Essen

The confluence of Jewish-American culture, rhythm and blues, jazz, and food may sound like a terrifying New World cultural collision, but Essen (Yiddish for "eat") actually goes down like Katz?s pastrami (i.e., like butter). For the past few years, Paul Shapiro, a New York–based saxophonist with serious new-jazz and R&B credentials, has put a postmodern spin on Jewish musical themes, honoring the past yet never forgetting that over-the-top humor and extroverted theatricality (and culinary obsession) are grand elements of the tradition. Essen turns a loving eye on novelty numbers whose melting-pot origins can be traced to such dizzying sources as the music hall icon Sophie Tucker, jazz singer Mildred Bailey (herself of Native American blood), African-American artists Cab Calloway and the team of Slim and Slam; and the legendary Yiddish comedy duo the Barton Brothers. Shapiro and his multiracial Ribs and Brisket Revue go to town on timeless ditties like ?Matzoh Balls,? ?Tzouris,? and ?A Bee Gezindt,? laying on bluesy vocals, jazzy riffs, funky beats, and madcap interjections as if they were applying crucial mustard and sauerkraut on top of that aforementioned pastrami. What makes the album a delight, apart from the delicious absurdity of much of the material (?dunkin bagels -- splash in the coffee? indeed!) is the balance of top-notch musicianship (hear, for instance, Cilla Owens?s idiomatic command of both Yiddish and blues inflections on ?Mama Goes where Papa Goes?) and lighthearted sensibility. Essen leaves us, yes, hungry for more.

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."