For more information:
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The Klezmer Shack directory of articles
Klezmer from the Weblogs, 2001
This is what I wrote and first put on the main KlezmerShack page in 2001. Towards the end of the year, I started up the "klezmershack news service", and in 2002, that will probably become it's own item. If all goes well, the KlezmerShack redesign, now about five years in the making, will happen over the next few months. In the meantime, this is what I had to say this year about klezmer music and related subjects:
30 Dec '01: Well, I guess these will be the last reviews posted for 2001. Stay tuned for what I think will be an interesting "State of Klezmer" article and the Best of 2001. In the meantime, here are eleven new recordings, all of them deserving of "A"s on their recording report cards--a situation that has already encouraged one reader to suggest that the KlezmerShack uses a Harvard-style grading system. Heh. The KlezmerShack--the Harvard of Cyberspace! Enjoy.
25 Dec '01: The other night I was getting ready to watch a performance of a new bluegrass band, "Wayfaring Strangers" which features Andy Statman, along with bluegrass luminaries less known to the klezmer scene. (The band is pretty darn amazing, by the way--I ended up describing them to a friend as "the Brave Old World of bluegrass.") So, a friend of a friend comes by, and he has written a couple of songs on the album and we invite him to sit with us. His name is Marc Simos. We get to talking, doing the bluegrass version of Jewish geography, and sure enough, he, was in an early klezmer band in LA some 20 or 30 years ago, with Stu Brotman and a couple of other familiar names. Then he got into software. Now he's a songwriter who spends the odd week in Nashville. It's a small world.
The preceding paragraph is by way of introduction to a splendid new release by violinist Sandra Layman. Way back in the early days of the klezmer revival, Layman played brilliant violin with the first klezmer band in the area: the Mazel Tov Klezmer Band, and a wild, wonderful variety of Romanian, Balkan, Greek, Turkish and related music before heading off with some grants to study in Romania, where she stayed for many years. Now, she has gone through a wealth of incredible live recordings from that period, 1982-1985 and put together a stunning, amazing, virtuosic weave of astounding music, now available as "Little Blackbird". I will run out of superlatives long before your ears will tire of the music. Trust me. Klezmer collectors will find the collaborations with Joel Rubin and Lisa Rose of special interest, but mostly this album is for music listeners--those of us who love exquisitely-played klezmer not only because it sounds great, but because we love the whole panoply of Eastern/Central European sounds represented on this album. In its way, the album represents not just early klezmer revival recordings, but the whole soup of those musics being played by groups as diverse as NAMA to the Sarajevo Folk Ensemble (whoops! They changed their name and became the Klezmorim). I am also pleased to note that Layman has lately been heard concertizing with the likes of Lev Liberman (of Klezmorim fame) and Yankl Falk (OOMPH, Di Naye Kapelye)--not to mention Cathie Whitesides and friends and other exemplars of amazing European folk dancing traditions. Contemporary recordings are to be expected in due time. In the meantime, it is an intense pleasure to have this recording. For more info and for sound clips, consult her website, www.cdbaby.com/cd/layman.
8 Dec '01: From Ellie Shapiro, of the Berkeley-Richmond Jewish Community Center, in the San Francisco Bay Area, comes word of the first recording of Arkady Gendler, now 80, who was born in the Bessarabian city of Sorok. The recording, including a previously unknown verse to "Tumbalalaika" and a previously unknown song by Itzik Manger, reflects the powerful history of his generation, as well as his own warmth, wit and humor. The recording is accompanied by notes by Mark Slobin and Michael Alpert, and by transcriptions, translations and transliterations by Jeanette Lewicki. His rich, sonorous voice comes from a bottomless well of neshoma, perfectly complimented by the accordion accompaniment of Jeanette Lewicki of the San Francisco Klezmer Experience. The BRJCC is home to one of the longest-running and most diverse Jewish music festivals (each spring), so the voice that caused them to finally create a CD must be both significant and worth listening to. I'll know more when my own copy arrives!
There has been some excellent writing about Klezmer Music in recent years. Prompted in part by the guilt I feel at reading Ruth Gruber's new and excellent "Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe" I have caught up a bit by writing about recent books by Henry Sapoznik, Seth Rogovoy, and Mark Slobin.
7 Dec '01: With Hanukah starting Sunday night, George Robinson steps into the breach and offers his picks of great albums for 2001. We picked up one selection, "Bang on a Can" and managed to bring smiles to our 16-year-old and to our own ears. There are an even dozen very, very nice suggestions.
1 Dec '01: The new reviews just don't stop. Here are the latest, including Di Naye Kapelye and Klezmer en Buenos Aires. I've reorganized a few elements on the main page. If you like (and even more so, if you don't like, let me know.
27 Nov '01: I've created an RSS file as the first phase of creating an XML news feed devoted to klezmer, other Jewish music, and other folk music of interest. Over the next few months there will (God willing, and real life permitting) be lots of new usability features as I start putting a new design into place. Stay tuned. And now, back to klez....
... Or, back to Jewish music. Dr. Judith Cohen, the reigning Sephardic music authority on the Jewish-music mailing list, has updated her bibliography of Sephardic music. For those who would rather explore another side of Jewish music, here's a new list just in time for Chanuka.
25 Nov '01: Chanuka is only a couple of weeks away, so I have gathered comments about great Chanuka albums posted over the years to the Jewish Music mailing list and added mention of last year's wonderful recording of "The Golden Dreydl" by Shirim Klezmer Orchestra and Sound and Spirit host, Ellen Kushner. Oh, right, the great Chanuka albums? You can join the Jewish-Music mailing list to add your own comments, too.
11 Nov '01: I've caught up on a few of the best CDs from the last few months, including a couple of Moshe Berlin albums that I brought back from Israel this summer. I'll be writing about more of his recordings over time. But here are also excellent music by Doina Klezmer, Hasidic New Wave, Pete Rushefsky and Elie Rosenblatt, and more.
