listening to this superb album. The sound, the arrangements, Karen's sometimes "black" voice, the melodies, all intertwine authentic Israeli characteristics, as one may find in David Zehavi's or even Sasha Argov's compositions, fusion and blues, in the spirit of Yellowjackets, and above all, Malka's unmatched vocal prowess.
Malka is very serious and incredibly creative in this album. The lyrics and the textual complexity are comparable to that of Peter Gabriel, Neal Morse (formerly the leader of Spock's Beard) or Brian Wilson. Musically, there's something new, refreshing, enigmatic at times, and marked by relentless perfectionism. Karen was able to instigate, in her own way, a miniature revolution in contemporary music, aside from the huge success she has known with Jazz ensembles touring the U.S. and Europe.
Every track in the album stands for itself, distinct from the rest. "How Good," for instance, is almost the exact opposite, style-wise, of "Come with Me". "My Heart is Filled by You", to me the cream of the crop, is completely different from "Rebirth". There is, however, a thread that runs through all the tracks, stitching them together into a cohesive musical work. It brings to mind the concept albums of the 70's, or Chick Corea's albums with "Return to Forever", and the days of legendary female vocalists such as Gayle Moran or Flora Purim.
Karen Malka's "Lady of the Forest" is also an exquisite piece of sound work. I would take this album to Yoav Gera's audio technicians' school as a benchmark of digital technology in all its splendor. This is one of the finest albums I have ever listened to. It is on par, in terms of quality and sound separation, with "On an Island," David Gilmour's latest.
And yet, Malka is a subtle artist. It is not enough to listen one time around, nor twice or three times. Her lyrics may also baffle those who seek momentary excitements. Malka's power, it seems, stems from her ability to cast her true self, her personality, directly into the music. It is a world full of contrasts: woman and girl, thought and emotion, hope and disappointment, even longing and despair. You can find anything in there, according to the mood you're in while listening.
In conclusion, I am left with just one question: Who gave Ms. Malka permission to record such a perfect album? Isn't it against the law?