Maxwell Street Klezmer Band / Old Roots, New World

Album cover: Arlin Robins illustration; ho hum type Maxwell Street Klezmer Band
Old Roots, New World

Shanachie, 67008, 2002

Shanachie Entertainment Corp.

From the energy and joy of the opening "Lebedike Honga," this is the best album by Chicago's best party band, ever. The only album that has hit me this hard was their amazing first album 20 years ago. With a lively mix of yiddish show tunes and straight-forward klezmer, the band shows that it is on a level with Boston's own Klezmer Conservatory Band as impeccably wonderful purveyors of traditional Jewish tunes.

Arranger Alex Koffman's able hand is apparent throughout. His composition for the wedding of bandleader Lori Lippitz, "Leah's Saraband," is a delightful violin piece, presaging his amazing violin on the full-blown "Klezmer Rhapsody for Violin" which takes up the last half of the album. But it is unfair to the rest of the performers to single out only Alex. From the exquisitely talented vocalists, to the solid orchestral core of the band, everyone is perfect. In a sense, this is the klezmer band that George Gershwin might have wanted, had Gershwin lived long enough to see klezmer come back as popular music. In fact, several of the songs come from that wonderful jazz era from which we got "Abi Gezunt" and "Yidl mitn fidl" and "Porgy and Bess" (okay, so the latter song isn't featured here). Also notable is the clarinet-violin dueling klezmorim on "Galitzianer vs. Litvak" with its brassy end segueing into a perfectly smokey jazzy rendition of "Abi Gezunt".

The Klezmer Rhapsody for Violin deserves a few more words. It does echo Gershwin in some ways. It is also a piece that reflects the nearly hundred years since it was an American in Paris, not a modern Litvak on Chicago's Maxwell Street. Listening to Alex have nearly 20 minutes to show how good he is on violin is worth the piece in its own right, but the piece is also one of the best fusions of Jewish music and the classical idiom I have heard. Somehow that fusion takes place while retaining the soul and flavor of the Jewish, a tribute both to the composer and to Alex and the orchestra behind him.

This particular album has added significance. It came out this past summer, and the joyousness of the recording was so good, that the CD sat in my car for weeks as I ran around running the errands leading up to my wedding. The fact that it contained a blisteringly fun "Chusn Kalleh Mazel Tov" or Alex' aforementioned small wedding piece is incidental, I'm sure! It was the next best thing to having the band at our wedding. The fact that the cover is artwork from a long-time San Francisco acquaintance whose artwork and sculpture I have always admired (Arlin Robins), and with whom I often celebrated a seder, is an added bonus. I can't promise that if you purchase this album you'll find your beshert and get married - for all I know, you're happily married now! But I can promise you that you will both enjoy listening and dancing to this CD. Shpil di CD, khevreye, you'll be glad you did!

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 5/8/03

Personnel this recording:
Rich Armandi: tuba
Ivo Braun: trumpet
Jim Cox: string bass
Donald Jacobs: clarinet
Jeff Jeziorski: clarinet
Irina Kaufman: violin
Alex Koffman: violin, vocals, artistic director and arranger
Lori Lippitz: vocals, bandleader
Gail Mangurten: piano
Bibi Marcell: vocals
Sam Margolis z"l: trombone
Kimber Leigh Nussbaum: vocals
Mark Ponarovsky: percussion
David Rothstein: string bass
Peter Schifrin: flute
Ralph Wilder: clarinet, conductor
Shelley Yoelin: saxophone, clarinet, flute


  1. Lebedike Honga--Lively Honga (from Kandel's Orchestra, arr. D. Jacobs) 2:44
  2. Shpil di Fidl, Shpil/Yidl mitn Fidl
  3. --Play, Fiddle, Play/Yidl with the Fiddle (words: Itsik Manger; lyrics: A. Ellstein; arr. Y. Bokov/A. Koffman) 2:56
  4. Leah's Saraband (Alex Koffman) 4:25
  5. Chusn Kalleh Mazl Tov--Congratulations, Bridge and Groom (words: trad, music: M. shlamme/K. Bjorling) 3:11
  6. Friling--Spring (words: Shmerke Katzerginsky, music: Avrom Brodna, arr: A. Koffman) 4:35
  7. Zol Zayn Gelebt--Live to Enjoy (Dave Tarras, arr. A. Koffman) 3:50
  8. Oy, Abram (trad., arr. A. Koffman) 3:18
  9. Galitzianer vs. Litvak--the Polish Jew vs. the Lithuanian Jew (Shloimke Beckerman; arr. A. Koffman) 2:13
  10. Abi Gezunt--Good Health is all that counts (words: Molly Picon, music: Abe Ellstein) 2:25
  11. Undzer Toyrele--Our Torah (Dave Tarras and the Abe Schwartz Orchestra) 3:07
  12. Chiribim (trad., arr. A. Koffman) 2:06
  13. Yoshke/Tantz, Yidelekh--Yoshke/Dance on, Jewish People (trad/Abe Schwartz, arr. A. Koffman) 3:05
  14. Klezmer Rhapsody for Violin (Ilya Levinson) 17:31

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