1 Nov '01: From: "Stanislav Rayko" firstname.lastname@example.org
27 Oct '01: The Moscow Jewish Choir is now on tour in the United States. It sounds like something very special, so make plans to see them if you get a chance. In a couple of weeks, there will also be a panel in Berlin marking the release of Beyond Recall ... A record of Jewish musical life in Nazi Berlin, 1933 - 1938. And, thinking of Jewish music, Judith Pinnolis, who runs the Jewish Music WebCenter, found a site that demos on the web (and sells on CD) an amazingly useful, synthesizer-based Torah chanting tool. You can adjust the pitch and speed. Pick your Torah portion, and follow along with or without trup (the music markers). Visit the site at "Max Synagogue" (name derived from Max Headroom?).
My favorite Argentinian klezmorim (okay, both the only Argentinian klezmorim I know, and extraordinary musicians, period), Lerner and Moguilevsky, aka "Klezmer en Buenos Aires", have released a third CD, Shtil. Details as we have them. They'll also be on a UK tour (10 to 17 of November) and after to the Klez Fest of Munich (18 to 21). If they come to a place near you, do catch them. They play a blend of Argentinian Jazz and Klezmer and Yiddish music with passion and inventiveness and amazing musicality. I've never found anyone who saw them live who wasn't blown away. Their CDs are pretty damn good, too.
21 Oct '01: Lest it be thought that this site caters only to klezmer, we have a lovely review by Cantor Sam Weiss about Israeli singer, Shirona, who has contributed new melodies and soul to several frequently-sun prayers in the Jewish liturgy. It's appropriate, on a day when my mind is elsewhere than klezmer, to note that columnist George Robinson's latest article is a remembrance of the late violinist Isaac Stern.
Of less urgency, but no less importance, Stacy Phillips writes: "My Klezmer Collection book is listed on your site. I have made corrections to the Bb edition. I want to make them available to your subscribers. Could you mention that if anyone sends me a business size SASE, I will send them the list of corrections. They can also just e-mail me and I'll be glad to e-mail corrections back." E-mail Stacy, or send the SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) directly to: Stacy Phillips, 644 Whalley Avenue, New Haven, CT 06511.
30 Sep '01:In honor of the new Jewish year (5762, but who's counting?), we have the latest column on Jewish music by Jewish Week reviewer, George Robinson, "Sounds for the new Jewish Year". For those who are in New York City today, there will be a wonderful benefit performed by Yiddish and Klezmer All-Stars at the Tonic. Attendance will be rewarding, and you will reward victims of the 9/11 atrocity. Finally, there are some new music fake books, including a wonderful set from the repertoire of the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band.
14 Sep '01: Catching up on the summer e-mail, I am really pleased to note that one of my favorite early klezmer revival albums, Maxwell Street's first album, now titled "Sweet Early Years," is available from the band for a modest fee. The band is still chugging along, holding festivals and teach-ins, as well as the usual weddings and concerts, and playing up a joyous storm. This is a good recording, and if you haven't heard it yet, it's a nice CD to get while waiting for an overdue new one from the band.
10 Sep '01: It's been a wonderful month of weddings. For me, these have ranged from the very Orthodox to yesterday's more familiar Contradance/Klezmer potluck. Consider that my main complaint about post-klezmer revival non-Orthodox weddings is that no one knows any dance steps beyond the hora. Yesterday's wedding, at which Rochester's famed 12 Corners Klezmer Band played, showed how easy it is to do better. Maybe when a band is this good at weddings, it just looks this easy! In all events, it occurred to me that it wasn't just the band: It was having a dance leader as fluid and good as Roey Mendel that made the difference between a wedding and a simkha (a very, very joyous occassion).
Because this was a wedding, she couldn't do formal dance instruction as might be done at a concert or a public dance. Instead, she led by example, working with the band. She and a partner (I think she started with the groom, who followed as he learned, too) would demonstrate steps and help get the crowd trying them out. Once enough people were trying the steps, she would circle the periphery handing out tambourines and bells to those watching, so that everyone became an active part of the dancing, feet moving forward or not.
But, these weren't just new individual dance steps. Instead, she focused on a very few, but new-to-most-wedding-participants sher variations which encouraged dance couples. This was an entirely new way of Jewish dancing for many, and was a lot of fun. (It was especially exciting for me, because I was at the KlezKanada session where she learned a couple of them. Haven't had a chance to dance them until yesterday--further impetus for this long piece today.)
During one of the breaks (Scottish dancers took over at one point to accomodate the contradance side of the union), we talked a bit about how much energy she put into the dancing, and how well people responded--and how quickly! She said that the band got gigs from all over upstate New York, from colleges to simchas, and that they were now doing a very pleasing amount of international folk dance or folk music fests.
At the college events, she will go to a college dance class ahead of the event, and her husband, Rob Mendel (12 Corners band leader), will go to the music class. Each will teach about the music and history such that by the time the live dance took place, there are a core group of people who are ready. (This is also similar to what happens at KlezKamp, or at KlezKanada.) She said that non-Jews, especially those aware of other folk traditions, be they African or European or whatever, take to the dancing quickly, whereas sometimes the Jewish students would be hesitant. Figures, of course, To outsiders, this is just a fun dance tradition, like Balkan or Scandinavian or Afro-Caribbean dance. To the Jewish students, first they have to figure out that this isn't Israeli dancing (which is often far more choreographed and complex), and second, many have to get through whatever (most often) bad Jewish educational experiences they've associated with "Jewish" or alleged "Jewish fun" growing up.
On the other hand, her description of working with bar mitzvah celebrants was hilarious. Rather than deal with a boy-girl dynamic that, around age 13 can be a bit tricky, she has boys dance with boys, girls dance with girls--puts up a virtual mechitsa. (A mechitsa is the barrier in Orthodox synagogues that separates men and women). The kids love it! Even I, who have great problems with the idea of a mechitsa in adult situations (although it hasn't stopped Orthodox weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs from being a gas) can see how much fun it must be for kids. 12 Corners, of course, plays Orthodox events, too, but at those events I would imagine that much less instruction is needed. Roey said that Jewish day schools often (always?) use dance, rather than the usual variety of sport, for girl's exercise. No wonderful the girls at an Orthodox bar/bat mitzvah do such amazing synchronized dancing! (*This connection made in fun and admiration. It is not intended as a necessarily accurate presentation of cause and effect.)
