Reflections on the meaning and significance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, typically do not inspire a rockin' good time. That's precisely what's going on with Blasphemy and Other Serious Crimes, the sophomore CD from guitarist Yoshie Fruchter's great New York-based band Pitom. Fruchter and Pitom play a sort of advanced poly-stylistic instrumental rock that contains elements of jazz, traditional Hebraic music, metal, old-school prog rock, thrash, sludge and about a half-dozen other distinct musical sub-sub-genres that seem to be popping up at an alarming rate these days. So, while Fruchter's music is definitely a sort of fusion, it's definitely not "fusion-as-we-know it." Compared to the band's stellar debut CD (also on Tzadik), Blasphemy... is more measured, more focused, and yet the band seems to be heading in several new and interesting directions. Best of all, they've developed a signature sound that doesn't box them into narrow stylistic parameters. In fact, Pitom may well be the most innovative and exciting band working in the Yiddish fusion idiom aside from Greg Wall and Frank London's group, Hasidic New Wave.
A big part of the Pitom sound is the heavy use of various effects and distortion pedals by both Fruchter and bassist Shanir Blumenkranz, while violinist/violist Jeremy Brown plays with a beautifully articulated natural tone. This stark contrast makes for a lot of musical drama. It also serves to link the ultra-hip metallic slant of Fruchter's compositions with the spirit of traditional klezmer. As hard-rockin' and dissonant as some of this stuff is, the Yiddish roots are always right there. The sludgy, Black Sabbath-inspired title track is a case in point. There are a couple of very doomy melodies (one played in unison on pizzicato violin and electric guitar that will really stick with you!), a totally unhinged violin solo, lots of fuzz bass and some of Fruchter's must deranged guitar soloing ever. Yet, somehow, it all sounds very ancient and liturgical. "Respectful Repentance" and "Azaz" are similar in tone and tempo, but somewhat less frenzied (except for the last couple of minutes of "Azazel." The spacious sound on these tracks suggests that the band's been listening to Dylan Carlson's work with his instrumental sludge rock band Earth. That said, a lot of Klezmer is, and always will be, about partying and dancing (a fact not wasted on the likes of Fruchter and his label mate Eyal Maoz). The uptempo pieces on Blasphemy... are delivered with the appropriately dizzying energy and passion. "Head in the Ground" is typical as Fruchter's writing is economical, but leaves room for complex melodies and interesting harmonic shifts as the tune hurtles forward, driven Kevin Zubek's punch-and-roll drumming. "Vos Zogt Ir" has a grungy, manic surf-rock sound punctuated by delicate little pizzicato passages and shifts to a slower tempo for another fantastic Jeremy Brown solo (on viola, this time).
Manic improvisations and first-rate composing aside, the best thing about Blasphemy and Other Serious Crimes is that each tune tells a story that makes for compelling listening. I can't wait to hear Pitom's next CD!