Your browser does not support our new site design, so some things might not display or function properly.
We suggest upgrading to Google Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer 9+ for the optimal experience.

Kaskeset

Binghamton University, SUNY

Shir Pleasure (2000)

2.8

December 7, 2000

Tuning / Blend 2.2
Energy / Intensity 3.8
Innovation / Creativity 3.4
Soloists 3.0
Sound / Production 2.0
Repeat Listenability 2.0
Tracks
1 Judah Maccabee 3.6
2 Shalom Rav 2.8
3 Flood 2.8
4 Abi Gezunt 2.8
5 Na'ar Hayiti 3.4
6 Yerushalayim Shel Zahav 3.4
7 On the First Seder Night 2.6
8 The Chanukah Song II (Live) 2.8
9 Erev Shel Shoshanim 3.0
10 Oz V'hadar 3.2
11 Hey Jude 2.8
12 Nachamu 3.6
13 Listen To You 3.4
14 Avinu Malkeinu 2.8

Recorded 1999 – 2000
Total time: 44:00, 14 songs


Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 1
Tracks
1 Judah Maccabee 3
2 Shalom Rav 3
3 Flood 3
4 Abi Gezunt 3
5 Na'ar Hayiti 3
6 Yerushalayim Shel Zahav 3
7 On the First Seder Night 3
8 The Chanukah Song II (Live) 3
9 Erev Shel Shoshanim 3
10 Oz V'hadar 3
11 Hey Jude 3
12 Nachamu 3
13 Listen To You 3
14 Avinu Malkeinu 3

Kaskeset's Shir Pleasure is an odd recording. The CD is mostly American pop music sung with Jewish themes (Judah Maccabee) or Hebrew (Shalom Rav) or Yiddish text. There is also pop music that has taken on a more religious meaning by association (Flood, Hey Jude) and rewritten/Jewish parody music (On the First Seder Night sung to In the Still of the Night). The group's sound is the traditional mixed collegiate standard fare. The CD is sort of cute, but blend, intonation, soloists, arranging and production are all a little bit under par. The result is that the cuteness of the song selection wears off quickly. I graded the songs at a 3 but most just barely avoided the ranking of 2.

Rewritten lyrics to Adam Sandler's The Chanukah Song II provide the best chuckle of the album:

"Lenny Kravitz is half Jewish, Courtney Love is too. Put them both together, what a funky, bad-ass Jew."

The vocal percussion has a few enjoyable moments as do the leads on Listen To You and Avinu Malkeinu. Sadly, the over-present intonation and blend problems, lacking bass section and weak production make even these positives difficult to enjoy.

Being a Jew, I expected to enjoy this CD a bit more. But inserting lines like "we eat kosher" into Hey Jude just made me wince. The "joke" just can't carry the whole CD. If Jewish-oriented a cappella is your interest, you may not have a wide enough selection to pass this by. But beyond the topic itself, the appeal of Shir Pleasure is pretty limited.


Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Judah Maccabee 5
2 Shalom Rav 3
3 Flood 3
4 Abi Gezunt 2
5 Na'ar Hayiti 4
6 Yerushalayim Shel Zahav 4
7 On the First Seder Night 3
8 The Chanukah Song II (Live) 4
9 Erev Shel Shoshanim 4
10 Oz V'hadar 4
11 Hey Jude 3
12 Nachamu 3
13 Listen To You 4
14 Avinu Malkeinu 3

Despite the major intonation issues within this record, there's something about Shir Pleasure that is just a lot of fun. Maybe it's the originality of listening to an a cappella group performing all Jewish-related music. They sing their pieces with energy, emotion, and oomph, if not perfect tuning.

For example, Kaskeset jumps out of the gate with the high energy Judah Maccabee, which totally rocks, as does Oz V'hadar. The sequencing on this album is fabulous. Kaskeset has arranged the delivery of this album such that the tempo of each song ebbs and flows into each other very naturally. Consequently, I'm never bored by a series of slow or fast-paced songs. Their arrangements are innovative and daring; they're not doing easy stuff here. Kaskeset's biggest problem, again, is the whole tuning thing. I think that a combination of recording techniques and more studio time could have fixed a lot of these problems. They have some intra-song tempo fluctuations as well, which could be easily fixed by a guide track. The women in Kaskeset are also a weak point throughout this album, as most of the tuning problems stem from the ladies.