Anyway, it was nice to experience in person something that I have advocated for years, and to experience it as led by someone who is really, really good. I will, therefore, continue to stress that klezmer bands that play for any groups that aren't necessarily aware of the wealth of Eastern European Jewish dance traditions benefit mightily from having a dance instructor who can work dynamically with the wedding guests, coaching, guiding, teaching, and even, when all else fails, passing out the noisemakers! If you're near enough to Rochester, NY (and Boston, MA is clearly near enough), hiring 12 Corners is a great start. (It gets you the delightful Pete Rushefsky on tsimbl for the quieter parts of the wedding, too.) If this goes on long enough, even I, Mr. Arhythmic-two-right-feet, will remember enough steps to teach.
Tonight, I attend another Orthodox wedding. In this case, I don't think dance instruction will be needed, and the dance variations by the yeshiva bokhers trying to amuse bride and groom, will be wonderful and fantastic. When all branches of Judaism make dancing as much a way of life as it is among Orthodox Jews, much will be improved! (And face it, wouldn't you rather dance to klezmer and modern variants, then "Yeshivish", that odd modern Orthodox pastiche of American pop culture set to numbingly pious lyrics?)
9 Sep '01:Continuing with a string of forthcoming album announcements, Naftule's Dream, these pages home Boston band, has recently returned from a European tour. Their third recording, "Job" will be released this fall on John Zorn's Tzadik label. Based on what we've heard in recent performances, it's even better than the absolutely phenomenal first two releases. ND accordionist Michael McLaughlin just won the Mass Cultural Council Grant for Music Composition. And the indefatigable Texan, Mark Rubin, just back from touring with Frank London's Shikere Kapelye (new website at www.franklondon.com), writes to say that he has a new release coming, "Hill Country Hannuka", "a lil' something" he released from a radio broadcast featuring a pretty broad range of Jewish performers in Austin. Happy days are here and Bob Wills will rise again.
Somewhere in here I should also mention Stefan Bauer's German Klezmer pages, which look like they've got as much material as the KlezmerShack, except that it's all in German and they do a much nicer job of providing graphics and thinking about aesthetic layout. I am inspired to get moving on the KlezmerShack redesign (yeah, as soon as I catch up, etc., etc.) But you don't have to wait. If you read German, visit the German Virtual Klezmer at www.klezmer.de.
3 Sep '01:As I begin to catch up, the first priority is Helen Winkler's Jewish music and Jewish dance bibliography from yizkir bikher--memorial books written after the Holocaust to commemorate communities that were destroyed, as available on the web.
Having said that, let me move on to albums announced. Chava Alberstein, for instance, the Israeli folk-singer who recorded The Well with the Klezmatics, is releasing a new album this fall called "Foreign Letters." It will be her first (possibly anyone's first) album featuring songs in Yiddish, Hebrew, and English. If you've followed the Israeli language and cultural wars (Hebrew vs. Yiddish, esp.), then you will understand how significant this is. Of course, if you've heard Ms. Alberstein in concert, you know that she has been mixing culture and music from all Jewish cultures for many years. This album is just bringing some of that mix together in one place. It (her new album) should be quite hot. For more on Alberstein, tour dates, and the new album, see her website at www.aviv2.com/chava/.
Di Naye Kapelye, masters of hot nineteen century European Jewish dance music (which used to be the only kind of klezmer), have announced the release of a new album as well. E-mail from bandleader Bob Cohen recounts: "The new CD contains a lot of material we recorded last year, but then I didn't like the recording so I dumped it - and so luckily we have a year of playing this stuff under our belt when we hit the studio this summer with Jack Falk. But the magic is the participation of two members of Muzsikas - fiddler Mihaly Sipos and kontra player Peter Eri - who helped out on several Jewish numbers from Maramures collected by Christina Crowder over the last few years. Mihaly Sipos also stepped in as studio producer, making things much easier and productive, and I find the result extremely satisfying - which I rarely say after coming out of a studio. We have some classic old style klez, moldavian "Jew Dances" (actually Reb Dovidl's tune) with kobza and fiddle, several takes on Maramures Jewish music (from a reconstruction of the 1930s Jewish Shugareni Band of Rozavelea to more modern styles of band accompaniment) a turkified take on Meron klez tunes, great accordion and cimbalom stuff, and a couple of Prince Nazaroff tunes to boot." Look for it this fall, I hope! The dancing bear, however, had previous commitments.
Meron tunes? Did we mention Meron tunes? I'm still not ready to talk about my wonderful afternoon talking with Israeli Klezmer Moshe (Musa) Berlin, the man regarded by Giora Feidman as his klezmer teacher, and the person generally considered to be the inheritor of that collection of Jewish melodies known as the Meron tunes. Get ready. Know that some of Berlin's music is available from Tara Music, www.tara.com, including his incomparable recordings of Shlomo Carlebach music - a new tradition added to the old.
25 Aug '01: Having just come back from Israel, and having just had a long, wonderful talk with Moshe Berlin, this update should be about Berlin's klezmer and the Meron tunes. Instead, I haven't had time to think, but do want to tell people about an interesting NPR show called "Jews and Blues" (stage.wbur.org/special/jewsandblues/) that aired this past week and again this morning. Reporter Michael Goldfarb's attempt to grapple with the flow between black and Jewish music in the United States, especially during the first half of the 20th century is interesting, and respects the situation enough not to answer what it can't. I wish the website had a print bibliography, as there have been some interesting books on the subject, but this is still a reasonable, thought-provoking hour. Was there a back and forth between black and Jewish musicians? Did Jews appropriate black music? How does this all fit in the messy political and cultural history of both groups, or of America as a whole. No answers here, but some well-done questions, and some well-presented, varied points of view. As might be expected in a WBUR (Boston) production, Hankus Netsky and Don Byron are tapped for a considerable portion of the sound bytes, but there are some interesting other voices, as well.
