Steven Greenman / Stempenyu's Dream

Album cover: beautiful woodcut w/condensed 'Modern' Latin type mixed w/the Art Deco Jewish typographic attempt to move beyond that goyish abyss, 'Frank Ruehl Hebrew'

Steven Greenman
Stempenyu's Dream


Double CD set
$25.00 USD plus $3.85 shipping (in US): $28.85 total
For CDs please send checks or money orders to:
Steven Greenman
818 South Green Rd. Apt. 4
South Euclid, OH 44121
E-mail Steven Greenman for more info.

Since the beginning of the revival 30 years ago, Klezmer music has gone in two different directions, often at the same time.

I sit at a picnic table on the bank of a slow-moving river in New Hampshire with an astounding line of trees in their most stunning fall beauty across the river, mirrored in the slow-moving waters and reflect on an interesting evolution of the cutting edges of klezmer music since the beginning of the revival 30 years ago. On the one hand jazzy American klezmer arrangements from the early 20th century are now part of the repertoire of every town simkhe band. On the other hand, research into the melodies and traditions as they existed in an Eastern Europe laid Jewish waste by the Holocaust and 50 years of totalitarian rule has revealed a wealth of "old time" klezmer music and a broader approach to music beyond the simple wedding feast dance tunes and khuppe accompaniments that have become re-familiar. Recordings by Alicia Svigals, Budowitz, Joel Rubin, and Khevrisa have attempted to recreate, and to a small extent, renew the artistic vision of those times. Bands such as Di Naye Kapelye and Veretski Pass make us dance to that music. With this recording, Steven Greenman is revealed as the foremost composer of music in a style based on what we know of these Jewish violin traditions of 100 years ago. As Zev Feldman says in the introduction, this is music that was considered "old-fashioned, even archaic by many Jews in the generaiton of Mark Warshavsky and Sholem Aleichem." The wonder is not only that it has been recreated, but that the music Greenman has composed is of such striking beauty that we are grateful that this is a two-CD set. I might add that while Greenman composes pieces of striking, timeless beauty, he also proves that he remembers how to dance, and how to construct a dance set.

One aspect of the music that may be anachronistic is the degree to which religious song—Hasidic nign and cantorial modes—are a part of this new synthesis. I can't speak to the degree to which such modes were used in the "show off" pieces that the best klezmorim played for wealthy, often non-Jewish patrons (although I guess that even then there was some crossover—in a talk a few years at KlezKanada German Goldenshtayn talked about how popular "Avinu Malkenu" was with non-Jewish patrons only a decade ago in his part of the former Soviet Union). But it is very clear in our time as we seek to find ways to bind some sense of "Jewish" into the patchwork quilts that comprise modern American Jewish lives that the inclusion of overtly religious modes and melodies matters, and is an important part of our identities. Greenman is thus both backwards-looking in making this style of music alive again, and very much an American Jew of his time in writing as he has written. And, on third hand, as my mind moves into Tevye the Fiddler mode, why would I think that Jewish musicians 100 years ago wouldn't incorporate those same tunes?

The CD opens with "Neshome Nign"—a delicate duet between fiddle and tsimbl eventually fading into the imagination and soundlessness. On "Nigundl" Greenman does the same in more embellished style, a la "Belf's Romanian Orchestra" in a duet with Alan Bern. Next, a short string-driven dance tune, "Odessa Freylekhs," followed by an even faster tune inspired by a Rudy Tepel composition. Here Steven's violin sings with speed and virtuosity. Other instruments also get their say. At one point, as Alex's hammers fly over the tsimbl and the bass maintains the rhythm I get a swift vision of country music tsimbl and then the swirling dance returns.

"Peysakh" is a return to the slow doina, with Alan Bern on piano accompaniment, followed by a "Zogekhts," a cantorial vocal improvisation, here done with fiddle, and accompanied by Feldman. "Shloymele's Dobriden," a slow tune to honor guests is more rhythmic than the preceding songs, but again, consists of Greenman and Feldman only. The slow-moving "Khasene March" is followed by a delightful dance tune, in turn followed by a slightly faster "gypsy" piece, with the side closed by Greenman singing the traditional prayer "Ya Ribon" to a new setting of his own authoring (sung with "ka" substituted for G-d's name so as not to profane by singing the holy name as entertainment). Especially lovely are the overdubbed backup vocals by Greenman and Alpert as the song ends, then those too fade, and we are left with Greenman's solo violin, gradually fading.

