Minnesota Klezmer Band / Bulka's Song
This band is now known as "Klezmerica (MN)"Minnesota Klezmer Band
Frozen Chozen Productions, Inc., FCP198
What could be anything but excellent about a regional klezmer album with the lovely "Land of the Frozen Chozen" with lines such as "Where the Jews are few but tough / We wrap our tallis twice / 'Cause once is not enough". And, indeed, the rest of this album lives up to that billing. Here is a lovely mix of traditional klezmer, new songs reflecting Jewish life in America, in Minnesota, and lots of jazz and classical, but especially jazz and klezmer, filling things out in between. From the poignant title track to the aforementioned description of Jewish life in the state of Sinclair Lewis.
What I find also interesting is the way that the band has chosen to work with klezmer and Jewish identity. Where a growing number of local bands find it most appropriate to mix klezmer with rock, avant garde music, bluegrass, and attitude, this is a more mainstream, and perhaps more universally accessible mix. This is not only reflected in the thoughtful instrumental version of the title song, "Bulka's song," with which the album opens, but by songs and jokes that seem torn between nostalgia for a way of life that is gone, and a sense that one way of bringing that time back to life is to gather, make music, dance some, and tell good stories. This isn't just a klezmer album. It is a Minnesota klezmer album, from a place where "the Jews are few and the goyim are Minnesota nice."
I like it. I like the way the opening, corny, "Klezmer Time" ("Jewish music is much better than Jewish wine"--I suspect a reference to the infamous Manichewitz of our youth) segues into the lovely, quiet jazz of "Yerusalayim Shel Kchol," with the jazz chords periodically overlaid with klezmer. I like the span from a well-done Gershwin tune ("Love is here to stay") to Dave Tarras ("Bb Minor Bulgar") and the many Joseph Vass originals in between.
The Minnesota Klezmer Band (now "Klezmerica" (MN)) is unusual not only in the uniform excellence and spirit of its musicianship, but in its somewhat old-fashioned, yet, very current and very hip sense of community. I also very much like this very different approach to evolving klezmer into our times. Maybe it's time to visit the Twin Cities and check this out for myself; a land where they even celebrate not only a white chanuka, but a white Passover, too?
Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 11/22/98
Personnel this recording:
Jerry Gotler: clarinet, soprano sax, vocals
Phil Hey: drums
Yuri Merzhevsky: violin, trembling guitar, vocal
Gary Raynor: bass
Joseph Vass: piano, melodica
Don T. Maseng: vocals (4, 14,15)
- Bulka's Song (Joseph Vass) 3:18
- Klezmer Time (trad., words: Joseph Vass) 2:44
- Yerusalayim she kchol (Joseph Vass) 5:50
- Bulka's Song (Joseph Vass) 3:49
- Bb Minor Bulgar (Dave Tarras) 3:01
- Land of the Frozen Chozen (Joseph Vass) 2:41
- Jonas' Lied (Partisan song) 3:33
- Minnesota Tango (Joseph Vass) 4:28
- Ashes and Dust (Joseph Vass) 6:07
- Heyser Bulgar (trad.) 3:17
- Old Man Rosenthal (anon.) 3:37
- Love is here to stay (George & Ira Gershwin) 4:31
- Simchat Torah (Joseph Vass) 3:55
- Tfilah (Joseph Vass) 2:55
- Tantz Tantz Yidelekh (trad.) 1:04
- Tantz Tantz Yidelekh--instrumental version (trad.) 3:43