There were a few really nice solos on this album as well, particularly David Ross and Mike Boxer on Judah Maccabee, Amy Binstock on On the First Seder Night, Stuart Mayer and Alan Zeitlin on Oz V'hadar and David Ross again on Hey Jude. Like I said, these guys get it. It's so nice to see more groups out there finding a musical niche that they truly care about, and performing it with intensity and emotion. With a bit more spit and polish, Kaskeset will soon be joining the "upper echelons of collegiate a cappella".


Tuning / Blend 1
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 1
Tracks
1 Judah Maccabee 3
2 Shalom Rav 2
3 Flood 2
4 Abi Gezunt 3
5 Na'ar Hayiti 3
6 Yerushalayim Shel Zahav 4
7 On the First Seder Night 2
8 The Chanukah Song II (Live) 2
9 Erev Shel Shoshanim 3
10 Oz V'hadar 4
11 Hey Jude 2
12 Nachamu 4
13 Listen To You 3
14 Avinu Malkeinu 2

While this album has some bright spots, Shir Pleasure was mostly a disappointment.

The biggest problem that I had with this disc was the pitch problems. It's noticeable on the first song and continues throughout the album. Unfortunately, since it is so evident from the beginning, you listen for it in the rest of the tracks as well, being even more nit-picky than usual. There were some selections where this problem was not a factor (Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, Nachamu), but they were few and far between.

It also sounded like the group was bored with these songs. There was a total lack of energy in everything. The arrangements were bland and unexciting, and the singers did nothing to make up for it. There is only so much that a person can do with the syllables "bum" and "da". Even the vocal percussion added little. Again, the problem lies with innovation; when you only use two sounds (i.e. just kick drum and snare), you limit yourself in the possibilities of what the song can really sound like. I would like to see this group really experiment with different syllables and sounds. Not only will it be more exciting to listen to, but more exciting for them to perform as well.

While this is a nice attempt for a recording experience, this group has a lot to learn about the studio. Many of the songs were unbalanced in the fact that the background was louder than the soloist. This was especially true on the tracks in which more than one person sang the solo. Usually the second soloist would get lost in the mix, making it difficult to hear. It also sounds like absolutely nothing was done to enhance the sound. While I don't believe that college groups should be messing with distortions, octavers, etc., there are still many aspects of the studio that can be used to make a better recording. Sometimes it's as simple as adding reverb.

This album is what I would call a "Fan's Choice" album. It's mainly reserved for family and friends of the group, but if you see them live and want a memento of the evening, then get the album. Otherwise, there are better albums to buy before spending money on this one.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Judah Maccabee 3
2 Shalom Rav 3
3 Flood 2
4 Abi Gezunt 3
5 Na'ar Hayiti 4
6 Yerushalayim Shel Zahav 4
7 On the First Seder Night 2
8 The Chanukah Song II (Live) 2
9 Erev Shel Shoshanim 3
10 Oz V'hadar 2
11 Hey Jude 3
12 Nachamu 5
13 Listen To You 3
14 Avinu Malkeinu 2

Kaskeset is a co-ed Jewish a cappella group that sings a mixture of both traditional and contemporary Jewish songs, as well as a few non-Jewish covers thrown in for flair. Their debut CD, Shir Pleasure, brings this group to their first taste of recorded a cappella reviews, and unfortunately from this reviewer, some criticisms.

That's not to say that this is a horrible, wash it under the bridge never to be seen or heard again album. This album has something that a ton of other better albums lack...energy. It actually surprised me with the amount of positive energy that it displayed. It was very refreshing to my ears. My biggest pet peeve is an album that lacks energy. Sing me a thousand out of tune notes with barrels of energy and you're scoring points with me.

Let's get to specifics. Kaskeset has two warhorses, Mike Boxer and David Ross, pounding out twelve of the fourteen arrangements. Taking that into account, I don't want to take anything away from their efforts. Their ideas were good and their arrangements were solid. That said, the group's best sound on the album came in Nachamu, not one of the group's own arrangements. The difference is the voicing. All of Mike and David's arrangements are very thin and weak sounding with bland syllables. Kaskeset, invert the chords and tighten the spectrum of voices to improve both the sound of your group, and at the same time, your arrangements.

Besides the album's bright spot, Nachamu, other moments are very worthy of mention. The all-male trio at the opening of Na'ar Hayiti was right on. Minor intonation problems, but that is over-shadowed by the energy and style that all three of these young men put forth in this difficult vocal passage. I enjoyed Stephanie Feinberg's lead on Shalom Rav as well as the inspirational leads on Judah Maccabee and Abi Gezunt.