19 Jun '01: Just a quick note to mention Matt Temkin's lovely article on four classic Rudy Tepel and His Orchestra rereleases, originally recorded in the 1960s. Two are entirely instrumental music and two include a Bobover Choir directed by Velvel Pasternak, now of Tara Music.
18 Jun '01: I have posted several new articles this week. Although, there are several reviews pending for which I am responsible, there is a considerable body of work by other people of interest to KlezmerShack readers that I wanted to make accessible first. Number one on this list is news of the passing of "Romanian Yiddish writer, folklorist, and former director of the Iasi Yiddish Theater, Itsik Svarts [who] died on May 27th, 2001, in Iasi, Romania. He was 95 years old." Both Bob Cohen and Itzik Gottesman have contributed memories of Mr. Svarts.
And, finally for the moment, I have added the two most recent articles by music columnist George Robinson. We have additional columns that will be going online shortly. In the meantime, please enjoy this month's feature on "Shabbat, for Learners" and the most recent Jewish music roundup, ranging "From Liturgical Rock to the Postmodern".
It's late notice, but we have received a message forwarded to us from the Yiddish Radio Project, and are pleased to make the information available on the page reserved for reader stories. And finally, do take a look at the revised "Klezwords" page and let me know what you think. I'm always eager for additional links to online resources, or items for the print bibliography. In fact, if you read down to the bottom of the page, you'll also come across my own, two paragraph contribution to Klezmer fiction. Enjoy!
10 Jun '01:Did I mention that the "Mikveh" album is out? I'm trying to write about it, but so far, "For a few minutes I have a sense of music so tightly packed that I don't know whether to sit back and enjoy the amazing harmonies and melodies, or somehow hold myself from being pulled inside, into layers and layers of meaning and music and hope and spirituality and then, once again, dancing as at a wedding, just simple joy ... as if joy were ever so simple, so joyous. This is music as revelation." It's in record stores as I type. www.yiddishmusicians.com/mikveh.htm.9 Jun '01: I have some updates on the "Wandering Jews" who are going to be traveling the United States this summer. See the "mailto" page. In addition, I'd like to mention some new articles referenced on the "Klezmer Words" page: Alan Bern has provided an article he wrote about the transition "From Klezmer to New Jewish Music" with Brave Old World. Pete Rushefsky has reviewed the wonderful rerelease of "The Ultimate Klezmer," perhaps, the ultimate klezmer fake book. Dr. Claude Wainstain has written what appears to be a thoughtful, short article on Yankiel the Cymbalist for the French readers among us. And, lest we forget, we now have a permanent address for Yiddishe Cup bandleader Bert Stratton reveals all in "Where Klezmer Meets Corn,".
Finally, one of my favorite authors and academics, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett reports that there is a huge, special, Jewish Dance double-issue of the Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Review, Vol. 20, nos. 1-2 2000, guest edited by Judith Brin-Ingber, which has just appeared. It is a substantial issue, at 208 pages. To order: Please send a check or money order payable to: American Folklore Society $20 (international purchases, add $5) including postage and handling. Mail to: American Folklore Society, Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Section American Anthropological Association 4350 N. Fairfax Dr., Suite 640 Arlington, VA 22203 (703) 528-1902 Fax (703) 528-3546. www.aaanet.org. For more information on the Jewish Folklore and Ethnology section of the American Folklore Society, contact Simon Bronner at email@example.com. To join the Jewish Folklore and Ethnology listserv for free, subscribe at firstname.lastname@example.org
22 May '01:Last week I finally received the new Josh Waletzky album, "Crossing the Shadows". It's taken this long to take time out from listening to actually work at the computer and write about it. Waletzky has written contemporary, beautiful Yiddish songs, set to crisp, wonderful, melodies. I love his voice. And between his piano, and two of my favorite all-around klezmorim, Jeff Warschauer (mandolin, guitar) and Deborah Strauss (violin), the music is just perfect. It reminds me a lot of what Chava Alberstein did with the Klezmatics on the Well, but here, the music is quieter, and they are Josh's songs--he's not interpreting someone else's poetry. The subjects range from the usual quotidien songs to titles remembering the Holocaust, about the hope for peace in Ireland, mourning the assassination of Rabin. Waletzky also weaves traditional snippets into the songs, creating a continuity with the past, both thematic and musical. He's good. A great fan of Waletzky's videography ("Image Before My Eyes," "Partisans of Vilna," "In the Fiddler's House") that I forget sometimes that he was a founding member of Kapelye, and that he wrote some of the first original compositions of the Klezmer Revival (e.g., "Wissotsky's Tea, on KCB's "A Touch of Klez in the Night" album). I am more involved than usual on this particular recording. When I heard the first previews, I begged to be allowed to set the type, so if there are typos, for once, I'm to blame and no one else. To find out more, and to get your copy, visit the CD website, www.crossingtheshadows.com
3 May '01: An interesting letter arrived this week from a student who is going to travel around North America this summer, apparently busking playing Klezmer. This, of course, is music to my ears! The entire letter, with an itinerary, is on a page that has been relatively inactive in recent years, the home of personal klezmer narratives, the "mailto" page. Please consider this an invitation to write in from wherever you are about the music you are making or hearing and share it with others.
