Khevre burns the house down at Zeitgeist, 9/26/04
Every time I go to see Khevre I get that feeling of excitement that I am seeing something very new. I don't mean "new" in the sense that no one has ever played klezmer and Yiddish song with bits of rock and jazz and South American rhythms before. These days, that could describe any mediocre American simkha band. Rather, there is an energy, and a delight in playing together, and specific wonderful compositions (stayed tuned for their CD due out in about two weeks) and amazing talent that makes one feel the way it would have felt to be watching Shirim back when they were young (and the hope that the band will be as good as Shirim when it has been playing for 20 years), or one imagines, perhaps, watching the Jefferson Airplane on the tiny Matrix stage back in 1966 in San Francisco.
Last night's concert by Khevre was the best I have seen by them. Zeitgeist is a tiny club. It seats about 50 people Last night they were sitting in the aisles, standing by the walls, and crowded in from the street listening to the music. Michael Winograd led the band outside, gathered the last-minute cigarette smokers, and led the band into the club playing. (This may sound dramatic, but it occurred to me later that there really wasn't any backstage in which the band could hang out, so what choice but a dramatic entrance?)
With Khevre, the band has so much fun, and plays so well, and makes everything fresh. The old tunes sound new (a lot of the Yiddish repertoire, excluding Yiddish poems set to music by Winograd, could be found in the Theo Bikel songbook, although the band claims that most were learned from diverse sources), and the new tunes are very, very good. Winograd is an excellent clarinet player (last night featured two Bb clarinets: bass and the usual size) and a sophisticated tunesmith. Pianist/accordionist Carmen Staaf is quite extraordinary, as is drummer Richie Barshay who had to make do with a minimalist drum set on the crowded stage. Violinist Eylem Basaldi doesn't quite have the "krechts" down (imho), but she is such an amazing violinist that no one could think of complaining. Bassist Jorge Roeder is likewise incredible, and with Carmen and Richie represents some of the strong Latin roots of the band. New singer Dana Sandler is a treat, and is a prime reason the band's songs sound so fresh and so beautiful.
Part of the pleasure in listening came from the ways in which the band would improvise and stretch some songs a bit out. Some came from the very fresh takes on setting songs. The title track from the forthcoming CD reminded me, conceptually, of the jazz-influenced bluegrass supergroup Wayfaring Strangers (one of Andy Statman's current bluegrass outlets). I also enjoyed the fact that most songs weren't translated. There is a touch of attitude that feels good—"this is our music the way we feel like playing it, singing it. If you understand the words, great. If not, dig the music, but we don't have to explain who we are and we're not going to do it."
The band will be in Queens, NY on October 24th, and then back at Zeitgeist to host a Halloween festival of Jewish bands on October 31st (details to be posted soon). My advice: Don't miss any opportunity to see this band, and get there early because a lot of people are thinking exactly the same thing.