A mix of history and intercultural compositions

Tzimmes band members capture the many sounds of Jewish music. | Photo courtesy of Moshe Denburg

Released on September 10 by Moshe Denburg’s band, Tzimmes, The Road Never Travelled is their first album to come about in more than 25 years. Comprised of music recorded by the band over the past three decades, The Road Never Travelled is not just a mix of what Jewish music has to offer, but Denburg’s own experience with Jewish culture and music from Liturgical music to klezmer and even, perhaps surprisingly, a bit of Beatles.

“There’s a Yiddish song that talks about stuff you love, and that can be followed by a song from the texts or the prayers with an original melody, [followed by] In My Life, which is a Beatles song, because it was associated with Tzimmes’ musical practice for so many years [and] we always finished our gigs, our weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs with a goodbye song, wishing everyone to remember those who are not there anymore,” says Denburg.

A story and history

Denburg has always been surrounded by a rich variety of music in his life. Having grown up in a rabbinical home in Montreal, Denburg says that he was exposed early on both to the music of the synagogue and Jewish people, as well as to the folk and pop music of North America and the West. Over the course of a few decades, he would realize his love of music and develop a winding, international career and craft from forming an Israeli beat group in the late 1960s and early 1970s to recording liturgical World Music pieces throughout Canada until the 1980s.

It was around the mid-1980s however, as Denburg was settling into a groove of composing in Victoria, that he wanted to be sure that the music he was writing would be heard by people.

“I realized that my intercultural compositions could sit on the shelf forever and a day, and I’d be sitting on my hands, writing another composition that wasn’t played,” says Denburg. “I was always connected in one way or another with the Jewish community, wherever I went, and Victoria had a good Jewish community. So I decided to create this group that would do a combination of all the things that I had been doing before, which was music in the secular realm, Jewish music of the liturgical realm and some folk music.”

Formed in 1986, Tzimmes was named for the classic Jewish dish the band’s ethos reflects: an arduous, sweet mishmash concoction. Indeed, the band would prove an excellent musical and cultural outlet for the bandleader and his mates for years to come.

Breaking through

Denburg has had a lot to reflect on since the early days of Tzimmes. Having been happily preoccupied with the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra, which he founded in 2001, the composer-performer was recently compelled to return to music that spoke more closely to his own experiences. For Denburg, the title track of The Road Never Travelled represents a kind of ‘treatise’ on breaking free of one’s uncertainties. It’s a universal ideal, to be sure, but, for Denburg, it’s also meaningfully informed by a Jewish context.

“There’s a saying in the Talmud that goes, ‘if not now, when.’ In many cultures, there’s that sort of idea, like ‘grab the bull by the horns’ or ‘he who hesitates is lost.’ [The song] talks about not missing an opportunity. How do you shake off the shackles of your hesitations and actually go forward in life,” says Denburg. “Even though it isn’t a Jewish piece in the sense that it draws upon liturgy directly, it resonates for me as a philosophy of my life, a statement that I’m making with a whole heart and mind.”

And despite a long and diverse career, there’s always doubts and worries to be grappled with. Thankfully, for Denburg, the road never travelled becomes a bit easier to navigate with time.

“I have certain comfort about doing this that I didn’t experience before, because earlier in one’s career, there’s a certain anxiety. You have to prove yourself. You’re worried about how others are going to respond,” he says. “Now, it’s not that there’s an overconfidence, but I’m doing things that I feel have come to fruition inside me. So there isn’t this holding back, this worry, or the same anxiety.”

For more information on Tzimmes, visit tzimmes.net.

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