29 Apr '01: Every so often one is treated to the extraordinary moment in concert. Recently, Sephardic singer/researcher Judith Cohen was in town with daughter Tamar to give a few concert/lectures on traditional Sephardic music. Cohen has spent a good part of the last decade or so exploring crypto-Jewish melodies and customs in Spain and Portugal. She's also watched melodies that she has taught villagers become incorporated into "traditional" repertoire and passed off to the next researchers as "traditional"--"we've done it this way since before my grandmother's time!" This usually leads to concerts of wonderful music, interspersed with much deep knowledge, humorously presented, and, especially pleasurable to me, occasional strings where she and her daughter will take a single song and present verses in half a dozen languages, noting how the story changes as it is passed from culture to culture. With fieldwork and research ranging from Canadian Sephardic communities to all around the Mediterranean, this leaves the door open to some wonderful connections.
Anyway, that's the usual concert, but last month, she and Tamar seemed to reach a different level of comfort such that the concert just sparkled. Arriving at Boston College with the usual cart of instruments, we embarked on the usual, but always somewhat different journey. As Cohen talked about the different songs, and the ways in which tunes from the surrounding communities might be transformed and made Jewish, and about the different languages involved, she also tried to present a picture of what the songs might look and sound like in a traditional context. At one delightful moment, as she and Tamar begin playing one traditional song, with the beat being tapped out on traditional square drums, Tamar interjects, "but, of course, if this were the real thing, there would be a room full of women banging on drums and pots," thereby highlighting a major contradiction inherent in trying to present concerts or recordings of traditional music for which there is no "concert" context. Still, for those of us who are not going to visit Spain or Portugal, for instance, and may never get to know the villagers who still sing these songs as part of the fabric of their lives (the moreso as that fabric is changing quickly), there is no other way to hear the songs or to get a picture of the lives to which they are sung.
In addition to hearing the music, I managed to snag a copy of Cohen's latest CD, "Songs of Sepharad: I'd like to begin the story". I have enjoyed earlier work such as her recordings of Moroccan-Jewish repertoire with Gerineldo, or her "Springtime in Salonica" (a title also used for a Sephardic compilation by various artists), or even better, her most recent album, "Dans mon chemin j'ai rencontré", 1997 reviewed on these pages by Steve Fischbach. But this is the best yet. Although some people prefer field recordings of people singing their own music in their own setting--and sometimes that can be a perfect way to hear new sounds, my own favorite way to encounter such music is performed by excellent musicians, arranged in a traditional manner (not prettied up like all of those now-tedious Balkan choirs) copiously documented (notes in both Spanish and English, with Hebrew lettering--both Hebrew language, as well as other Jewish languages, as needed). This album meets those criteria perfectly. Cohen, and her daughter, Tamar Cohen Adams, along with a few select, excellent musicians familiar with these sounds, have recorded a spare, tuneful, eminently pleasurable album. For once, the lily is presented without gilt.
The songs range from the familiar "Dror Yikra" to the obscure, either uncovered from ancient manuscripts, or, as in the case of "O Pandeiro", "Fernando, Alzira and Irene first sang this for us, joined the next time by several other people from the village. Variants of many of the stanzas are also found in Spain, especially Galicia and Asturias. This and one other song from the region share a unique characteristic: a boisterous instrumental on the square drum ... with triangle and shells (from shellfish)...." (Indeed, during performances, Cohen tends to get a volunteer or two from the audience to add the triangle while she and Adams cover the shells and square drum.) Included, too, is a Jewish pilgrimmage song, "¿Adonde váis, Señor Yitzhak?," with its call/response and harmony, which has become one of my favorite Tamar-Adams collaborations, and "De Hoy en este dia," a lovely Judeo-Spanish wedding song from Bulgaria, with haunting flute that reminds me, just a bit, of "Mipi El".
What are the songs about? Subjects range from the religious, to pictures of Sephardic Jewish life, to the inevitable love songs and tragedies. For those of us familiar primarily only with Ashkenazic Jewish culture, this is a perfectly done reminder of additional richness and breadth of Jewish, and of human experience. In short, this is a very special album. If your interests range from general global folk, to Sephardic or Jewish music, to North African music, or simply, to extraordinary, less familiar music performed in an extraordinary fashion, this will be one of the vital albums of the year. To get a copy of the album, visit the publisher's website at www.ctv.es/USERS/pneuma/histe.htm. North American purchasers can also e-mail: email@example.com.
It was on an entirely different plane that I drove down to Providence, RI, recently, to a smoky club in the downtown to spend an evening listing to Shirim, Naftule's Dream, and Italian Klezmer/Rock band, "Meshuge." The latter bands travels in territory also defined by the New Orleans Klezmer AllStars, playing a lovely, jamming rock music which returns periodically to klezmer riffs and rhythms. The violin player, especially, was quite phenomenal. These pages have published a capsule review of the band's first album, "Dreidel," and having seen them live, I can heartily recommend them to anyone intrigued by this combination of music. Many thanks to my homies for bringing some wonderfully "Meshuge" klezmer to town! But, I should also mention that Shirim was hotter than I've heard them in a while, and the gang's return later that evening as Naftule's Dream had them playing some new material that signals, I think, some very nifty and interesting changes in the band's sound. As usual, I can't wait to hear them again.
31 Mar '01: I've actually gotten several reviews online, old and new, this past week. Check out, first, the brand new Klezamir album, Der bloyfoygl of happiness, hitting the stores this coming month. I've also got a fuller review of last year's "best of 2000" release by Metropolitan Klezmer, "Mosaic Persuasion", complete with some sound clips. Reaching back a bit further, I'm also pleased to catch up with review of Kaila Flexer's World Folk fusion ensemble, "Next Village," and a "best of" collection from early international folk band ensemble, "NAMA," assembled by former band member, David Owens, now of The Ethnic Connection, in Ann Arbor, MI. Enjoy!
27 Mar 01: In the mail today arrived a modest new paperback from the world's most renowned purveyor of Jewish music books, Velvel Pasternak, of Tara Music.
Entitled, "The Ultimate Klezmer", it purports to be "the largest commercial collection of klezmer music yet published." Originally titled, "International Hebrew Wedding Music," and published by Nat Kostakowsky in Brooklyn, NY, 1916, the current edition has been edited and introduced by Dr. Klez, himself, our own Josh Horowitz.
