To say the least, the group has a liberal approach to music, not only incorporating different styles but cleverly weaving and interchanging them: from free to smooth to quirky to jammy. The group's openness to musical diversity no doubt accounts in part for Lemon Juice catching the eye and ear of eccentrically eclectic composer/saxophonist John Zorn. Since arriving in New York from Israel, the Lemon Juice Quartet have performed at numerous "Radical Jewish Culture" events, including Jewsapalooza.
The quartet first made a splash during three separate appearances at the Red Sea International Jazz Festival, where they were heralded as a highlight. But while they were praised in small Israeli music circles, the group would not find as much acceptance there as they would in the musical melting pot of New York City. Original members Eyal Maoz (guitar) and Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz (bass) have seen several line-up changes, but now seem content with the repertoire of the current group -- rounded out with trumpeter Avishai Cohen and drummer Kevin Zubek.
While much of the so-called New Jewish Music movement centered around the Knitting Factory relies heavily on klezmer music, it's refreshing to hear Lemon Juice members utilizing other styles and conventions. The group's new CD, Republic, has moments worthy of a bar mitzvah, but on their rendition of Frank Zappa's "Lumpy Gravy," a Herb Albert-style trumpet is welcome to the party. Gong-like guitar taps start off the CD, highlighted with Blumenkranz's smooth, repetitive bassline. On several occasions, the group goes into Coltrane's Africa Brass territory, but the locale soon changes. Sometimes they land in Bob Marley's back yard and, other times, they end up on Richie Blackmore's Rainbow. In the world of the Lemon Juice Quartet, sugar plum fairies break out of the cookie jar for a destructive night on the town with Jimmy Page. Woody the Woodpecker and David Lynch make cameos as well in their heavily grooved and riff-based compositions.
While experimentation is a virtuous quest, there's certainly danger in pushing too close toward novelty. No doubt the Lemon Juice Quartet features talented musicians, but it remains to be seen whether the group can overextend itself in the endeavors of musical diversity. So far so good.
Lemon Juice Quartet performs at Earthshaking Music, Sat., March 3. Show time is 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $7.
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