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E-pitom-izing Jewish Rock

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Pitom plays The Skokie Theater on March 26 

E-pitom-izing Jewish Rock photo

Pitom is a Jewish quartet with short beards and long talent. They take their name from the fragile tip of the etrog (that lemon-like fruit used on Succot), but their music is anything but delicate. The band’s most obvious musical influences are grunge, heavy metal, and punk. A closer listen to their arrangements reveals a jazz underpinning, and nods to outré acts like Sun Ra and Zappa.

But they draw their themes from Jewish sources and traditions. For Blasphemy and Other Serious Crimes— their second album for the prestigious Tzadik label— their inspiration was the prayer service for Yom Kippur. Song titles include “Confusion of the Heart,” “Azazel,” and “Neilah.” My favorite was “Head in the Ground,” which should be made the theme to a spy-fi show like Alias.

Alongside their drums, bass, and electric guitar, Pitom sports, of all things, a violin. You know those high-pitched vocals and guitar shreddings you hear in heavy metal? You can make those sounds with a fiddle, too, as it turns out.

The band’s driving force is its guitarist, Yoshie Fruchter. His last name is Yiddish for someone who deals with fruit— perhaps an orchard grower or fruit peddler— so perhaps that’s why his group is named for a Jewish fruit reference.

Yoshie also plays with the klezmer band Yiddish Princess, the Jewish jam band Soulfarm, and Asefa, which is not Jewish but North African. Well, if it were Jewish, it would be Sephardic, so that’s a pretty wide range.

But first, he played in his dad’s Jewish band, then with the band Juez while studying jazz at the University of Maryland. There, he started forming his own bands. Moving to NYC in 2000, he gravitated toward the sounds of Tzadik’s artists, and soon enough recorded for the label himself.

Asked about the violin, Yoshie says he liked “expressive, dynamic” possibilities of a bowed instrument, and the interplay of an acoustic one with his electric. And he felt it would be a further Jewish point of reference.

The album’s gut-wrenching sound is not anger directed at his religion, Fruchter explains. It is the sound of Yom Kippur itself, echoing the agony of self-examination and the torment of facing one’s deeds. He followed the directive of the holiday, he says, which is to delve into the dark, murky, confusing places of one’s soul to gain forgiveness and clarity.

Pitom brings its hard-driving, head-banging sound to The Skokie Theater, 7924 N. Lincoln Avenue, this Saturday night, starting at 8:30. The performance is being presented by KFAR Jewish Arts Center, and you can get tickets at its website.

Tickets are $12, but KFAR is offering a special discount for your readers using promo code OYChicago.
Beatboxer Yuri Lane and Balkan ensemble Black Bear Combo will also be there… will you?

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