I was unprepared for Pitom. As a result, my initial experience with the band’s debut album in 2008 was one of those exceedingly rare occasions when one’s astonishment is both genuine and pleasant. I remain in awe of the work. It seemed—and still seems—almost impossible that a group of young musicians could create compositions this intense, vibrant and convincing. Practically from start to finish, that first album delivers at a high level and, like the best music, provides rewards and delights with each listen.
When this happens, expectations for the next release are inevitably, if unfairly, elevated. Of course, even a mild disappointment would qualify as a success, particularly compared to so much of the music being made today. It is, then, with satisfaction and gratitude that I confirm Pitom’s Yoshie Fruchter as the type of artist you love to praise, because he makes it easy.
Pitom’s sophomore effort is entitled Blasphemy and Other Serious Crimes. If that sounds a bit heavy, consider that the album is an attempt to grapple, in musical terms, with Yom Kippur (the Jewish day of repentance). Fruchter is an observant Jew, which makes the subject matter and the tone of the proceedings easier to understand. He also has described Pitom’s music as “punkassjewjazz” which should give you an idea of how serious he is about not taking himself too seriously.
Both Pitom albums have been released by John Zorn’s Tzadik label, which features artists like Rashanim, Jamie Saft and Zorn himself, who are able to incorporate jazz and klezmer with punk energy and classical proficiency. The result is a series of recordings that span musical and cultural history, always straining past the contemporary avant-garde. In Pitom’s case, we get rock and roots with tasty smatterings of surf music, thrash and free jazz. Because the line-ups are identical (guitar, bass, drums and violin), the music inexorably recalls Starless and Bible Black-era King Crimson. Few artists, presumably, would be offended by this comparison, and while it seems accurate, Pitom has definitely established a very unique and identifiable sound of its own.
It is obvious that Fruchter is very much a student of all musical genres, so the shifting styles are never abrupt or distracting; indeed, the never-static dynamic gives the songs a restless edge. The guitar, already heavy on the first album, is heavier and a bit darker this time out. There are discernible elements that favorably recall both Mogwai’s purposeful crunch and Joe Satriani’s pyrotechnic shred-fests. Drummer Kevin Zubek and bassist Shanir Blumenkranz are at once a steadying force and the engine that keeps things moving forward and, occasionally, sideways. Violinist Jeremy Brown is much more than an accompaniment for the electric guitar; his playing is both raw and refined, sometimes on the same song. As dominant as the guitar sounds throughout, Brown is constantly embellishing and augmenting. On songs like “A Crisis Of Faith” he is out in front, while the guitar darts and weaves around the melody. Those roles are somewhat reversed on the frenetic “Head In The Ground”.
Unlike the first album, which comes out swinging and makes perfect sense on first listen, this one is more of a grower. You need to give it some time to figure out what is going on, and to appreciate how the ideas and instruments are working to establish a unified statement that reflects on faith and repentance. The first half is not quite as arresting or gratifying as the first half of the debut, but that might say more about how remarkable the other one is than it does about any shortcomings on Blasphemy and Other Serious Crimes. The second half of this album, however, is every bit as inspired and awesome as anything the band has done before. There is an almost entrancing concentration of feeling on songs like “Neilah” and “Azazel”. “Neilah” and “Vox Zogt Ir” bring the ruckus while managing to swing. All of the songs are relatively brief, yet have sufficient time to stretch and explore, and, to be certain, there is often an air of mirth lurking just beneath the surface.
By the end, Blasphemy and Other Serious Crimes is not unlike a good workout, on multiple levels. You should be exhausted by the experience but you mostly feel rejuvenated, aware that something meaningful has happened. There is emotional heft here and a vibe that engages the intellect. This is music that matters. Is it too soon to begin wondering—and anticipating—what Pitom is going to come up with next time out? Stay tuned.