Ok, so should you buy this album? That depends. This is far from a must-buy album, but it also isn't a definite skip. I enjoyed this album because its funny and I like cultural music of all types. I'm not Jewish, but if I were, I can see how this album would be even better. I'd say your safe bet is to skip this one and wait for them to release again. If they can capture the same energy with better production techniques to fatten their sound and fix those shaky, out of tune notes, they'll have a project that we'll all be proud to own.

[Editor's note: Jonathan's original review commented on what he thought was an obscene word, but it was actually just "funky".]


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 1
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Judah Maccabee 4
2 Shalom Rav 3
3 Flood 4
4 Abi Gezunt 3
5 Na'ar Hayiti 3
6 Yerushalayim Shel Zahav 2
7 On the First Seder Night 3
8 The Chanukah Song II (Live) 3
9 Erev Shel Shoshanim 2
10 Oz V'hadar 3
11 Hey Jude 3
12 Nachamu 3
13 Listen To You 4
14 Avinu Malkeinu 4

No fancy intros — I have a bunch to say about this album. If you're unfamiliar with any modern Jewish music, the other four reviewers may have better instincts for your reaction to Kaskeset's (a pun on the Hebrew word meaning "scale", as in fish, not music) Shir Pleasure, from the Jewish a cappella group at SUNY Binghamton. I, on the other hand, own most of the source material for this all-covers CD, so I have some strong feelings.

The strengths of the album are the beginning and the end. Judah Maccabee is funky with a fun, if overly extended, swing section ending, and Flood is similarly upbeat and energetic. Both songs are capably arranged by Mike Boxer, the group's Musical Director/vocal percussionist, who seems to have used Gabe Rutman's early Off the Beat arrangements for rhythmic and syllabic inspiration. The album concludes with an enjoyable take on Inasense's Listen To You and an intriguing version of Avinu Malkeinu — the latter, a staple of the High Holiday service which could have turned sacrilegious very quickly (but, to arranger David Ross's credit, never does).

Unfortunately, what's left is less than stellar. As a rule, the sopranos and basses are called upon to sing beyond their range, resulting in shrill notes for the former and strain/flatness for the latter. In addition, Kaskeset tackles several classic tunes — Shalom Rav, Erev Shel Shoshanim, Na'ar Hayiti, among others — which are better served with less volume and more tenderness. Their versions feature much volume and little finesse. Compounding this misjudgment, the American accents betray the Hebrew at every turn. Before you point out that they are, in fact, American, first know how ugly Hebrew can sound with a heavy, American accent and second, know that many other groups have managed to soften their accents to avoid similar problems.

Further quibbles include choice of repertoire — most of Na'ar Hayiti and all of Nachamu are duplicates of their originals — what purpose does a second generation identical version of these songs serve? Moreover, I know that parodies are a favorite of a cappella groups, but careful who you use for source material. Kaskeset's Chanukah Song II is cutesy but pales in comparison to the original, and the Boys II Men cover of In the Still of the Night with new (and slightly offensive opening) lyrics is more than this group can handle. Though I get the joke, Hey Jude is also a stretch.

Lastly, technical notes: first, find a new engineer. The engineer is not specifically credited in the liner notes, but anyone who would so consistently blend the solo into (and behind) the background vocals would appear to have little experience with a cappella. Plus, the master volume for the whole CD is generally too low. Next, get a new photographer — photographs don't make or break the album, but an unprofessional booklet prepares the listener for an unprofessional CD overall.

Don't let my criticism mislead you. No one is more thrilled than I am to see Jewish a cappella groups sprout up at colleges all over the country. Would that the phenomenon existed when I was in school. Moreover, if you're reading this, it means you're considering purchasing a Jewish a cappella CD, and I congratulate you on a willingness to broaden your musical horizons. But if you're buying only one, this may just not be the one. Kaskeset is a new group with talent, enthusiasm, and room for improvement. Based on their encouraging debut CD, they should be able to capitalize on the first two to eliminate the third.


How To Get Your Work Reviewed

To have your album (2 or more tracks) reviewed by RARB, please email us with your name, group name and album title. You will receive a response with information on how to register your album in our system.

To have your digital single reviewed by RARB, please fill out our online singles registration form.

×

Ordering Information

Please send $12.00 per CD plus $3.00 s/h to:

Kaskeset
Binghamton University
CIW Box 6605
P.O. Box 6006
Binghamton, NY 13902-6006
Or visit the Kaskeset web site.

×