Saxophonist Paul Shapiro has really out-done himself on his third album as a bandleader. Entitled Essen, the music is served up with elements of Yiddish swing, soulful blues, gospel chant and theatre-cabaret wind up in gypsy-punk cables, hip-hop landings and "Borscht Belt humor," which Shapiro refers to as the comedians who entertain at the hotels in Upstate New York‘s Catskill Mountains. If that means nothing to you, then think of Jackie Mason’s humor and you’ll grasp the idea. The term "essen" is Yiddish for "eat" and Shapiro has delivered a viable smorgasbord for people to eat up with songs made famous by Peggy Lee, Cab Calloway, Sophie Tucker, Mildred Bailey, Slim Gaillard and the Barton Brothers. The jocularity and swing-jazz vibe in the tracks have a big stage personality and presage a trend for Yiddish/klezmer accents to modernize songs that have laid dormant for years. Paul Shapiro was just the guy to do it.
The album goes back to 40s jazz with numbers like "Mama Goes Where Papa Goes," which is beautifully tailored to Cillia Owens’ husky vocal timbres with a likeness to the lush moans of Sarah Vaughan, and "Oy Veys Mir," delivered fabulously by singer Babi Floyd. The rhythm section in these tunes make you want to join in the revelry on stage. Comprising of pianist Brian Mitchell, bassist Booker King and drummer Tony Lewis, the jumps in the rhythmic grooves move from a sultry, swing-blues slugging to flamboyant rollicking shakes. The horn section of Shapiro on saxophone, Steven Bernstein and Frank London on trumpet and Doug Wieselman on clarinet have vibrant klezmer-flange and soulful-blues shadings. The upbeat klezmer jive of "Dunkin Bagel" induces laughter while the Yiddish-soul laden licks of "Utt-Da-Zay" feel like a funeral service with a theatre-cabaret style. The dazzling breadth of the piano keys on "Utt-Da-Zay" are brilliantly scrolled and turn to a snazzy bebop throttle along "A Bissel Bop."
Maybe the most impressive track on the album is the first cone "Essen," which is a massive collage of Yiddish swing, theatre-cabaret, gypsy-punk and hip-hop thrusts. What "Bohemian Rhapsody" is to Queen, "Essen" is to Paul Shapiro. He seams various music styles and forms a saucy cohesive storyline. The entwining patterns are a great challenge that takes the mind of a genius. Though "Essen" is the only song of its kind on the album, it is enough to bring together music from different cultures and maybe even its people.
Shapiro calls his sonic collage an "Afro-Semitic mish-mash," as he revives 40s Jewish-tinged jazz that became a staple in the repertoire of black jazz singers, such as Billy Eckstine, Eartha Kitt and Sammy Davis Jr. Essen is a look at what was in the heart of Shapiro’s Ribs And Brisket Revue, which he performed with his band in the basement of Cornelia Street Café in New York City. Shapiro’s music pays homage to the sacred musical traditions of Jewish heritage while exhibiting true Jackie Mason tact. Shapiro injects spurts of laughter into the music because what would life be without those moments of happiness?