Jontef / Klezmer Music & Yiddish Songs

Review | Personnel | Songlist

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Album cover: Jewish fundamentalists and stone walls. Jontef
Klezmer Music & Yiddish Songs

ARC Music Int., 1995
East Grinstead, West Sussex RH19 2YF, Great Britain
ARC Music, Eiffestr. 422, 20537 Hamburg, Germany
ARC Music US, PO Box 11288, Oakland, CA 94611, USA

When I first started writing about Klezmer music, I claimed that what I heard from European klezmers was very different from what I heard from the average American band. Jontef is a very good example of that difference. The trio's repertoire is very much as the album title suggests: a living combination of Klezmer music and Yiddish songs. Were this an American Jewish folk band, there would be lots of nuevo-inspirational songs, Israeli folksongs, and liturgical pieces, in some sterile salad--which, judging by the success of some of the bands I hate most (Safam comes to mind, but whatever they are, they aren't klez, so I don't have to account for them on these pages)--is exactly what American audiences want. With the exception of the rare Gerry Tenney and Betty Schreck, or Miriam Dvorin, you just don't hear good Yiddish folk klez in this country, and that's a shame.

Well, sheesh. Enough about my hangups. Jontef is just a lot of fun. This isn't klez in the American Klez revival sense, nor is it klez in the Chassidic fundamentalist vein. Here is an album of folk music. That includes some nifty klez. It includes a few songs that originated here (sung, nostalgically about Europe) such as a nice, folky and very credible "Romania, Romania." Here's a slowed down, weepy version of the class struggle balled, "Schmilik, Gawrilik" (also sung by Anne Lederman in her wonderful collection of folk songs sung by Canadians, "Not a Mark in this World," Aural Tradition, 1991).

The album begins with a simple freilach, which leads into a traditional "All Brothers" (and really, here I wouldn't mind some American "political correctness" and mention of "All Sisters" as well). Despite the folkier setting (than, say, the Flying Bulgars or Klezmatics), the fun and power of the song imply that good music is coming, and it does. Among all of the other cuts, I also have to note the ditty lament, "Bulbes" (Potatoes). I always thought it was neat that the Fugs broke into Yiddish when singing their classic "Nothing." (Monday nothing, Tuesday nothing). Well, of course they did. Am I the only person on the planet who didn't realize that they were riffing off "Bulbes"? In any event, here's a rousing version of the original. And if you happen to have a Fugs album around and want to compare the two songs.... Now, if some Irish band were to catch this and translate it to Gaelic....

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that this is a fun album. It's folkier than much American klez, but it also bespeaks a living Yiddish that is the soul of Klezmer and Ashkenazic Jewish culture. It's a pleasure. The editorial tangents are my own. Like most of us, I'd probably feel less like I was examining this music from afar if I'd put my German and Hebrew to the test and finally start studying and speaking Yiddish, myself. But, regardless, the music belongs to all of us, and Jontef have done a great job of laying down some good tracks for listening pleasure.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 7/4/95

Personnel, this recording

Michael Chaim Langer: singer
Joachim Günther: clarinet, accordion, composer & arranger
Wolfram Ströle: violin, guitar


  1. Freilach / Ale brider (H.J. Günther/Trad.) 4:38
  2. Fidl wolach (Trad.) 3:04
  3. For ich mir arois (Trad.) 2:43
  4. Badchns tanz (H.J. Günther) 1:55
  5. Saposchkelech (Trad.) 4:59
  6. Der himl lacht (Trad.) 1:54
  7. Majn jingele (text: Morris Rosenfeld; music: Trad.) 2:27
  8. Jingeles trojm (H.J. Günther) 2:44
  9. Bessarabjanke (Trad.) 1:34
  10. A klejn melamedl (Trad.) 2:42
  11. Feiwels tanz (H.J. Günther) 2:55
  12. Is gekummen a klesmer (H.J. Günther) 2:08
  13. Bulbes (Trad.) 2:08
  14. Schlemihls nigun (W. Ströle) 2:41
  15. Schmilik, Gawrilik (text: L. Reingold, music: H.J. Günther) 3:16
  16. Gronams boogie (H.J. Günther) 1:37
  17. Jeideidei (Trad.) 1:54
  18. Naftalis nigun (W. Ströle) 3:32
  19. In a fremder schtot (H.J. Günther) 3:39
  20. Rumenie (A. Lebedow) 4:32

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