Cleveland - Eastern European music nirvana
Spent much of yesterday touring around Cleveland with Steven Greenman. We had a great time at the West Side Market, then walked the beach on the east side. In between we passed over the Mordor Bridge a couple of times, caught sight of the Rock and Roll Museum (but had no time nor sufficient boredom to enter) and assorted ballparks. In the evening we repaired to Hiram, OH, where Steven's main group, Harmonia, was to appear at the local college. I've known Steven for over a decade, and I've know the Harmonia band-leader Walt Mahovlich almost as long, but this was the first time I saw the full band, complete with singer, Beata, plus flute player Andrei, Mr. Bass, and the fabulous Alex Fedoriuk on cymbalom. What an amazing group! (You can view photos from my entire trip, including the rest of the soundcheck, on Flickr.
Harmonia, with Beata on board, reminds me a lot of the Hungarian band, Muzsicás—amazing, non-brass-centric, music from Eastern/Central Europe. Beata's voice is a revelation. It is very much worth getting their CD, Music of Eastern Europe. Walt took us on a tour of various ethnic song and dance styles, with a dance group of Hungarian Scouts providing frequent accompaniment.
In a way, seeing this music on the concert stage reminded me of the contradiction faced by klezmer bands--how to represent a folk tradition on the concert stage. The sad difference, however, is that the music Harmonia is playing represents living traditions. At best, klezmer bands, especially when appearing with folk dance instructors, are helping to recreate an older tradition and return it to the world of modern evolving traditions. (At worst, klezmer is heard as some sort of nostalgia for a world never experienced by the ancestors of many American Jews, but which we all imagine must have existed in some personal, remote, Anatevka.)
Better than all of this, Harmonia is just an excellent, exciting band that swings wildly. I already knew Alex's playing from his cymbalom CDs. Steven is justifiably famous as one of the foremost klezmer fiddlers. Walt I have heard in several contexts over the years and he is always exciting. The rest of the band—and their interplay, was the exciting revelation.
Tonight Steven, Alex, and Walt appear at Temple Tifereth Israel as part of "Klezmerpalooza" with Yiddishe Cup and other fine bands. If you are in the Cleveland Area, I recommend that you stop on by. Music starts at 7pm.