Arts & Culture

New Kensington Synagogue Music Series Debuts Thursday

Flatbush Jewish Center. (Photo by Carly Miller)

Inspired by a growing number of New York synagogues showcasing musical performances, guitarist and composer Yoshie Fruchter launched Church Avenue Sessions, a monthly series of concerts at Kensington’s Flatbush Jewish Center.

The debut performance on Thursday features two fun and magnetic bands from the neighborhood: Jazzy Klezmer band Who Is Manny Blanc and the costumed ragtime quartet Xylopholks.

“Many sanctuaries were also designed with acoustics in mind, to optimize the quality of sound of the prayer leader’s voice,” Fruchter said. “I truly believe that there is a spiritual depth to places of worship — a serenity that provides a performer with an ideal space for creation.”

Yoshie Fruchter

Fruchter’s been an eclectic musician since he released his first solo album in 2008. His latest project, Cantorial Recordings Reimagined, features his arrangements of Jewish worship music performed by Schizophonia, a progressive rock quintet. Although he’s best known in the jazz world, Fruchter’s records freely quote elements of punk, surf rock, klezmer music, and heavy metal.

That wide-open approach to music is shared by one of the bands Fruchter tapped for the initial performance of the Church Avenue Sessions. Matt Darriau, clarinetist for the Grammy-winning Klezmatics, created the group, which is named for the musical question in seeks to answer: Who Is Manny Blanc?

Manny Blanc was a Brooklyn musician just barely remembered for the 1961 album Jewish Jazz. One of the earliest attempts to play klezmer music in a jazz and rock context, the record has been all but forgotten — good luck finding it on Spotify. On a mission to bring the music to a wider audience, Darriau recruited Fruchter and other musicians to play Blanc’s idiosyncratic compositions for a contemporary audience.

The Xylopholks, who fill out the bill at Thursday’s show, reach even further back for musical inspiration. Performing ragtime music with dynamic ensembles built around xylophones, the group dons furry animal costumes in case the novelty factor of their shows weren’t already off the charts.

“Jon Singer, who leads the Xylopholks, is a true virtuoso in every sense of the word, and also one of the funniest and most engaging performers that I know,” said Fruchter.

The Xylopholks. (Screenshot via YouTube)

Though the bands selected for the opening concert are diverse musically, Fruchter noted they have a couple of important things in common. “I wanted to have music that I thought would be fun for your 10-year-old, your hipster cousin, and your grandpa,” he said.

“Between Who is Manny Blanc and the Xylopholks, we have a pretty eclectic palette of sounds and magnetic energy that I think will appeal to a large range of audience types.”

The Kensington connection was another factor in Fruchter’s choice. “With this series, I also really want to focus on musicians in the neighborhood,” the guitarist said. “One of the reasons we moved to Kensington from Prospect Heights a couple of years ago is because of the great and diverse musical community here.”

Fruchter plans to showcase local performers as he curates the monthly shows in the series. “Every month will be something completely different and amazing,” he promised.

The debut concert in the Church Avenue Sessions is scheduled for Thursday, March 9 at 7:30pm at the Flatbush Jewish Center, located at 327 East 5th Street at Church Avenue. Tickets are $15 and are available at the door.

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