Brave Old World / Royte Pomarantsn (Blood Oranges)

Album cover: It's art and it has an orange. Brave Old World
Royte Pomarantsn (Blood Oranges)

Pinorrekk Records PRCD 3405027, 1997
Hallerstrasse 72,
D-20146 Hamburg

US Distributor:
Red House Records,
RHR CD 134.

As I listen to this new album for the umpteenth time, I find myself thinking that one has to be very deserving to have a new Brave Old World album to review. It's been a long time since "Beyond the Pale." It's worth the wait.

Some days, when listening to the new album, I find myself also listening to the band's earlier works, especially the seminal "Klezmer Music." Back then, it was just amazing music, but even back then, with the long piece with Ben Bazyler, there was a theatricality to the music that took the album beyond mere "songs." On this new album, one cannot avoid that sense of presentation and stage. Mostly, this is a good thing. I love the rolling, insistent introduction, and really, really love hearing Michael Alpert adapt the role of an old-time badkhen (wedding jester) to introduce the band and its music, "... through Jewish worlds and other dimensions, but not via the internet, video, CD-ROM, and fiber-optic phones...".

The material is more diverse even than on previous Brave Old World albums. But, this is not diversity in the sense of "here a sephardic tune, there something from Israel." There are Sephardic improvisations in the haunting "The Heretic," but rather than merely present a wide variety of Jewish music, the band is also creating new Jewish music as it goes. There is much more here, and it is much more tightly integrated than one expects. In an earlier review of the band in performance I wrote about how the band played with such intensity and authenticity that it took a while to sink in that they weren't actually playing klezmer anymore. It was something else, but it felt like klezmer.

For that matter, although the band claims that it does not like to play loud, the music is presented with such intensity and fervor, that it overwhelms. I find myself entranced by Stu's amazing basslines on the "The Tune," only to realize a few minutes later that it is Alan's accordion that is carrying the rhythm, and then realize that I am listening to Kurt's driving clarinet and it's "The Dance." Who was driving the car while I was gone somewhere inside the music? As Lord Buckley once pondered, I'll never know.

That intensity makes this seem like a far edgier album than earlier efforts. It is an interesting zig at a time when the Klezmatics, who I usually think of as the intense, "out there" klez-based band doing Jewish music fusion, switch gears on their most recent album, Possessed, and go far deeper and traditional. Here, Brave Old World catches the baton and becomes the band covering the wide territory and scouting out the edges where Jewish music and soul meet the world, bursting forth to the world (to paraphrase Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, "b'ktze ha-sadeh / At the edge of the field").

Despite pensive moments, such as the aforementioned music to "The Heretic," or the tone poem, "Uncle Elye" and the delightful, English-language "Homeland", the album's spirit is far better caught by Alpert's recitals, or by the album's title song, the irrepresible, my favorite klez song of the year next to Alicia Svigals "An Undoing World" (Klezmatics/Possessed), "Royte Pomarantsn." This song is so infectious, so impossible not to dance to, and so expressive of just that spirit: "Musicians, don't go easy on the strings! / With friends around you left and right, / and eyes algow with joy, delight ... no more thinking black and white / just a true and open heart / a beggar and a wanderer no more."

This is an album that you will listen to for months, for years, with joy. In that sense, why should this album be different from any other Brave Old World album? There is jazz here, and theatre and folk musics from everywhere, but the result is a shiny, polished, rolling thunder of Jewish music and Jewish identity. This is excitement, and feet dancing, and longing, and prayer. "It was evening and it was morning: the sixth day ... / Now you've heard the whole CD play / So enough of all this E-mail and voice mail and worldly vanity / Let's build a world of freedom and justice / A world of peace." (from "Farewell").

Reviewed by Ari Davidow 5/14/98. Dave Dalle has also reviewed this album.

Personnel, this recording
Alan Bern: musical director, piano, accordion
Michael Alpert: vocals, violin, drum, accordion
Kurt Bjorling: clarinet, bass clarinet, fluier, ocarina, alto saxophone
Stuart Brotman: Jensen CelloBass, cymbalom


  1. Wailing World (music: trad/Bern/Bjorling) 6:42
  2. Welcome (text: Alpert/Bern; music: Alpert) 0:48
  3. The Band (text: Alpert/Bern; music: trad/Bern) 4:37
  4. The Tune (music: trad/Bern) 6:23
  5. Uncle Elye (text: trad/Alpert; music: trad/Bern) 6:59
  6. The Tsadik (music: Bjorling; arr: Bern/Bjorling) 3:17
  7. The Heretic (Hebre Libre) (music: Brotman; arr: Bern/Brotman; text: trad/Alpert) 10:05
  8. Night (music: Brotman/Bern) 3:28
  9. Prayer (music: trad/Bjorling/Bern) 5:22
  10. The Dance (music: Bjorling) 4:11
  11. Homeland (text and music: Alpert; arr: Bern/Alpert) 6:43
  12. Royte Pomarantsn--Blood Oranges (text: Alpert; music: Alpert/Brotman/Bern/Bjorling) 4:32
  13. Farewell (text: Alpert/Bern; music: trad/Bern) 1:33
  14. Daybreak (text: trad/Alpert; music: trad/Alpert/Brotman) 2:09

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