More from Ashkenaz 2014: Forshpil, Geoff Berner
Before memories of this year's Ashkenaz Festival totally dissipate, I wanted to continue my mentions of several notable bands and musicians encountered there.
First up is Forshpil, from Riga, Latvia. Although they performed a couple of traditional klezmer/yiddish sets at the obligatory "Bella Did ya eat?" brunch at the FreeTimes Cafe, the band is much more "rock-klezmer" fusion. In fact, the opening "Volekhl" on their eponymous 2012 CD immediately attracts the ears, sounding like an improbably successful marriage between Hawkwind and traditional klezmer. From there, it's on to a funk-infused "Priv Trink Oys." Despite the quite, gentle rendition of "Di sapozkelekh" or the closing "Dobranotsh," and although there are reggae and jazz influences, the dominant sound is that opening "heavy metal progrock" feel, along with a certain Dick Dale-inspired speed guitar picking, as on "Meyld in di yorn." In this, the band reminds me not a little of "Yiddish Princess." The diversity continues to good effect. Like so much good klezmer-and-more recordings these days, you can get your copy at CDBaby.com, where you can also listen to samples of each of the songs.
Geoff Berner's 2011 "Victory Party" is a different kettle of fish. A long-time stalwart of the Canadian folkie scene, this is his sixth recording. Berner is often compared to Daniel Katz for the social commentary and (in Berner's case, relatively rare) Yiddish or klezmer inflections in his music. You can hear their similarities in songs such as "Laughing Jackie the Pimp" and in a very nicely contextualized "Daloy Polizei," also covered by Kahn (especially timely this year--and now that I think about it, all too often). At the same time, where Kahn both incites to action and expresses an ennui (this, too, will not ultimately change the world), Berner more often seems a bit more of a commentator, distant. His "Mayn rue platz" is less a call to action, than an evocation of sadness. But, we speak of relativity. "I am going to jail / to get a new pair of shoes" ("Jail") pulls few punches, despite its jaunty tune. "Oh my golem" is likewise fairly direct commentary. "Did you really think a perfect god / wants you to burn a goat / or nail the Messiah in place" from "Rabbi Berner finally reveals his true religion" may be gentle, but it's a call to action, nonetheless (smirk included).
In addition to performing at Ashkenaz, Berner was interviewed by DJ SoCalled (who also produced "Victory Party") at the Festival about his relatively recent short novel, Festival Man. Advertised as a hard-hitting satire about the Canadian Folk Festival scene, the book is actually a bit of a fond love poem to same—satire included, and a pleasure to read.