Klezmer Festival 1998 / Live at the Knitting Factory

Album cover: duotone of hasid in shades

Klezmer Festival 1998
Live at the Knitting Factory
JAM/Knitting Factory Records KFR #238, 1999

What a difference five years make. In 1993, Knitting Factory released a first festival compilation, Klezmer 1993--NYC. It seemed mostly to consist of the Klezmatics and various side projects, and I even included mention of it under a review of the current album. I don't know if that was the first, or one of the first end-of-December-while-we're-avoiding-that-commercial-festival Jewish music fests at the Knit, but certainly the festivals have been a feature of the last few years. In addition, the Knit has sponsored a CyberSeder, and other events featuring Jewish avant garde artists.

The thing is, as this CD partly attests, there is a lot of Jewish avant garde music. In some cases, this is an outgrowth of klezmer. Bands included here, such as Naftuli's Dream and Klezmokum, do come originally from the Klezmer world, although the former has long moved far afield in search of new and always more exciting music, and here, Klezmokum features a vocalist and Sephardic melodies. But Hasidic New Wave is a deliberate attempt by Frank London and Greg Wall to look elsewhere for Jewish musical inspiration.

Pharaoh's Daugher sidesteps the klezmer question entirely. On the band's first release, the music is a fusion of American Folk and Middle Eastern rhythms (a "West African"???? nign?). Here, the focus is on the Middle Eastern end of things, and that is quite satisfying. It is especially significant to see edge Jewish music featured that comes from other Jewish traditions (and non-Jewish) beyond klezmer (and don't get me started on simplistic hasidic blather) Paradox Trio, along with HNW, the only two bands appearing here that was also on Klezmer 1993 (not that others have necessarily disappeared--there are just so many more bands to feature now), started off with more of a Balkan influence overlaying its jazz, then it has "returned" to a more klezish configuration, and now has moved on to something harder to define--here a traditional Eastern Jewish tune is transformed with references from around the globe.

At the same time, what would such a compilation be without some statements from the definite edge. "Psychedelicatessen", another Frank London project, this time with Elliot Sharp, Adrienne Cooper, and others, narrates Kafka (although in the background of "Lubo Nign," Adrienne Cooper's vocals are eerily akin to Schechter's "West African Nign"). And Gary Lucas, one of my favorite new discoveries, closes the album out with a simple, accoustic, prayer medley.

The question arises what this all means in terms of changing Jewish and/or musical culture. I have to say that while there are exciting Jewish cultural things happening--the concurrently released JAM collaboration between Uri Caine, Aaron Bensoussan, and others comes to mind--this is is the mainstream of the avant garde, treading pleasantly in familiar rapids. (Wow, was that a stoopid sounding statement, "mainstream of the avant garde," or what?)

In some senses, I miss the breadth of last year's JAM compilation or the preceding year's (not Knitting Factory) Klezmania. The only bands here that are unfamiliar are Psychedelicatessen (well, the name is unfamiliar, the musicians are among the usual suspects) and Pharaoh's Daughter, which is nice and untraditional, but not particularly avant gardeish. On the other hand, this is the sort of music we all need more of. Next year, time to push the edge further out. For now, this will do.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 8/7/98


  1. Hasidic New Wave: "Transcendence" (Fima Ephron) 6:10
  2. Hasidic New Wave: "Hebe-Bop" (Frank London) 6:30
  3. Naftuli's Dream: "Aimless Path" (David Harris) 4:40
  4. Naftuli's Dream: "Friend of Kafka" (Glenn Dickson) 4:54
  5. Klezmokum: "El Encalador (trad., arr. B. Greene) 3:51
  6. Klezmokum: "Irc Moldavensec" (trad., arr. B. Greene) 9:36
  7. Paradox Trio: "Ozi Vezimrat Ya" (trad./Brad Shepik) 6:26
  8. Pharaoh's Daughter: "Taitsch" (Basia Schechter) 2:07
  9. Pharaoh's Daughter: "West African Niggun" (Basia Schecher) 2:42
  10. Psychedelicatessen: "Pesakh Nign" (Frank London) 9:41
  11. Psychedelicatessen: "Lubo Nign" (trad./London) 5:32
  12. Gary Lucas: "Adir Hu/Rock of Ages Medley" (trad., arr. Gary Lucas) 2:39

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