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Danny Ben-Israel - The Kathmandu Sessions

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Artist: Danny Ben-Israel

Album: The Kathmandu Sessions

Label: Locust

Review date: Mar. 16, 2004

The East/West exchange of musical ideas, on a grander scale than any bi-coastal rap feud or hardcore ideologies, is one that was perhaps first introduced to the ears of Western rock music fans when the Beatles began to experiment with the use of the sitar and other aspects of Indian and Middle Eastern music. Since then, countless acts have utilized either subtle or wholesale influences from the traditions of Middle Eastern, Indian, or Asian musics to augment their own rock palettes. Sun City Girls have made an entire career of it, and the inverse is also true, as countless bands and artists in far-reaching lands throughout Asia and Africa have melded the sounds of their traditional music with the rock and roll that found its start in America and the UK. Danny Ben-Israel, a native of Tel-Aviv, wasn’t the first Israeli musician to bring rock music to Israel, but he just might be the first to delve into the hippie movement and its psychedelic, drug-fueled aesthetic.

Already a pop star of some repute in his native land, Ben-Israel embarked on a tour of Europe in 1968, from which he learned of various facets of the youth culture of the moment. He returned to Tel-Aviv with new ideas and inspiration, cutting two albums that revealed this new influence, Chantarish 3 ¼ and the music that’s now surfaced on The Kathmandu Sessions. The former, sung in Hebrew, was released and soon vilified by the local media. The latter never even saw the light of day, until now, more 30 years after it was originally made, and while it’s not unlikely that these doped-out jams could have blown some Israeli minds when it was made, the album doesn’t quite seem to be the psychedelic treasure one might imagine. “Katmandu,” the centerpiece of the disc, plods on for more than 13 minutes, with little but irreverent lyrical content, awkwardly spliced edits, and a vague sense of explorative jamming. The reverse tape effects and chanting of “Bad Trip” make up a bit for the preceding track’s more pedestrian sound, and the somewhat gawky, satirical whimsy of “Do You Believe In Fairytales?” follows suit. Ben-Israel and his troupe of like-minded musicians, identified only by their first names, find some fertile ground in the loosely organized jams that make up the second half of the album, buoyed by the insistent, but not overpowering, percussive rhythms and moments of lucid conversation between the guitar and bass. These solo pieces show that when he's working alone, supplying all instrumentation on a track, Ben-Israel shines in a way that the group effort on Katmandu does not.

On The Kathmandu Sessions’ last track, “The Hippies of Today are the Assholes of Tomorrow,” a more dour Ben-Israel, two years removed from the original recording session, reflects on the culture by which he was enraptured only a few years earlier, and makes a statement which, in a sense, sums up much of this disc’s music quite well. “It’s only rock & roll” he says, amid pleas for his Mother to save him from the fate of the older generation, whose counterculture was inevitably assimilated into the status quo. And this statement rings true, though not in the sense that Danny Ben-Israel meant it. The Kathmandu Sessions, in the end, is only rock & roll, sometimes played quite well, and sometimes executed in a forced, labored manner. And while that’s all well and good, it’s hard not to wish for a little something more.

By Adam Strohm

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