The Kurt Weill Project was produced in Los Angeles with Composer/Producer/Keyboardist Chuck Wild (Liquid Mind, Missing Persons, Max Headroom), Composer/Producer Shaun Drew (The Great Dissolve, Rojeh Band), Engineer/Producer Matt Forger (Quincy Jones, Giorgio Moroder, Michael Jackson), and TV/Film Composer Jeff Sudakin (That 70’s Show, 3rd Rock from the Sun).
CD Liner notes and digital booklets contain English translations of the song lyrics. Made possible in part by a grant from the Anna Sosenko Assist Trust in New York City.
When Los Angeles resident and Wilkes-Barre native A.J. Teshin set out to record his first album, he didn’t follow the conventional path. In fact, the album, titled “The Kurt Weill Project,” is probably one of the most unique CDs you’ll ever hear.
It’s sung in three languages.
Its songs offer Teshin’s take on the music of legendary German composer Kurt Weill.
And, rather than more traditional renditions of Weill’s music, Teshin offers what his own record label describes as a “futuristic interpretation” of the work.
“A lot of people see Kurt Weill’s name, and they expect to hear something like a recital — like a voice and piano,” says Teshin, calling from L.A. “There’s that expectation in a lot of people, but what I wanted to do was record this music in a way that nobody had ever, ever, ever dared to, or thought of, or committed to. I didn’t want to do it if I had to do it the way we’ve heard other artists do it.
“I wanted to make something different.”
Teshin has done so, and in a most clever and ambitious way. A press release offered from his label, LML Music, aptly describes Teshin’s fine vocals as “soaring through soundscapes of symphonic instrumentation, electric guitars, lush choral singing and quietly undulating loops” and that he “earnestly gender-bends the text and drama of familiar Weill pieces to uncover new themes of prostitution, anti-war rage, murder, drug addiction and heavenly redemption.” It adds that his “all-new, hyper-stylized orchestrations depict a gothic and pan-sexual universe where shock and alienation of Weill’s original work is given new meaning, this time for the digital age.”
Sound like there’s a lot happening on this record?
And Teshin is confident there’s an audience for it.
“It still seems a little esoteric, nowadays,” he says. “The subject matter and the tonality of the music have universal appeal but also seem very foreign to a lot of other people. Yet there’s defiantly a niche for this kind of music.”
Teshin, a graduate of Meyers High School, attended the Hartt School of Music and the Boston Conservatory. He holds a degree in musical theater but says that by his senior year he realized he didn’t want to work on Broadway and later moved to Los Angeles. At first, he mainly pursued a career in acting, but after making some new friends and professional contacts in the city and spending some time in recording studios, he began to get more involved in music. He says he became a fan of Weill while in college and was impressed by his body of work, which ranged from theatrical presentations to opera and ballet.
“His music is really interesting, because the catalog is so vast,” says Teshin. “He’s written for so many different genres. When I was studying musicals, I came across some of the works he had composed for the Broadway stage, and it just always felt really good to sing his music. It seemed that a lot of his music would really benefit from being made into pop music, with some digital elements and drum loops and a very electronic kind of feel. That’s what led me to Kurt Weill.”
Some of the biggest names in music have also been drawn to Weill. The song “Mack The Knife,” of which Weill composed the music, became a jazz standard and was made famous by singers such as Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin and Frank Sinatra. Simon Cowell of “American Idol” fame has called it the best song ever written. Rock legends The Doors recorded Weill’s “The Alabama Song,” and artists such as Tom Waits, Lou Reed, Sting and Elvis Costello have all appeared on tribute albums to Weill.
Teshin, who produced “The Kurt Weill Project” himself, had some assistance from several L.A. composers and producers, including his friend Chuck Wild, who has worked as a sound designer with Michael Jackson and was a member of the ’80s band Missing Persons, a New Wave/electronic pop group that scored several international hits and were favorites on MTV.
Though the songs on “The Kurt Weill Project” are sung in English, German and French, Teshin says that when people listen to the music and read the lyrics and translations that accompany the album, its message should easily become clear.
“The music does sound a little different,” he says. “But there’s something overriding it. There’s a beauty and a real interesting philosophy behind a lot of the music that has to do with never letting go of your dreams and being true to yourself.”
