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The New Latest Hot Stuff, part 2, 1 Dec 2001

Moshe Berlin & Sulam / Klezmer Music from Tel Aviv, (1992)
Klezmokum / Le Dor Va Dor, (2001)
Di Naye Kapelye / A Mazeldiker Yid, (2001)
Chicago Klezmer Ensemble / Early Recordings, 1987 - 1989, (1989; CD release 2001)
Shirim Klezmer Orchestra w/Ellen Kushner / The Golden Dreydl: A Klezmer Nutcracker, (2000)
Lerner & Moguilevsky (aka "Klezmer en Buenos Aires") / Shtil, (2000)
Hester Street Troupe / On Second Avenue, (2001)
Mesinke / Tanz Jiddele, (2001)
Rough Guide to Klezmer, (2000)
Klezmer! Jewish Music from Old World to Our World, (2000)

There are too many good CDs on the review shelf to stop now. So, I started writing the day I put up the last set of reviews. Gotta keep going. There's still more to come, yet.

Okay cover, okay typeMoshe Berlin & Sulam / Klezmer Music from Tel Aviv, 1992 (Wergo SM 1506-2).
It is mind-blowing that this is Moshe Berlin's first recording. It has certainly been one of my favorites for a lot of years. Recorded in Germany with a versatile ensemble that includes Roman Kunsman on flute (leader of Israel's most famous 1970s jazz band, Platina) and others equally stellar, the real star here is Berlin, whose clarinet soars through traditional melodies that often sound just a bit different from what we are more used to in the United States. The repertoire also ranges from traditional Eastern European to klezmer to modern hasidic. Some of that has to do with the concept of the "Meron" tradition. Meron is a town near Tzfat (Safed) in Israel's north. During the 16th century, the world's major kabbalists--men like Luria and Josef Caro--shaped much of what we now know as Jewish spirituality in Tzfat. Today's Meron tradition likelier harks back to the Hasidic influx of the 19th century, but even so, these tunes, as played by Berlin, embody a spirituality and grace that is seldom captured--or even understood to be part of klezmer. Even when the band plays familiar tunes, as on the "Yiddish Nign and Dances" with stitched together melodies from "Belz" and "Oyfn Prepetchik", featuring solos by Kunsman, there is a grace and skill to this playing that is rare. Sadly, Berlin is not only the extraordinary klezmer from Israel, but possibly the only klezmer from Israel worth listening to. Given skill and soul this deep, that's enough [GRADE: A+]

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this is a cover only the artist's mother will find inspiringKlezmokum / Le Dor va Dor, 2001 (BVHAAST CD 0700, .
Klezmokum has been exploring an area between jazz and Jewish music for several years and many enjoyable albums. This latest feels jazzier, and more soundscape oriented, rather than beholden to any particular other musical style (say, klezmer). Indeed, I think think one gets a better idea of what this album is about by considering it an extraordinarily good jazz album to which Jewish songs have been fused. The result, however, is not another pedestrian jazz album, but rather than which jazz strives at its best to be: an exploration of new territory. It probably says something about the harmonies and listenability of this album if I note that, while this album is quite accessible, the band is also a frequent visitor to New York's Knitting Factory. The vocals here are also exquisite. Some of the scat singing reminds me at times of the soaring of Israeli singer Nurit Galron, as on a live jazz album she did about 20 years ago. [GRADE: A]

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photo of kid playing violin, excellent type. why is this so hard for other bands?Di Naye Kapelye / A Mazeldiker Yid, 2001. RIEN CD 37. (Oriente Music, US Distribution: Hatikvah Music, e-mail: Hatikvah Music">Hatikvah Music.
Remember when Di Naye Kapelye released a cassette and I kvelled. Then they released a first CD and I not only wrote about it and kvelled further, but purchased copies for all of my friends. This new CD is even better.

