Psoy Korolenko celebrated his birthday in grand style at The Zone in Tel Aviv! Scholar of Russian Literature, songwriter and mesmerizing performer, Korolenko is an embodiment of contrasts, with an edgy wit, uninhibited physicality dancing like a bearded psychedelic ballerina, embracing skepticism and poignant evocation of Jewish spirituality all in one great bear hug, eyes flashing with black fire and a spark of mischief.
It was a night of many celebrations, including the launch of a new album – Equine, Canine, Soldier, Whore, recorded with a new ensemble, The Israelifts (Gershon Leizerson, Yaniv Taichman, Eli Preminger, Regev Baruch). Songs of Jewish soldiers, traditional tunes and folk lyrics, with Gershon Leizerson composing new music to several songs, and a Jewish Gothic lyric by none other than poet Itzik Manger thrown into the mix to reveal just how unexpected and strangely rich Jewish music can be.
The evening began with Psoy Korolenko (the stage name of Pavel Lion) performing solo, singing his original songs and accompanying himself on keyboards. Although the songs were mostly in Russian, there is something about Korolenko that communicates beyond language. Between songs, he often spoke to the audience (who packed the vast and wonderful space of The Zone to full capacity) in English, tossing off biting commentary in a breezy, warm, manner: “Many people would sooner die than think. In fact, they do.” He also included a cover of Si Kahn’s beautiful Crossing the Border, as well as the piercing poetry of Psalms – Who is the Man (Mi Ha’ish).
Korolenko was then joined by Igor Krutogolov, who plays the guitar like a violin, with a bow, eliciting sounds that one would not think a guitar could create. The two ventured far into a free jazz universe. Then came the performance of the album, with its invigorating arrangements and merging of sounds and genres, featuring oud (Yaniv Taichman), electric guitar, rock beats (Regev Baruch) and Middle Eastern arabesques. Krutogolov turning a saw into gold, jazzy trumpet solos (Eli Preminger), and a cover of Leadbelly’s Mr. Hitler were just part of the fun.
Three hours into the music marathon, at the point where all hell break loose, that is the time for Oy Division. There are no words to describe the bizarre and compelling enchantment that takes place when Psoy Korolenko and Oy Division share the stage. Happily, there are the dazzling photographs of Muperphoto.