Brave Old World / Klezmer Music

Album cover: A spectacularly ugly brown texture with splotchy graphics and mediocre type Brave Old World
Klezmer Music
Flying Fish, FLY 560, 1990

Now distributed by Rounder Records

When this album came out in 1990, I barely noticed. I mean, I liked the album, but it had an ugly cover and didn't initially sound like it broke any new ground musically. I did notice that the album opened up with a breathtaking collection of sirbas, and enjoyed the timely adaptation of the fun "hoo tza tza" to the recent near-meltdown in "Chernobl,", but, what did I know. I had seen an earlier incarnation of the band a few years earlier, and while I enjoyed it, the magic hadn't yet sunk in.

Following a recent concert by the group in Boston, I decided to pull out the album again and see how it sounded in 1997.

I love it. How could I have been so smitten with Beyond the Pale all these years and not bothered to go back and listen to this classic? I dunno. I'll certainly enjoy making up for lost time. As exemplified by "Moskowitz meets Beckerman," Brave Old World are masters at taking klezmer roots and making them sound of this time and place. This isn't really traditional klezmer, but that's what it feels like until you listen closely and realize how many innovations are present in the music. And, frankly, that's what klezmer should be--not stiff museum music, but living, dance-compelling music for today.

Brave Old World has also been described as the Klezmer Revival "supergroup." Indeed, the band in 1990 included clarinetist Joel Rubin (since replaced by Kurt Bjorling of the amazing Chicago Klezmer Ensemble) who has gone on to produce and play on some of my favorite recent recordings. The band also includes West Coaster Stu Brotman, who has been playing klezmer and Middle Eastern-tinged music since his days with David Lindley in the Sixties band, Kaleidoscope. New Yorker Michael Alpert, singer, violinist, accordionist, dancer, badkhan was a co-founder of Kapelye, one of the first East Coast Klezmer revival bands, and musical director/keyboard player Alan Bern moved from Indiana, finding himself part of the equally influential Klezmer Conservatory Band before moving on to Berlin and Brave Old World. This is a band worth traveling hundreds of miles to see. Happily, their recordings capture that magic.

One special feature of this recording is drummer, badkhan Ben Bazyler, z"l. His announcements and singing of the various phases of the wedding on "Boris Muzikant" ground this recording and make it a most tangible link between klezmer as it was, and klezmer as it is, both at their best and most memorable. Listening to Ben is like listening to Utah Phillips tell stories. There are worlds here. Life.

A few years ago, listening to a klezmer festival in Oakland, CA, I noticed an exodus by many people when a more modern band took the stage and clearly wasn't going to play the old stuff the old way. I had this vision of God, sitting in a throne up in heaven, and she is leaning over to Elijah and chortling (shades of the Memorex tape commercials), "at last I can hear it live." When I hear recordings of Brave Old World--and this is a perfect example--I think of the divine, and rootedness, and wonder, and inevitably, my feet start moving and I dance a dance of being in the here and now and being able to share that space with Brave Old World.

"Alle yid'n a mazl tov". This recording is still available. It's a blessing.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow 7/12/97

Personnel, this recording:
Michael Alpert: voice, violin
Alan Bern: piano, accordions
Stuart Brotman: bowed string bass, cimbalom, tuba, prima balalaika, contrabass balalaika, bass drum, sleigh bells
Joel Rubin: Bb and C clarinets

Special guest
Ben Bazyler
: vocals, snare drum, bass drum, tambourine


  1. Brave Old Sirbas (trad.; arr. Bern, BOW) 2:48
  2. Chernobyl (lyrics: Alpert/music: trad.; arr. Bern, Alpert) 5:05
  3. Moskowitz meets Beckerman (trad.; arr. Brotman, Bern, BOW) 5:56
  4. Tayere Odessa / Dear Odessa (trad.; arr. Bern, BOW) 5:06
  5. Zaro Khayo (trad.; arr. BOW) 6:44
  6. Boris Muzikant (Warsaw 1939/Los Angeles 1989) (trad.; arr. Bazyler, BOW) 8:34
  7. The Ballad of the Steamship Titanic / Parakhod Titanik (trad.; arr. Alpert, Bern) 6:05
  8. Kolomeykes (trad.; arr. BOW) 3:10
  9. Keshenev (trad.; arr. Bern, BOW) 5:49
  10. Klaybt zikh tsunoyf (Michael Alpert; arr. Bern) 5:09

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