The Idan Raichel Project Packs the Town Hall
Over the past nine years the lineup of artsy, eclectic Israeli rockers the Idan Raichel Project has comprised a global cast of over ninety musicians ranging in age from sixteen to ninety-three, bandleader/keyboardist Raichel revealed at his sold-out show last night at the Town Hall. That’s a formula for success if your goal is to be fluent in every global style of music ever invented. What did this particular twelve-piece incarnation of the band not play last night? Music from China, the North Pole, and Jamaica (they didn’t do any reggae). They did just about everything else, something akin to another Project from another era – that one led by Alan Parsons – but with a considerably deeper immersion in Middle Eastern and African grooves. The concert started slowly and built momentum steadily, up to an explosive, darkly bracing Ethiopian dance driven by spiraling flute, trumpet and alto sax over a slinky triplet rhythm. By this point, half the crowd – on the young side, and at least fifty percent female – had moved to the aisles, dancing and waving their glowsticks.
Raichel is a terse, elegant player who usually leaves the exuberance to the band (for a look at his more pensive, exploratory side, keep an eye out for his tremendously good forthcoming collaboration with Malian desert blues guitar star Vieux Farka Toure). In the beginning of the set, global influences flitted in and out of pretty standard if classically-tinged piano-based pop songs. An Iranian tar lute riff, an Egyptian snakecharmer flute motif, Rio rhythms and fetching habibi vocals from the group’s two dynamic, versatile frontwomen all made their way up into and out of the mix as the band almost imperceptibly brought the energy up, eventually rollicking their way through a bouncily hypnotic Afrobeat tune (these folks could teach Vampire Weekend a thing or two about energy and soul).
As the show went on, the band left the straight-up rock behind and dove deeply into global grooves. One of the encores could have been a Yemen Blues Middle Eastern jam, with oud and spiraling ney flute; a couple of others vamped on a rolling Ethiopian beat as the group lept and danced over it. The most intense of the night’s many solos (this group keeps most of them brief and leaves you wanting more) was during the loudest song, a roaring rai rock tune straight out of the Rachid Taha playbook, the guitar player building methodically to a savage Dick Dale-style blast of tremolo-picking. Not all of this came across as dead-serious, either. One track began with the percussionist playing a calabash which was sitting in a tub of water: while it was obviously not intentional, the popping beats alternating with the sound of pouring water evoked a bathroom more than it did a riverbank.
Beyond becoming the most eclectic rocker on the planet, Raichel’s ultimate motive is promoting peace. Obviously he feels that it’s worth repeating the old shibboleth that if we left the planet to the musicians instead of the priests and the mullahs, there would be no wars. Leading by example, blending cultures onstage, he drove his message home with a wallop. Has this band ever done the summer concert tour, places like Coachella? They ought to.