Thursday, March 24, 2011

Recording Adir Hu

When I got to Israel, I played a lot of weddings as a guitarist/sideman, particularly in Jerusalem. Often the material consisted of Reb Shlomo's songs and that's how I learned many of them. One of the most popular was "Adir Hu." It's from the holiday of "Pesach" or Passover. Oddly enough, it's very un'Shlomo sounding as it has a distinct Sephardi or Mizrachi sound to it. The section that sounds most like Reb Shlomo is where everyone yells, "Kel Bnai!"

I was recording at the studio of Dan Gil, the Gearer Rebbe. Dan is called the Gearer Rebbe because he knows a lot about musical gear and is infatuated with it. He had just acquired a Turkish saz, sometimes called a baglama. I was at the studio for a few days and Dan kept telling me about the saz and how I should play it on the new album. "I don't know how to play saz. I don't even know the tuning," I replied. He persisted and as soon as he handed it to me, I strummed it and knew it would be perfect for something. The Gearer Rebbe is a wise man. I loved the sound of that saz.


"Adir Hu," at least for a westerner, is exotic to begin with so that seemed like the right tune to choose for the saz. I used some of the strings as drones and although I have no idea whether or not that's part of the method of playing, it sounded good. I played a track. I even laid down a 2nd track and both sounded really good together. On the recording you can hear the second saz enter after a verse.

Eventually I went back to Israel and was listening to the tracks. Although they stood well on their own, I wanted to add a few more things. I was just having too much fun with the song and didn't want to stop. I had made a stop in San Francisco on the tour before returning to Israel and went to one of my favorite music stores, Clarion Music. It's a wonderful place in San Francisco's Chinatown to explore non-Western instruments. I first discovered it in the mid-90s, with our percussionist, Cassio Duarte. We were in San Francisco to play Great American Music Hall and Cassio heard about this store so we went there and emerged hours later. Both of us were like kids in a candy store. I got a dolak from Pakistan and used it shortly afterward on "A Narrow Bridge" or "Kol Ha Olam Kulo" in Hebrew, on my Fringe of Blue album.

On this visit, in 2009, I was in Clarion Music with my brother, Scott and his son Steven being tourists. I left with a jaw harp and some hand percussion from Viet Nam and China. When it came time to record the additional material for the song. I used my mobile recording studio in Israel and pulled out these new toys of mine and rolled a few tracks. It certainly had an unusual sound and to smooth things out I added some finger cymbals which kind of fused the east with the middle east. The only thing missing was a deep sounding drum for the bottom end. All the drums I had to fit the bill were in the United States and I wasn't there. It was so hot in Israel, I was drinking bottles of water constantly and just polished one off. I gave it a bang and it sounded pretty good so I played a "four on the floor" pattern on the water bottle and that's what you hear on the track. It comes in toward the end and sounds like a big drum.

I had so much fun with "Adir Hu," I decided to do another take on it with a different feel. I jumped on the computer and came up with a drum loop, some synth sounds and created a nice bed for the the melody. I took out my nylon string and it sounded divine, so soothing. I spotted my balalaika, sitting in the corner so I picked it up and played a track which I also liked. I used both, the balalaika at the beginning and the nylon string afterwards. I added distortion to the balalaika and gradually brought it in, creating a morphing effect as the song progressed.

I wanted an intense, groove-oriented bass part so I called up one of my very favorite bassists, Moran Baron from a kibbutz just minutes away from me and he came over slammed a killer bass part. Moran has lots of ideas and usually lays them all down which requires editing afterwards. It's difficult to discard anything he plays because it's always so musical. In fact, I loved what he played so much that I lengthened the song by a few minutes with a long ride-out at the end to accommodate his many ideas. The long ride-out also allowed me to indulge myself at the end, playing one of my new toys, the jaw harp I got in San Francisco.

I called this track, "Adir Hu Revisited" and it's at the end of the album, just before the radio mixes. I liked the way it finished off the album, providing a long, late-night, college dorm, hang out kind of mood.

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