As a person who has not attempted to read music since giving up French Horn (to broad acclaim, I sadly note) upon leaving high school, I cannot vouch that this is the perfect klezmer collection, or that anything in it is hummable by those who can't read music. Myself, for instance. But the printing is clear, the notes are large and the book will fit comfortably on a music stand. Not only are the notes indicated, but Horowitz has done the usual annotating of the chords so that you can follow along on guitar or whatever.
It appears to be the case that our high school saxophone player could continue his klezkamp studies over the entire year by perusing and practicing from this book, without reaching the end, even were he to memorize a piece or two a week. Or three or four. There are almost 200 pages of music here.
Josh's notes are, as is to be expected, superb and witty, albeit somewhat brief. The collection also includes a discography--where to hear various versions of these songs on CD, either on older recordings, or "modern" performances by Budowitz, Khevrisa, and others.I can't think of what else to say except the obvious: The book is available for purchase online from the publisher, Tara Publications, and presumably from any other fine vendor of klezmerophilia.
25 Mar 01: It's that delightful, post-Balkan night feeling again--summer Balkan dances and benefits are coming up. The feets are happy. Being a klezmer fan, I would not mind, no I would not mind at all if there were similar klezmerfests and eastern european dance parties coming up, no.
On the other hand, it being right after Balkan night, there must be a new Klezamir release--it's actually due in the stores this coming month. Called "Der Bloyfoygl of Happiness (The Bluebird fun freyd") it featuring an impressive new singer (you've got to do something when your already amazing vocalist chooses a Harvard PhD over the band!), while the band serves up more of that Western Massachusetts country-to-klezmer sound. As expected, Klezamir excels. I keep waiting for the band to pen a country Yiddish ballad, but so far, were it not for Mickey Katz and Toronto's reigning Yiddish comic genius, Michael Wex, that field continues to lie fallow.
Over in Germany, Mesinke reports that they "will release their fourth CD "tanz jiddele" (randvoll-records, nr. 2012) on April 3rd 2001. The CD was recorded by Wolfgang Lackerschmid at traumraums-studios Augsburg (Germany) in January 2001. The CD includes all songs of the "Zayt gezund" Tour 2000. The release will be followed by a small German-Tour in spring and some festival-gigs."
I got a surprising e-mail this morning from someone who was unable to find the Chava Alberstein/Klezmatics blessing, "Di Krenitse" (The Well). I mean, we're talking about the best album two incredible groups have done in ages. How could it be out of print? I don't have details, but it is currently unavailable, as appear to be the Klezmatics other Xenophile recordings. According to Itzik Becher, the person who promotes both artists in the US, a new distribution contract should be in place within the week, and the recordings should become available again in the US within two months. European fans should look at the Piranha website. Becher also reports on some other interesting news: In September Chava's new album "Foreign Letters" is out. Daring since it has both Hebrew and Yiddish on the same album. (I've written frequently about the Hebrew/Yiddish cultural wars, and how Alberstein has blended both in concert.) ...In December a PBS Pledge Special "Voices - A Musical Celebration with Peter Yarrow, Chava Alberstein and The Klezmatics" will be released nationwide. I'd guess it will be the Chanuka present of choice for those of us who miss "Puff" and "If I had a hammer."
Finally, Seth Rogovoy reports to the Jewish-Music mailing list that the long-awaited "Mikveh" CD should be released on May 22. This supergroup consists of some of the most amazing women playing Jewish music today: Klezmatics fiddler Alicia Svigals, for instance, and vocalist Adrienne Cooper, and clarinetist Margot Leverett (who has since left the band), or accordionist Lauren Brody (more often seen these days playing Balkan music--say, last weekend with Yuri Yunokov). This is the most powerful, amazing, wonderful Yiddish music I have heard in years. Sometimes, ya get a buncha talented people together and nothing happens. Anyone who has ever heard "Mikveh," however, knows how good it can get when the people involved just feed off each other's amazing talent and catch fire. Stay tuned.
The news doesn't stop. I may be the only person in either hemisphere who wasn't blown away by Wolf Krakowski's first Yiddish/rockish album, "Transmigrations." I'm still not blown away, although some of my objections had to do with my own lack of understanding, not the music, itself. But he's doing something that is moving a lot of people, and announced this week that Tzadik is licensing his first album--something almost unheard of from that label. The head of Tzadik, avant-garde jazz person/composer John Zorn, usually wants to put his stamp on the album somehow. The album will be distributed world-wide by Koch International. And the best news for Krakowski fans is that he has also contracted to record a new CD for Tzadik's Radical Jewish Culture series, produced by Frank London (Klezmatics, Invocations, Neshamot, Hasidic New Wave, etc.). Even I am looking forward to hear what comes out of that collaboration.
Word comes from down under this week, as well. Sarah Mandie, of Spiel Azoi, writes: [we've] just released our debut Cd. "Shtetl" It has many of the old favourites but you will find it has a great energy and originality about it. Contact Spiel Azoi at firstname.lastname@example.org
4 Mar 2001: The most exciting thing to arrive recently is the new David Krakauer, "A New Hot One," released on the French "Label Bleu". This is the album he mentioned in our conversation at Brandeis last year, when he was an artist in residence.
I've never been excited about Krakauer's recordings before, but now I am very excited. His playing continues to get better, but that's never been an issue. For the first time, I think he's matched by a band that can give as well as he can, and that means that there are roles for people other than himself. Beyond that, Krakauer has opened up the wall between klezmer music, and jazz and rock--listening to this album is a bit like recreating the excitement one felt upon discovering "Weather Report" back in the early '70s. Krakauer not only provides a new heyser bulgar (the "new" hot one), but manages to meld his own clarinet pyrotechnics with both klezmer--the object of the exercise, after all!--and with an entire band. Thus, a screaming guitar intro to the appropriately named "Klezdrix", through a wide-ranging repertoire of old and new music, ending in a joyous sendup, "A Simcha Gone Mad Medley" in which "Mayim" finally gets what it has never deserved--playing so good and so inventive that one might actually want to hear the song again! <grin>, and Dick Dale is served back for his rockin' "Miserlu" of surfing fame.
