Duo Controverso / Gedanken

Album cover: watercolor interpretation of two musicians and instruments. Lovely art. Trivial typography Duo Controverso
Gedanken (Thoughts)

muziker.org - records mo-re 01, 2002

Available on the web: Web: www.muziker.org/duocon
E-mail: duocontroverso@muziker.org

One of the missing repertoires of European klezmorim is the record of what they played when they weren't playing klezmer - when the best of the best were invited to play for a local noble, say, and were trying to play their most sophisticated, thoughtful music. I think of that when I listen to this new album by Kurt and Annette Bjorling. It's not that this is a recreation of that repertoire, rather, it is music for listening, some of which is klezmer, or coming from klezmer. It is played by two extremely skilled musicians, one of whom, Kurt, happens to be a key figure in klezmer (Chicago Klezmer Ensemble, for example) and New Jewish music (say, Brave Old World).

In my mind, at least, the music the Bjorlings are playing here is also related to the Hasidic nign that Kurt was exploring at least a couple of years ago at KlezKanada. (Perhaps this is not just in my mind. The liner notes recall that the closing track was first played at KlezKanada that year.) This impression is strengthened by the opening two pieces, once of which is a dance tune played in a slower, meditative style, followed by an adaption of a Yosef Rosenblatt piece. (What I found especially fascinating is that when I mentioned this album on the jewish-music list a few months ago, it was two cantors who responded and cheered--not the klezmorim on the list.) The Rosenblatt piece, in particular, excited all listeners. It is easy to concur. At the same time, the music here is largely derived from klezmer. The Moldavian Zhok, for instance, if pure klezmer. If here played too slowly for an excited wedding dance (but perhaps perfectly for those moments when people walk more slowly, and deliberately through the steps), liberates the ears, now free to listen instead of compelled to follow the beat. Kurt's wailing on the Sirbas is magnificent, and but for the quiet harp accompaniment in that instance, would fit on any usual klezmer album. In a sense, this album is a complex, layered lesson in how to play klezmer and how to improvise.

Any time you get harp and clarinet together, the result is more likely to be thoughtful. This is one of the rare klezmer albums that relies less on the ability to improvise around a beat, and instead, relies on the ability to take a familiar theme and make one think. Annette Bjorling's harp solo moments on the opening to the Hassidic Melody, or on the Longa Fantasy, for instance, solo, then intertwining with Kurt's clarinet, are exquisite. Kurt slowly articulating the Romanian Dance is another example. Listening to this playing, and thinking of some of the speed klezmer which has passed by, I am reminded of the story of the meeting between Richard the Lion-Hearted and Saladdin. The English King declares that his army is the strongest, and cuts through steel with his sword. In response, Saladdin slices silk in the air with his. Kurt's and Annette's playing cuts through silk and caresses the ear. Yet, it is most often klezmer.

The album closes with a composition of Kurt's. The piece provides nice closure, by capturing several Eastern Jewish themes, and more. I like very much that the piece it not neo-klezmer, but draws on klezmer, hasidic nign, and other bits of Eastern European Jewish music.

If this album has a problem, it is that it's lack of noise will make it seem less familiar to those who want to hear "traditional" klezmer dance, and it may not reach those who most want to hear beautiful Jewish music, but would not think to touch an album "tainted" by klezmer. Anyone who doesn't hear this album, however, is the poorer for it. Like the Itzhak Perlman klezmer albums, I am hopeful that this will serve as an ambassador of the genre to those who don't normally stoop to "rowdy" dance music. This album constitutes one of the extraordinary listening experiences that has crossed the KlezmerShack speakers in a long time. By creating such an album, the Bjorlings have also reminded us that "klezmer" once referred to a musician who played more than just dance music, and that European Jewish music was far richer than we sometimes remember. The best klezmorim, on special occasions, might have played like this.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 5/4/03

Personnel this recording:
Kurt Bjorling: clarinet, basset-horn
Annette Bjorling: harp


    Gedanken * Thoughts

  1. I  Skotshne Meditation 3:31
  2. II  Prayer (based on Misratze B'rachamim by Josef Rosenblatt 6:02
  3. Romanian Fantasies

  4. I  Zhok Fantasy 4:17
  5. II  Longa Fantasy 3:35
  6. Zhok a bisl

  7. I  Moldavian Zhok 2:12
  8. II  Romanian Dance 2:42
  9. Improvisations on an Oriental Melody
  10. Rumeynishe Shtikelekh

  11. I  Hora 5:13
  12. II  Sirbas 6:09
  13. Hassidic Melody - Fantasy 6:48
  14. Hoffmans Hofenungen

  15. I  Mazltov (Josef Hoffman) 3:40
  16. II  A Zise Dudkele 3:42
  17. III  Freylekhs 2:06
  18. Before the Snow Fell (Kurt Bjorling) 5:26
  19. All pieces traditional, unless otherwise noted; arranged by Annette & Kurt Bjorling.

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