I’d like to recommend a CD store, but I don’t know the name. I’d like to Google directions, but I don’t know the address. I’d like to vouch for the store employee, and thank him, but I’m not sure of his name.
I know this: Somewhere up on the hills of Haifa, in Israel, across the street from a park and down the street from some fancy hotels, is the CD store pictured above, where I bought three CDs for 100 shekels (99.99 to be exact). I couldn’t be happier with the CDs, or couldn’t appreciate more the employee who helped me pick them. Toda raba, and then some.
Like most good music stores or taprooms, you walk down some steps to enter. But getting there was only part of the journey.
I spotted the store from the bus on our way to the hotel the day before. Like almost everything commercial in Israel, the store was closed Friday night for Shabbat when we walked past. I was disappointed, but not surprised. “We’ll come back tomorrow,” my wife said. “After dinner.” Tomorrow, we thought. In Haifa.
There were good omens: our tour counselor Yohai (Shalom, Yohai) urged me to return on Saturday, insisting the store would reopen after sundown. Yohai knows his Israel.
Then on our walk toward the store Saturday, we passed a group sitting in the grass with a guitar, a wine-cup, a
candle and full plate of warmth. It was an impromptu Havdalah service by a congregation from Boca Raton, Florida — thousands of miles from their home, where they were just a few hours from ours — and they waved us over to join in.
The Havdalah service concludes with the singing of Shavua Tov, which bestows blessings for a good week to come. Little did I know, I was about to have a good week before it was a few hours old.
It was 9:30 or so when we reached the store. It was open, though you couldn’t tell by the customers or lack thereof — fortuitous because it meant all the one-one-on-one time I needed with the only employee, whose name, best as he could translate, was Ayrile. Or something like that.
I asked him if there was a used or second-hand second section. He said no. I asked if there was a jazz section, and he perked up. “In the back,” he said and then pointed. “”And all the ECM to the right.”
ECM? Hearing those letters in a music store is like hearing Gimmel, Gimmel and Gimmel when it’s your turn at dreidel.
(If it sounds foreign, it’s only because ECM is, based in Munich. Its releases are heavy on but not exclusive to European jazz. Talk about miracles: Havdalah on the street and ECM on the same night?)
I browsed the ECM section — through artists I knew and more that I didn’t (I’m less familiar each decade because I buy less often. My consumerism is as scaled down as a solo concert. Years ago, I splurged twice a month; now it’s closer to twice a year.)
Ayrile, or Ariel, came over — it’s not like he had any other customers to attend to. His English was fair, which is a lot better than my Hebrew. I asked about the only Israeli artists I know: Avashi Cohen (there are two jazz-playing Avashi Cohens: he showed me the one I knew, and the one I didn’t) and Anat Fort. I thanked him and went back to the ECM section.
The ECMs were on sale — three for 100 shekels (99.99, to be exact). I did the math: 3.7, 3.8 shekels to a dollar, rounded up — about $9 an album. I could be off a shekel or two, but for new ECMs, still a bargain.
They were all vintage 2007, 2008, 2009. I found Ralph Towner. A Polish piano player I had never heard of. A couple more artists I had never heard of, whose careers blossomed as I debriefed. I picked a half-dozen, intending to buy three for 100, but the hardest part of any buy is the cutdown (I still remember leaving a Dollar Brand album behind 20 years ago at a store in Melbourne. I’ve never seen it since, and regretted it ever since).
I took two handfuls to the counter and asked for help. I showed Ayrile the Polish piano player I had never heard of. “Amazing,” he said without equivocation as if I had asked about ice cream. “Amazing,” he repeated for emphasis, as if I had asked about coffee ice cream.
He looked at the Towner album. “Ralph Towner, Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette,” he mused. “How bad could it be?,” which was, word for word, what I was thinking.
We walked back to the ECM section. He looked at the album of another artist I had never heard of. “Not bad,” he said. “But he tries too hard to be,” and he paused and waved his hands in front of his face, reaching for esoteric as if it was in the bin next to Avashi Cohen. “Artsy,” he settled for, and I thought it might be the perfect time to add artsy-fartsy to his English vocabulary. “Not like Ornette Coleman who tries so hard,” and isn’t artsy-fartsy. I got it.
I asked about another artist. He frowned. “What about Tord Gustavsen,” he asked. He was right — I had totally passed on Tord. I picked up Tord, added it to the Polish piano player I had never heard of and Ralph Towner, put all the artsy back, paid, thanked Ayrile and asked him to spell his name. Only then did we have trouble communicating.
It’s been a month since the three CDs were purchased, time to come home, listen and remember.
The Polish piano player I had never heard of is Marcin Wasilewski and he’s amazing. If you don’t think so, listen below to his trio’s version of Prince’s Diamonds and Pearls, off the January album Ayrile encouraged me to buy.
The Tord Gustavsen Restored, Returned had a bonus: vocalist Kristin Asbjornsen putting the poetry of W.H. Auden to music.
“O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart”
And Ralph Towner, Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette was a re-release, but how bad could they be? They couldn’t, and aren’t.
I’m not sure if I’m thanking Ayrile properly, or referring to him correctly. I know he knows his ECM. I’m not sure when I’ll be in Haifa again, or if the CD store will even still be there, or if the man behind the counter will be. But I’ll take 100 shekels, and his advice, just in case.