I think this is the sort of album that opens doors--its an album that will appeal to anyone who enjoys that area where jazz and rock mix, and if the listener comes out digging klezmer, that's just fine. But this is also, unmistakeably, a klezmer album. For those of us who listen to a lot of klezmer, this is, finally, an explosive, exciting klezmer album. And after years of mere Krakauer appreciation, I am absolutely a Krakauer fan.
Elsewhere in the news, if I haven't already mentioned the fact, klezmer revival pioneer (among the co-founders of Kapelye, for instance), video maven (Image Before My Eyes, Partisans of Vilna, In the Fiddler's House) Josh Waletzky is all set to release an album of new Yiddish songs, backed by the amazing Jeff Warschauer (KCB, solo) and Deborah Strauss (Chicago Klezmer Ensemble, KCB). I haven't been this excited about a new album for a long time. But I've been awaiting the recording since I first heard the first of the new material three or four years ago. Get excited. Keep your eyes peeled for "Ariber der shatns" (Crossing the Shadows).
Not quite so exciting--they have managed to get out new albums regularly--but still exciting, Klezamir have a new release, "Der bloyfogl of happiness (The bluebird fun freyd)". It features more of the band's bluegrass-tinged klezmer, and a new vocalist, Cantor Felicia Shpall. Stay tuned--it should be out in April.
And finally, pioneering German Yiddish folk/klezmer band, Aufwind reports a wonderful tour of Argentina (one presumes they somehow joined forces with "Klezmer en Buenos Aires", unless the latter were on their own tour of Europe) and Chile, and a forthcoming CD, as well. I think I referred to some of the songs on the last CD as "doowop Yiddish folk". This is a very exciting, vocally very tight band.
9 Jan 2001: We have been fortunate in attracting some extraordinary articles of late. Several more are being converted to HTML, but here are two articles of a calibre that would make the editor of a scholarly journal (which this is not, by any stretch of the imagination) proud. Alan Bern, music director for "Brave Old World" offers an English version of an article that appeared a couple of years ago in Holland, "From Klezmer to New Jewish Music" about how the band created its sound and invented "new Jewish music". You can find out more about Alan's most recent project, an album with Guy Klucevsek which has just been released in the US, below. Then Dr. Judith Cohen reviews a recent anthology of Sephardic music, "Lo Yave" providing both criticism, but also insight into the music and its varieties. Long-time readers will also recall that her short discography of Sephardic recordings is also available on these pages.
8 Jan 2001: Speaking of new reviews, first-time KlezmerShack reviewer Richard Gehr tackles the second Gary Lucas album, "Street of Lost Brothers." I'm a big fan both of Gary Lucas' guitar-playing, but also of his deconstruction of '50s Jewish hebrew school Jewish awareness. On this album, he does a rockin' "Yigdal," and ends with a delightful instrumental, "The Tel Aviv Ghetto Fighters' Song." Although the liner notes indicate a more innocent origin for the latter piece, as someone who worked with street gangs in Jerusalem in the Seventies, I sympathize!
Yakov Chodosh writes: "It seems odd that I would go to your page after coming home from KlezKamp and not seeing a word on the home page about it! Something like "KlezKamp happened" woulda been cool ;)". Okay, so I was busy, and didn't get to go to KlezKamp this year. Okay, so the rest of the Klezmer world was there, and perhaps this space could have acknowledged the event. The best I can do at this point is to promote a link to Mr. Chodosh's own odyssey at KlezKamp 2000, and note that there are several more KlezKamp articles linked from the "klezwords" page.
A few weeks ago, someone sent me a terse listing for a new (to this page) band called "3 Leg Torso," which was said to be combining Eastern European folk traditions with modern chamber and jazz. Today, the CD documenting same arrived, and I am quite, quite excited. The accordion player seems somewhat influenced by Guy Klucevsek (or maybe this is how you explore folk and chamber music if you've got a piano accordion). The album opens with a perfect, late '90s "Baym Rebyn in Palesteena" done, sort of "modern chamber trio" style with accordion, violin, cello. Further pieces on the album do include other Eastern European folk melodies, and lots of what I love best about modern chamber music--the intensity of a few bare instruments exploring rhythm and sound, rather than playing pretty, polite melodies. (Okay, so I'm impugning some great, older chamber music. Apologies. Polite tunefulness has its place, but dissonance matters!). There are some modern pieces, such as "The Awakened Somnambulist" or the closing "Divertissements for Performing Bears" that resemble the western European modern chamber music tradition, more than traditions further east. A "Stolen Tango" and "Morrocan Jig" similarly resemble the music whence they were derived less than the something new, chamberish, created herein. This is a good thing, I think. We already know what the originals sound like (well, but Moroccan and jig?). Would this go well with my Bartok and Dvorak if I knew my Bartok and Dvorak better? Perhaps. But it does quite well on its own. The band notes that they have recently added bass, vibes, and a percussionist. That's a lot of beat for a band that managed quite well on its own. We'll see.
By way of balance, the same mail brought me a new release by Prague '24, a Minneapolis band about which I know little except that they've been around for a while, have an interesting name, and now, I have the evidence of a CD, "Seven Good Years," in hand. They claim of themselves, in their KlezmerShack listing, that they are "by many accounts, the best traditional klezmer band in Minnesota." If not, someone else must be mighty damn amazing, because so is this. What I hear is a lively, well-performed traditional repertoire that is sufficiently imaginative and well-performed that I find myself wondering why I spend so little time listening to traditional repertoire. There is a European small-café feel to some of the pieces, perhaps exaggerated a bit by the presence of two flautists on some pieces. The opening, short piano segment sets a formal tone that is continued in the sense that, without resorting to a drum kit, the band never loses sense of rhythm to go with the melody (in this case, bass, and guitar/banjo do a lot of the thumping to keep time on the faster pieces). This formalism gives the band a slightly classically-trained feel. With a debut album this tight, and this lively, I expect we'll hear lots more from the band. I hope so!
