Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band / Tsirkus

Something wonderfully derived from chagall and woodcuts. Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band

Traditional Crossroads, CD 4292, 1999

PO Box 20320 Greeley Square Station
New York, NY 10001-9992, USA

I have several times written about how the Flying Bulgars are in that select group, along with, say, the Klezmatics and Naftule's Dream and Brave Old World who are redefining Jewish music. And, in ways very similar to what Brave Old World is doing, it is probably time to escape the label "klezmer" and refer to this, too, as "New Jewish Music." Labelling, in this case, serves two purposes: It encourages those who want a "traditional" (let's not get started here about what that means in a klezmer context) album to choose something likelier to please. And it frees me, the reviewer, from having to describe this music from the perspective of the band's klezmer roots.

At the same time, let us be very clear. This is not jazz or progressive music with some klezmer or other Jewish roots. Rather, the band has taken Yiddish folk melodies, Jewish prayer, and klezmer, and created something new of this time and place. Yet it isn't just Jewish musical roots. There is a core Jewish existential tension, as expressed ineffably in Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt's "Lomir Zikh Iberbetn," composed, I believe, prior to the Holocaust:

Let us make friends again
Our dear Father in heaven
Let us make friends again
Fulfill the promises given

This is not Mr. Rogers' neighborhood. This is the soul of Jewish longing for peace. And, spiritually (how odd, and how goodly, to be reviewing an album of music and referring to its spirituality!) that tension describes the mood of the album. Like Agada's "Vus vet Zayn," it isn't just the music, it is the existential mood that informs the album's soulfulness. There is also a sense of "hurry" and complexity that reminds me of the intricate melodies of Naftule's Dream, here, this is often informed by the tsimbl of the incomparable Joseph Moscowitz and by vocalist David Wall's amazing singing--to words, as in the opening "Tsirkus", a 1959 Yiddish poem set here to new music, or on the Moscowitz-derived "Infidl Tants. The comparison goes a bit deeper when one considers the way that old and new Yiddish texts have been set to new, Jewish-derived, world-beat-informed (my God! am I now going to have to try and explain that phrase? sometimes, I type to fast) music. I think in particular of the wonderful Chava Alberstein/Klezmatics collaboration of a couple of years ago in which the music, while wonderful, was fairly middle-of-the-road international folk.

(If I have one complaint about the album it lies with the layout of the lyrics. Assuming that supporting the reader is one's goal, one must put the Yiddish on the left side of the column, flush right, with the transliteration (or translation, where transliteration is not available) a short distance to the right, flush right. A good example is available on the Klezmatics' album. Bad layout may be traditional, but it need not be carried forward. Otherwise, the CD liner note pages are beautiful. Just not as readable or as accessible as was reasonable.)

I don't mean to imply that this album is unbearably heavy. Much of the instrumentals are ethereally beautiful. "Oy vey Maneshe," is quite cheerful (despite somewhat frightening Michael Wex lyrics. The man is a national treasure!), and "Tsu a sotsyalistin" (to a woman socialist) is plaintive, but also hopeful, a very Jewish, very socialist prayer and acknowledgement of the future.

Here, one hears Jewish folk only in the sense that the grounding is Jewish, the authors are Jewish, but the music has continued to evolve. what if the Flying Bulgars are right? What if we have, finally, anchored ourselves with sufficient strength to the diversity of pre-Holocaust Yiddish cultures and are making music appropriate to this year? What if we can not only pay tribute to what was, but play and question and wonder at what is, in our own time and place, having finally acknowledged that the past is only that part of the future of which we can be sure, not our entire being? What if the result frequently rests on Caribbean beats, and Marilyn Lerner's warm, light jazz piano--listen to "Rebns Tants" if you don't know her playing yet, and David Buchbinder's rather excellent trumpet? By gum, you'd have a real "Tsirkus." And to know how good that sounds, you should manifest a copy of this album as soon as possible.

The album ends. The person asleep on the office napping chairs wakes up, and says as she does each time she hears this particular CD, now over six months off and on the CD changer. "That was a great album! You know who that last song ("Mazltov variations") reminds me of?" She names a couple of whom we are fond. I smile. While I have been thinking existentialism and new Jewish music, and trying frightfully hard to understand the inner angst and flow of the album, she has dreamed on and off through the playing and wakes up to put her finger on the music's essence right there. I'll shut up now and let her words conclude this review. "What a great album."

Reviewed by Ari Davidow 6/10/00

Personnel this recording:
Daniel Barnes: drums, percussion
David Buchbinder: trumpet flügelhorn
Andrew Downing: double bass, electric guitar
Lori Freedman: clarinet bass clarinet
Marilyn Lerner: piano, Hammond B3
Dave Wall: vocals, alto saxophone


  1. Tsirkus--Circus (music, David Buchbinder; lyrics, Celia Dropkin) 6:18
  2. Flora (trad., arr. David Buchbinder, Andrew Downing) 1:43
  3. Highwire (Marilyn Lerner) 4:27
  4. Lomir Zikh Iberbetn--Let us make friends again (music & lyrics Yosselle Rosenblatt; arr. Wall, Buchbinder, Barnes, Downing, Freedman, Hoffman, Lerner) 4:57
  5. Infidel Tants (David Buchbinder) 8:41
  6. Greengrass (music, Dave Wall; lyrics, Zishe Landau) 2:10
  7. Sideshow (David Buchbinder) 3:51
  8. Hora (trad., arr. Barnes, Freedman, Lerner) 1:52
  9. If Truth Be Told... (David Buchbinder) 2:59
  10. Oy Vey Mameshe--Oy vey little mama (music, David Buchbinder; lyrics, Michael Wex) 3:40
  11. Tsu a sotsyalistin--To a woman socialist (music, Dave Wall; lyrics, Abraham Reisen) 3:07
  12. Rebn Tants (trad., arr. Marilyn Lerner) 8:14
  13. Flora Hora (trad., arr. Andrew Downing, Dave Wall) 2:02
  14. di mazltov variatsies--MazlTov Variations (music: David Buchbinder, trad; lyrics, trad.; arr. Buchbinder, Wall) 7:51

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