I'll back up. Many years ago, a Budespester band called "Muzsikás" recorded an album of "Máramaros: The Lost Jewish Music of Transylvania. The music is brilliant and introduced many of us to an amazing Hungarian folk band. But the music isn't the music of Jews from Máramaros. Despite the fact that Jewish bands around the world have learned tunes from that album, Muzsikás subsequently talked with Bob Cohen of Di Naye Kapelye (among other better-informed sources), and has changed the way in which it plays the music live. They like to mention it in concert to let people know that a mistake was made, and when questioned, are fond of mentioning that they learned much from Cohen. On this recording, they join Cohen's band, a group that not only knows Maramures music like the back of its hand, but plays it as though people make love listening to it. (As some of us do, even here in the United States!)

The music recorded here ranges from folk dances to Hasidic nigunim, sometimes singly, sometimes in a dance medley. The instrumentation is impeccable, and even more so with the addition of the Muzsikás crowd. Melodies come from all over what is now Romania, as well as Bosnia and elsewhere in Eastern and Central Europe. Both Cohen and the group's astounding accordion player, Christina Crowder, have spent years gathering music and playing with local musicians, Jewish and otherwise, who remember tunes. What makes this album, and previous albums by the band, so astounding, is that they also play the songs with all of the spirit and gusto and skill that they picked up from their sources. Maybe better, because it is hard to imagine anyone else playing such a diversity of music, not only authentically, but with such heart and skill.

Actually, not all of their sources are local to their European stomping grounds. The title tune comes from a 1950s Folkways recording, by Nathan "Prince" Nazaroff, about whom the band writes in the current liner notes: "His profoundly off-center sense of fashion was matched only by his defiant opposition to common concepts of pitch and tuning." (Did I mention incredibly funny, yet thoroughly researched liner notes?) Happily, no one can say this about Di Naye Kapelye. Other sources include American tsimbler/restauranteur Joseph Moskowitz, Bessarabian clarinetist (and source of about 800 traditional tunes) German Goldenshteyn, and Moshe Berlin (see above!). This is a band that makes klezmer sexier than blues or jazz. This is a band I would thrill to hire for my own wedding.... a band for whose sake we have considered eloping and getting married in Budapest so that they can play for our wedding. [GRADE: A+]

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kinda mundane bw photo from then and very '80s Friz QuadrataThe Chicago Klezmer Ensemble / Early Recordings: 1987 - 89, cassette 1989; CD 2001. RIEN CD 26. (Oriente Music, US Distribution: Hatikvah Music, e-mail: Hatikvah Music">Hatikvah Music.
When I found the cassette version of these recordings a decade ago, I was thrilled, and remember a long, deep conversation with bandleader Kurt Bjorling in which I first learned much about klezmer. (Finding the cassette was one of the first fruits of the Jewish Music mailing list, on which someone first mentioned its existence, to me and to hundreds of others) At an early opportunity, after the KlezmerShack was set up, I was still excited to review the cassette and pass the word on. So, it's about time that Oriente has siezed the opportunity and made the cassette available on CD--a CD, I hasten to add, that comes with decent liner notes, unlike the original cassette. The music is still as good as I remember, although it is also music that was new to my ears many years ago, and repertoire that was new to many young ears back then. Today, this is simply an excellent album--one of the first worth listening to that arose from the klezmer revival. And even if I were recommending this to a friend, I'd want them to start first with the most recent Chicago Klezmer Ensemble album, Sweet Home Bukovina, or the latest from Kurt's other band, the insanely great Brave Old World: Royte Pomarantsn (Blood Oranges). Only then would they have exhausted enough of the recent amazing klezmer recordings to be ready to go back in time. [GRADE: A-]

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album coverThe Golden Dreydl: A Klezmer Nutcracker for Chanukah, with Ellen Kushner and the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra, (c) 2000 Public Radio International. Update 10/02: Released by Rykodisc, new cover, RCD 10628. $14.98. Web:

I have just had my first listens to a delightful recording sent to me a few months ago, "The Golden Dreydl" that matches Shirim Klezmer Orchestra's "Klezmer Nutcracker" with a delightful story written by author and radio host (Sound and Spirit) Ellen Kushner. This is a very, very nice Chanuka story. I'm hoping to try it out on neighborhood kids this holiday to see how they react. But it seems to be a great story about Chanuka as kids would experience it today, with some wonderful very Jewish touches, ranging from learning the secret lore of letters to King Solomon to the golden dreydl, itself. And the band? The band is marvellous. You can really hear how much of the original was lost when Tchaikovsky erased the klezmer touches in this delightful music. As for the heroine in Ellen's ... well, you'll have to listen to find out her adventures saving the Golden Dreydl. There is also a fun & games page online. [GRADE: A]

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but they look so much more interesting in real life!Lerner & Moguilevsky (aka "Klezmer en Buenos Aires") / Shtil, 2000, Los Años Luz Discos, LAL008, available outside Argentina from the Tango Store
It opens with whistling and piano. The next tune uses flute, clarinet and harmonium and is dedicated to Klezmatics fiddler Alicia Svigals. The Argentinian duo of Moguilevsky and Lerner, once again, meld klezmer and South American jazz with a personal and intense exploration of lovely music. Although their latest album finds them in a quieter mood than on previous efforts, it is no less intense, or less wonderful for it--quite the contrary. If this band were based in the United States, they would be touring and selling out all over the country, busting genres beyond klezmer and beyond Jewish music into jazz and that part of the avant garde worth listening to. As it is, they were spectacular sellouts with several shows added at the last Toronto "Ashkenaz" festival in 1999, and have been invited back several times to tour the UK. I find myself especially enchanted maintaining my intensity by keeping this on the CD changer with the new Di Naye Kapelye (above). They complement each other in ways that makes me hunger to see both groups perform together, odd as it seems based on external focus and repertoire. Best of all, this album lacks that macho pounding that lessens so many current, blunted, explorations of klezmer and Jewish music (as does Di Naye Kapelye, now that I think about it). This is deliberate music, deliberately gifted music that is based on klezmer and other Ashkenazic Jewish sources. Despite the deceptive quietness, it is also hauntingly intense and wonderful. [GRADE: A+]

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this band is good enough to put the 2nd ave deli on the coverHester Street Troupe / On Second Avenue, 2001, HS373937, contact band at
I get a plethora of CDs from bands that are good, but feel like local bands--not bands that need to tour, but bands that I'd happily stop in and see if I had the chance. In the case of Hester Street, I did see them a few years ago, and they were so good that the friend who came with me immediately cornered them for her next simkha. I am embarrassed that I didn't review their first two CDs, but I'm not convinced that they were as good as this one. This is an instrumentally sophisticated, swinging tour through some of the best of the current klezmer repertoire, with lots of jazz, Epstein Brothers, Yiddish Theatre and vaudeville (some would argue that the 2nd ave playhouses were entirely Yiddish vaudeville); even a Shlomo Carlebach medley and other nigunim, and an Irish "Danny Boy". And even if their "Simchas Toyre" is overshadowed by the Klezmatics' Lorin Sklamberg, these are three people who have been playing excellent, soulful Jewish music for a couple of decades and they should only continue until 120. As on earlier albums, there are also some lovely comedic reworkings and storytelling, as well. The vocals are okay, but some of the clowning is not up to the standard of the instrumental music (often mighty fun, though!). I especially note Alan Sweifach's marvellous krechts on clarinet, but only as an example of how tight the ensemble, overall is. These guys can do anything, and they have their pulse on the best of current American Jewish music. [GRADE: A-]

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I'm sure somebody thought this was cool. By me it's boring bad letteringMesinke / Tanz Jiddele, 2001.
This is one of the delightful German klezmer bands. Perhaps more accurately, this is a lovely German Yiddish folk band that plays occasional klezmer, and whose Yiddish folk arrangements are quite influenced by bands such as the Klezmatics (about a third of the songs on this album). But after those covers, the song choices become eclectic and wonderful--"16 tons" (a German accent singing Mickey Katz making fun of Burl Ives--pretty damn fun, I say) to a lovely class warfare song, "Shmilik, Gavrilik," a song I enjoy singing but have heard recorded only on a wonderful world folk album by Canada's Anne Lederman years ago. In keeping with the folkish feel of the band, there are lots and lots of guitars, as well as clarinet and fiddle. And the vocals and harmonies are quite extraordinarily pleasing. This is a lovely example of a band taking a music tradition (or two or three) and coming up with an excellent, ear-pleasing meld. A mekhaye! [GRADE: A]

