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February 12, 2012 3:51 pm

The Multi-Talented Lily Henley

avatar by Maxine Dovere

Lily Henley. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

In a setting reminiscent of a small café, the Manhattan JCC became the backdrop for the music of Lily Henley Wednesday. Henley and her band wove together the threads of Hebrew, Ladino, and American folk – with just a bit of scat-like singing to create an all too short evening of song and sound.

Henley, an Israeli who has lived in London, studied in Boston (at the New England Conservatory) and now resides in New York – is a classically trained “fiddler” who arrives on the JCC “stage” in red shoes, leading her all-strings band of four. They tune, producing sounds that bring to mind a classical orchestra’s first resonances – And, then she sings.

With a turn to a classic Ladino reference, Henley’s voice is exceptional, clear and rich with the tradition. She segways to a traditional Hebrew folk melody: she could be singing under the stars from the tower of a mid-century kibbutz.

At several points in the program, Henley becomes her own accompanist. As the ephemeral notes of Two Eagles, another of her compositions- wafts across the auditorium; one can almost hear soft winds blowing across the plains. Henley’s travels between musical cultures are eminently smooth. As the deep vibrating sounds of the bass fiddle introduces The Hummingbird “my second song” says the singer – one almost hears the echoes of a young Judy Collins.

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Returning to her Modern Hebrew song, her level of comfort is audible. Home is home. In My Time is a song of personal experience, recounting the death of a young musician. Emotions are close to surface as she sings of mourning and exaltation. Henley shines in a composition inter twining “scat” and folk styles, composed with the band’s guitarist Jordan Tice.

Tuning to Ladino (and a bit of Turkish) with Pink Rose, the band creates a well formed and wonderfully unified harmony. The voice of the fiddle forms an almost human element during Henley’s rendition. A bit of fun follows as Henley re-tunes her instrument, plucking the strings in a banjo like presentation. Hebrew is the language of her closing numbers – a Debka true enough to provoke an imagination of camels moving slowly across the Arava. The music is the motion, a crescendo of sound and speed and spirit.

The recording of her first album is set for this spring, after which she promises a touring schedule. Listen for Lily Henley…And look for those red shoes!

The Lily Henley Band. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

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