— Rob Lester, www.talkinbroadway.com
“There have been numerous collections of Kurt Weill songs, often concentrating on the darkest and/or best-known songs, with an ambience that is heavy and brooding and, well, very German. This one is different from the run-of-the-milieu and on many tracks tries something some will find risky, some will find sacrilegious or disrespectful, and still others will find exciting and adventurous. After several listens, I'm pretty much in the last group: at first it caught my ear just by its novelty, but it's kept my attention by remaining pretty captivating. It also wins points for taking risks, bringing a new slant to the familiar, and including less familiar songs. The expected usual suspects like "September Song" and "Mack the Knife" and "Pirate Jenny" are nowhere to be found.
So who is this A.J. Teshin? He's been in a few films and music videos, and he sings in Los Angeles Choral Artists, a 25-voice classical choral ensemble. His tenor voice sounds haunting (or haunted), arresting, and, depending on the choice and needs of a song, either very vulnerable or vital and vigorous. The soothing, pretty qualities and crooning style help bring out the melodic and tender or melancholy side of Weill. The sense of high drama he's capable of unleashing suit the forcefulness of the often double-punch and intense sense that's inherent in this composer's work, as Broadway-goers were recently reminded of in the biographical show LoveMusik. The daunting, haunting opening number, "Lonely House," combines many of these elements and is so eerie it perhaps would not be out of place at your Halloween party this month to create atmosphere of a haunted (and "lonely") house.
In addition to the voice, and sometimes upstaging it, are the musical arrangements which bring modern technology and recording to the Weill canon, employing some techno/electronic sound elements, echoes, sound effects, etc. He arranged and produced the album himself. Is it a dream or a nightmare? Ethereal or too heavy-handed? Opinions will vary and the purist should be forewarned. It isn't until the final track of the 12, "It Never Was You," that the special effects and choir effects, electrical this and that, bells tolling and knelling, bells and whistles disappear into the mist and we're left alone with a man and a piano. It's gorgeous, and proves beyond a doubt A.J. doesn't need all the extras and trimmings to fascinate and captivate. One of the more bizarre and busy tracks and prime candidates for hellish spookdom is the shortest, "Arbeiterlied," just under a minute in length.
A.J.'s website mentions a theatre credit quite far afield from any Threepenny Opera type singing. In the musical Henry and Hyde in California, he played Hyde, a man confronted by his alter-ego (or rather alter-id), a singing and dancing phallus played by the other lead actor. By evidence of this recording, his talents should be able to take him to a wide range of projects beyond this Kurt Weill Project and have his stage chops tested beyond testes-related stories. In addition to more often recorded material like "Speak Low" (done nicely, with some refreshing phrasing and more on its mind that just romantic rhapsodizing reveries), there are some pieces with French lyrics ("Je ne t'aime pas," "Le train du Ciel," "Complainte de la Seine")as well as a bit of, of course, German ("Nanna's Lied"). Fun fact for theatre buffs of a later decade: in the rendition of "The Ballad of the Soldier's Wife," where the lyric refers to a hat for said military spouse, A.J. tips his hat to Company by inserting its memorable quip, "Does anyone still wear a hat?"
If you're searching for this album, Mr. Teshin's The Kurt Weill Project should not be confused with a group called The Kurt Weill Project who also recorded an album of the composer's material with a jazz twist that was reviewed in this column earlier this year. Both are worth the seeking and finding if you have a taste for the unusual treatment that can still, in unique ways, still capture and respect the source material.”
— GEORGE ROBINSON
“A.J. Teshin: “The Kurt Weill Project” (LML Music). A.J. Teshin has one of those gloriously pure high tenor voices that could break your heart singing “Pop Goes the Weasel.” It’s the voice that Michael Feinstein thinks he has. And when you apply that voice to the best Kurt Weill ballads the results are meltingly lovely. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Teshin felt he had to do something to modernize Weill for a contemporary audience and as the producer of the CD he went a little overboard, adding dance beats, sound effects and the occasional unnecessary aside. If you can mentally strip away all the added paraphernalia and just listen to Teshin sing, you’ll be rewarded by some very fine interpretations of Weill. For his next album, I’d like to hear him with a simple piano trio. Rating: 3 stars. To hear some of the album or to purchase it, go to www.ajteshin.com.”
American singer A. J. Teshin was born and raised in Northeastern Pennsylvania. After studying voice at the Hartt School of Music and earning a BFA in musical theatre from the Boston Conservatory of Music, he moved to Los Angeles, where…