Shirim Klezmer Orchestra / Klezmer Nutcracker

Album cover: Singing Southpark-like folks.

Shirim Klezmer Orchestra
Klezmer Nutcracker

Newport Classic, LC 8554, 1998
11 Willow St
Newport, RI 02468

Suppose you are Boston's (if not the world's) most amazing traditional klezmer band, and you've already released excellent, essential albums in the genre and moved on? Shirim's first album is one of the best klezmer revival albums anywhere. Their second album, is one of my all-time favorite albums, transcending genre. It was featured in the klezmer roundup that started this KlezmerShack. I, myself, would not have minded additional albums along the lines of either.

But in the case Shirim, the band moved on once again (and actually, again, and again). It was late one night a few years ago when I stumbled into a Cambridge coffee house and heard the band, still featuring it's wonderful singer, Betty Silberman, doing avant garde music to Yiddish poetry--something more recently become trendy as in the case of Chava Alberstein and the Klezmatics. (You can hear one sample recorded during that period, on the JAM "Guide to the Perplexed" collection.) In this case, moving into the classical realm, they have finally recorded the orchestral suite which has made Dec. 25th a day to celebrate for Jews all over the Boston area ... those of us lucky enough to get seats to the annual playing of that great klezmer classic, the one from Russia (well, much klezmer comes from Russia, nu?). Yes, the Klezmer Nutcracker.

As is well known, Tchaikovsky was enjoying some latkes in a local shtetl many years ago, when, upon discovering the identity of the famous composers, the local musicians immediately up and grabbed their instruments. "It is time to 'Kozatsky 'till you Dropsky'" they sneered. They introduced the composer to an entire repertoire: "Dance of the Latkes Queens," Dance of the Dreydls," "Waltz of the Rugalah," "March of the Macabees," .... Entranced, the composer rushed home, changed a few names to avoid copyright problems, and a holiday classic was born! It was as if Little Richard had not only been scooped by Pat Boone, but people were only allowed to hear the Pat Boone version. Oh, I guess that's what happened back in the Fifties. Now, at last, the wonderful musicologists of Shirim have reconstructed the original klezmer nutcracker, restoring our national honor, while also deconstructing some of my other favorite composers (Brahms, certainly deserves deconstruction; Satie is only improved therein. And even an excerpt restoring Mahler's klezmer roots comes across splendidly. Can PDQ Bach be far behind?)

This album is sweet revenge for generations of awful, syruppy, bad, repetitive Swan Lakes. The band is breathtakingly good. Friends who know the more familiar versions of the pieces have been reduced to tears of laughter. This album makes Tchaikovsky bearable*. It is funny. It is danceable. And it is klezmer. That, and the fact that it features my homies, the world's best klezmer band, Shirim Klezmer Orchestra, makes this the perfect Chanukah treat. Listen to it whenever mere klezmer will do, and only classical klezmer will do; that, or only damn good, funny music.

*A true story from my distant past may explain some of my lack of regard for Tchaikovsky. I was living in Israel, a country, then still sufficiently civilized as to feature listening stations in all record stores. I had decided that it was time to undertake my education in classical music, to be furthered by picking up a couple of albums with my latest paycheck: I was thinking of the "1812 Overture" with the then-trendy cannons, or perhaps a good bit of Mahler or Debussy. I picked up the aforementioned 1812 Overture. It was okay, but not compelling. Then I remembered that a friend had recommended this guy, Stockhausen. Karlheinz. The record store happened to have a couple of disks from "Aus den sieben tagen." I was fated to never again consider listening seriously to Tchaikovsky.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 10/30/1999

Personnel this recording:

Glenn Dickson: clarinet
David Harris: trombone, dumbek
Michael McLaughlin: piano & accordion
Pete Fitzpatrick: banjo
Eric Rosenthal: drums
John Manning: tuba

Jim Gray: tuba on tracks 15, 16


    A Klezmer Nutracker

  1. Kozatsky 'till You Dropsky (Trepak, arr. David Harris) 1:45
  2. Dance of the Latkes Queens (arr. David Harris) 2:52
  3. March of the Macabees (arr. Michael McLaughlin) 1:39
  4. Araber Tants (arr. Michael McLaughlin) 2:29
  5. Tants Chinese (arr. David Harris) 1:49
  6. Dance of the Dreydls (arr. Michael McLaughlin) 2:29
  7. Waltz of the Rugalah (arr. Michael McLaughlin) 3:28
  8. Other Klezmer Classics

  9. Gustav's Wedding (Mahler, arr. Glenn Dickson) 4:25
  10. Romanian Rhapsody by G. Enesco (arr. Shirim) 4:40
  11. Gnossienne 1 by E. Satie (arr. Shirim) 2:26
  12. Gnossienne 2 by E. Satie (arr. Shirim) 1:46
  13. Gnossienne 3 by E. Satie (arr. Shirim) 2:35
  14. Hungarian Goulash (based on Brahms; arr. Shirim)
  15. Nekhome--Solace (after "Prelude 4," Chopin; arr. Michael McLaughlin) 3:23
  16. Turk in American (trad., arr. Shirim) 3:48
  17. Russian Bulgar (trad., arr. Shirim) 4:04
  18. Gymnopedie 3 by E. Satie (arr. David Harris) 2:36

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