Naftule's Dream / Live in Florence

The church at the end of the alley, decent punk type Naftule's Dream
Live in Florence
Innova, 2002 innova 572

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A few seconds into this new live recording, I am so immersed in the interplay between Dave Harris' trombone, Michael McLaughlin's accordion, Glenn Dickson's clarinet doinas from beyond the edge, and the twenty other things that feel like they're happening that I have already forgotten, once again, that I am trying to summarize what makes this band, and this recording in particular, special. Trying to describe a post-klezmer amalgam of everything from progressive rock, weather-reportish jazz-rock, avant garde sounds and world beats, is difficult. Sometimes, it sounds like circus music gone postal. There is an urgency and forcefulness to the music that aren't always comfortable to describe on a family website. It's a terrible thing to say in some ways (especially given the fact that the individual members of the band are very much parents and family people), but I don't think that Naftule's Dream are a family band. It would be like taking the kids to see John Zorn--great when they're in they're teens, but perhaps not advised when they're younger.

Unlike Zorn's performances, which can be exhilarating, but sometimes feel telephoned in, Naftule's Dream never seems to lose the intensity, and never seems to sound quite the same. There is an interplay between existentialism and the edge, and a surprisingly ego-unencumbered ensemble feel that yields a mighty whole. This album, recorded live in Florence a couple of years ago, focuses largely on the music of bandmembers Michael McLaughlin and David Harris. Harris has since left, in part because of difficulties with the band's usual label, Tzadik. That's too damn bad, because Harris' trombone, and its interplay with Dickson, McLaughlin, Gray on tuba, is a large part of what has made the band special. In some ways, then, this album is a testament, a souvenir, to what the band was at its height, at its most intense, with this particular set of musicians. The river is still there, but stepping in reveals a new river.

Of particular note here are pieces such as "Aimless Path," from "Smash, Clap!", which here gets to stretch, or the very tight integration on pieces such as the seldom-bulgar-sounding "Industrial Bulgar", with Glenn's amazingly spiritual wailing taking the piece out, seguing almost immediately into an amazing guitar-trombone-clarinet-everyone twisted "Dirge Sirba" (from the most recent, "Job"). But, to be honest, I simply enjoy listening to the entire disk, over and over and over. Eric Rosenthal's careful percussion signalling changes in "The Sitting Man," as the tuba comes in signalling a new movement, or the previously mentioned interplays on the opening "Free Klez, I-IV," ... the mind wanders. There is too much to grasp, too much is happening, and somehow, even in aggregate, before the mind has a chance to break it all down and understand, it all makes sense, the way dancing on a wall, very high up, makes perfect, ecstatic sense.

The question of what "post-klezmer" might be is also partially answered by the opening doina wails of Dickson's "A Friend of Kafka" (off of Smash, Clap!) The doina merges with a golem-ish beat, hands off to trombone, and then takes on a hint of European folk as accordion takes the handoff, all the while with the guitar just barely audible wailing behind it all, and then returning again to the question of that original clarinet doina. The album closes, suitably, with "Discord" at its best--a new improvisation which, at times, reminds me of "Black Wedding," a song going back to the first album the group recorded as "Shirim". It's not the evolution of "Black Wedding," but something transformed, that captures the same spirit.

Every time Naftule's Dream releases a new album, it becomes the focus of my listening for months. And each one seems better than the last. It is as though by capturing such a broad musical soup and the existential harmony that can be found within, the band performs music that creates an affordance in which to project my own semi-choate sense of being. I dunno. Maybe it's simpler. This is the intensity of a post-modern, post-klezmer world successfully fusing all of those fractures of being that define who we are. Maybe less pretentious. This is incredibly exciting music on the edge of world music and jazz. And this particular recording, is the best, tightest, most satisfying so far.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow 3/23/03

Personnel this recording:
Glenn Dickson: clarinets
David Harris: trombone
Michael McLaughlin: accordion
Pete Fitzpatrick: electric guitar
James Gray: tuba
Eric Rosenthal: drums


  1. Free Klez, I-IV (Michael McLaughlin) 8:51
  2. Aimless Path (David Harris) 5:29
  3. A Prayer for No One (Michael McLaughlin) 5:05
  4. Industrial Sirba (Michael McLaughlin) 6:14
  5. Dirge Sirba (Michael McLaughlin) 5:18
  6. The Sitting Man (Michael McLaughlin) 6:01
  7. The Wanderer (David Harris) 5:38
  8. A Friend of Kafka (Naftule's Dream) 4:44
  9. Discord (David Harris) 4:31

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