The second disk starts out with another meditation. Here Alan Bern and Greenman improvise back and forth. Greenman states that this melody is inspired by Lubavitch melodies (see Andy Statman's recent CD inspired by similar source). It is a wonderful place to hear Bern and Greenman, both composers of new Jewish music, both of whom hail from the midwest and represent such different Jewish musical directions, work together and harmoniously. This is followed by "Ahavas Oylam," another prayer from the Friday night service reset by Greenman, followed by a cantorial piece, "Tfile".

Having davenned with us, Greenman now returns to some new dance tunes. The first is intended for a sher, a Jewish form of contra-dance (couples dancing), here played for listening, rather than dancing, and accompanied by Pete Rushefsky, followed by a stately "Terkisher" Dance. (Think of Naftule Brandwein's "Jewish Soldier in the Trenches".) Again, the set gradually speeds up until by the time Greenman is playing the "Moldovaner Freylekhs" the dancers are moving swiftly, then, beyond into a super-fast bulgar—obviously, a dance set closer, but tremendous fun nonetheless, as the set ends with a bang and Greenman's violin demonstrates that he could teach Vassar Clements a thing or two about country klezmer.

The disk closes with two slower pieces. One, a beautiful dobranotsh dedicated to a friend; the last a good night reprising the opening melody and leading us into the infinity of night. It is good that there are two disks—it makes it easier to listen to them again. Diving deep into the past, Greenman has created a contemporary Jewish music of spellbinding beauty. It should only start a trend.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 10/16/04

From Eliott Kahn, posted to the Jewish-Music mailing list, 23 Sep, 2009:

Speaking of Moldavian music, I wanted to mention that I heard Steve Greenman's ensemble Stempenyu's Dream right before RH at New York's Eldridge St. Synagogue. The original music that Steve has crafted out of Eastern-European folk music and nigunim is superb—as was the ensemble. This incarnation consisted of Christina Crowder, accordion; Benjy Fox-Rosen, bass and vocals; Pete Rushefsky, tsimbl; and Steve Greenman, klezmer violin. All musicians were top-drawer, and Greenman plays with a particularly excellent intonation and tone, well-executed ornaments and a divine spirituality.

My one complaint would be that it appears to be quite difficult get and keep a tsimbl in tune. With 100 strings, I can understand this.

The acoustics at Eldridge Street were phenomenal. No carpeting, no amplification, just a nice high ceiling to provide a sweet reverberation without any echo. Perfect for acoustic instruments!

Best wishes to all for a happy, healthy, MUSICAL New Year,
Eliott Kahn

Personnel this recording:
Steven Greenman: composer, violin, vocals
Michael Alpert: sekund violin, vocals
Alan Bern: accordion, piano
Stuart Brotman: Eminence portable electric upright bass
Alexander Fedoriouk: cimbalom
Walter Zev Feldman: tsimbl (cimbalom)
Mark Rubin: Eminence portable electric upright bass
Pete Rushefsky: tsimbl (cimbalom)

Disk 1

  1. Neshome Nign 4:24
  2. Nigndl I—Little Tune (take 2) 4:37
  3. Odessa Freylekhs 2:34
  4. Nign à la Tepel—Tune in the style of 'Tepel' 5:32
  5. Peysakh—Passover - The Struggle for Freedom 3:36
  6. Zogekhts Asher L'ShloymeZogekhts attributed to Shloyme (Steve) 4:20
  7. Shloymele's Dobriden 4:46
  8. Khasene Marsh—Wedding March 3:28
  9. Khasene Nign Tants—Wedding Dance Tune 3:28
  10. Tsigayner Zhok—Romanian Gypsy Dance 6:53
  11. Ko Riboyn Olam—L-rd, Eternal Master of Worlds 7:20

Disk 2

  1. Gaguyim Nign—Longings Nign (Yearning Soul Melody) 5:17
  2. Ahavas Oylam—Love of the World 6:46
  3. Tfile—Prayer 3:55
  4. Freylekhs/Sher 4:33
  5. Terkisher Freylekhs 3:59
  6. E Minor Freylekhs 3:28
  7. Moldovaner Freylekhs 2:28
  8. Bulgar 1:53
  9. A Dobranotsh far Karen 5:20
  10. Nigundl II "Gute Nakht"—Little Tune 'Good Night' (Take 1) 4:40

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