6 Jan 2001: By gum, it's time to catch up on some klezmer reviews! And by gum, after a full day of capsule reviewing a dozen now-familiar CDs that have been hanging around for a months, sometimes years, I'm down to piles not much bigger than last time I did this! There's one compilation (Klezmagic). Two Yiddish singers (van Oort and Yaffa Yarkoni). One Elliott Sharp album that snuck in because I love his music. And another eight albums that have some connection to klezmer music, but which go all over the map musicially, and between the US and Europe. Enjoy! Elsewhere in the news, I've pulled out last year's weblogs and done my annual turnover of this page. Hope that means it loads more quickly. Sometime soon, the redesign is coming. Sometime soon.
2 Jan 01: As I begin to catch up on e-mail, there are a couple of important tidbits worth noting. First, a reminder to my fellow residents of the Boston area Chava Alberstein will be appearing at the Sanders Theatre, here in Cambridge, MA, at 8pm on Saturday, January 13. You can check out her entire schedule on the KlezCalendar. Although hailed as "the first lady of Israeli song", Alberstein is that rare and wonderful performer, like Argentina's Mercedes Sosa or America's Barbra Streisand, who transcends genre or locale. Her repertoire includes modern Israeli folk and pop songs, as well as Yiddish songs, and songs from around the world. Her stunning release two years ago of "The Well," a collaboration with Klezmer fusion band, "The Klezmatics" showcased her commitment both to Yiddish, and to bringing living, recent Yiddish poetry to song, to life. In many ways, that was a continuation of her reworking of the Jewish Passover song, "Chad Gadya", changing it to a song protesting the cycle of violence in the Middle East, and to a song of hope for peace, and of decades of songwriting and songperforming in Israel and around the world. As a live performer, Ms. Alberstein is awesome, and she has been performing to rave reviews around the country.Brave Old World, got together last year to play with my absolute favorite accordion player other than himself, Guy Klucevsek. (Those of you who have been reading over and over and over again about how much I love Anthony Coleman's "Disco by Night" will recall that Guy plays accordion on that piece.) That album, "Accordance," is due out in the US on January 9th. The album is not klezmer, which figures. Klucevsek has taken polka into the avant garde, and Bern, of course, left klezmer behind years ago. I am presuming that this is a chance to explore other music. More on this album once I get my greedy ears wrapped around it.
Another frequent mention on these pages goes to Lerner and Moguilevsky, sometimes known as "Klezmer en Buenos Aires," a klezmer duo out of Buenos Aires, who do a mind-blowing exploration of klezmer with South American jazz influences. Their albums are intense and wonderful, but nowhere near as wonderful as seeing the duo live. I am therefore quite pleased to announce that they are touring the UK and Germany this March. They're confirmed for the Chemnitz festival, and have a date in Strasbourg almost nailed down. More details in the calendar as they become available.
Finally, I pass on this announcement from David Kaufman: "... my video program: 'The New Klezmorim: Voices Inside the Revival of Yiddish Music' was taped at KlezKanada in 1998 and was released earlier this year. It features performances by Brave Old World, Adrienne Cooper with Zalmen Mlotek, Josh Waletzky with Deborah Strauss and Jeff Warschauer, the Chicago Klezmer Ensemble, Bruce Adler, David Harris and Mimi Rabson, and Hankus Netsky with members of the KCB. There are also extensive interviews with members of Brave Old World, Hankus Netsky, Zalmen Mlotek, and others who are devoted to the study and dissemination of Yiddish culture and Klezmer music. The program premiered at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival and has played in a number of other Jewish film festivals and venues. The program is now available both as a home video and for festival and institutional sales and rentals from Ergo Media (P.O.Box 2037, Teaneck, NJ 07666-1437, 1-800-695-3746. www.jewishvideo.com)." A chance to see any of these bands, and perhaps most especially Josh Waletzky performing his new program, or to hear Dave Harris and Mimi Rabson together, is likely to be worth the price of the tape. And we get even more! :-). The video sells for $39.95+ $5.90 S/H. For further info, you can reach David Kaufman at: email@example.com.
It's going to be a good month for CD releases. Burton Greene, leader of the fascinating Dutch jazz-klezmer ensemble, "Klezmokum" announces the band's fourth release: "[E]ntitled "Le Dor Va Dor" (From Generation to Generation), [it is o]ur modern interpretations of poignant Jewish Composers works who were active during World War II. It's been a great experience developing this project over the last one and a half years! Wonderful composers like Mikhl Gelbart, Lazar Weiner, David Biegelman, Marc Lavry, Henech Kon, etc., and wonderful lyricists like Lea Rudnicka. People can order the new CD from us directly for $16. incl. mailing. E-mail Burton Greene or send snailmail to postbox 16610. 1001 RC Amsterdam, Holland."
Finally, Yale Strom writes: We have a new Cd officially being released in Jan. by Naxos World called "Garden of Yidn". It features 11 different vocal numbers by Elizabeth Schwartz - 8 Yiddish, 2 ladino and 1 in Hebrew. The musicians are members of by bands Hot Pstromi and Klazzj. Naxos World is this new division that Naxos (known for classical and jazz) created last year." (Same division that carries the very fine Klezperanto CD, I assume.) For further information, Yale can be reached at: Yitztyco@aol.com
1 Jan 01: So, every year I mean to write some sort of "state of klezmer," or at least, "state of the edges of Jewish culture as expressed by music, as perceived by me." I also want to give credit to those artists whose music made this year especially good. This year, unlike most years, I've written both. You can read about the new Romance of the 'Shtetl' and 'the best recordings of 2000' all on the same page. Enjoy! Pass the URL onto friends for discussion, but don't print out too many copies--Tu B'Shvat is only a month away, and it's never to early to save some trees :-).