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lovely cover of dancing coupleRough Guide to Klezmer, 2000.
I don't know why this compilation makes me so grumpy. There are excellent selections on it, with bands from the Klezmatics to the Flying Bulgars to Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars to Margot Leverett, Budowitz, and Di Naye Kapelye. There are even a couple of old 78s, still needing careful cleanup. But, this is a reasonably good selection of bands to represent one reasonably mainstream view of klezmer as a genre. There are also some notable absences. It is hard to conceive of a compilation alleging to represent the klezmer revival, or the genre, not to include the Klezmer Conservatory Band or Brave Old World (just to start). The liner notes are consumer liner notes--supermarket liner notes, gloss, trivial. There are more detailed notes on the CD, itself, to be read on your computer with a web browser. This is an excellent innovation, but the computer version has bulk with little additional notable detail. The CD has nothing that will interest someone already interested in Klezmer music, but isn't a bad choice for someone new to the genre, and interested in the consumer product category "klezmer" as opposed to "Jewish music" or "Jewish celebratory music" or "Jewish traditional music", or "music that is worth listening to." For extraordinary liner notes, and for a truly excellent introduction to Klezmer, the listener would be far better off (and the ears would be much happier) with the Rita Ottens/Joel Rubin-produced set, Yikhes, Doyres, Shteygers. Rubin's liner notes on those albums are the best short summary of the klezmer revival I can recall, and are complemented by excellent selections of music. Or, collections such as "A Marriage Made in Heaven" which includes material similar to this collection (but did it a couple of years earlier) for traditional merging on to new klezmer. There are also a wealth of CDs of old klezmer tunes cleaned up from 78s, on to avant garde collections such as Henry Sapoznik's Klezmania (Sapoznik is also responsible for several of the better 78 collections, and the collection reviewed below) or JAM's "Guide for the Perplexed." Who would have thunk you could take so much good music and put it together such that it just feels like "product?" Klezmer. I guess it's arrived. Next it will be the soundtrack to soap and bank cards. [GRADE: B-]

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from the tepid book cover of the same nameKlezmer! Jewish Music from Old World to Our World, 2000. Yazoo 7017.
Henry Sapoznik is responsible for some of my favorite historical (and modern) compilations, so it comes as no surprise that this CD, put together to accompany his memoir on the klezmer revival, is also a pleasure. The book, which includes some okay, if not always meticulously-researched history and perspective on Jewish music in America, gives him an excuse to include some of his favorite significant historical recordings, as well as some that are just fun. There is the obligatory Belf cut. A treasured 1920 recording of "Palesteena", as well as an excellent original Lebedeff recording of the song now known as "Romania, Romania." This may be the only compilation to include recordings from the '40s and '50s, including a delightful discovery from Sam Muskier's band. In short, the best possible tour of old and new, on through a "Sher" recorded by Boiled in Lead, the Klezmatics, one of my favorite Kapelye recordings ("Chicken"), on through the KlezKamp Dance Band. My only kvetch is that the included liner notes are so terse as to not even include performance times--only song, band, and year of recording. For explanatory text the listener is referred to Henry's now difficult-to-find and historically imperfect book by the same name. (Henry is a marvellous storyteller. The book is a marvellous memoir, if occasionally exaggerated--but whatever else is a memoir for?) Still, for the serious aficionado, there are other books, and the Ottens/Rubin collection mentioned in the previous review. The music, itself, is still a great, and often rare selection. There is a lot here that simply isn't elsewhere--and it's wonderful to have. [GRADE: A]

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