The Klez Dispensers / New Jersey Freylekhs

suburban new jersey highway with just the right touch of class The Klez Dispensers / New Jersey Freylekhs
The Klez Dispensers TDK 002, 2003

On the back of the CD liner notes is a picture of the band dancing, and the quote, "Make a joyful noise, all ye lands...." This recording is the embodiment of that quote. It is also the best and most fun traditional American klezmer revival recording in ages. In fact, as you listen to the sax come in on the very first cut, "Rissische Tzigane" and think to yourself, "Epstein Brothers," consider that Pete Sokolow, the "fifth" Epstein writes the intro to the liner notes. He knows the band from KlezKamp and the like, and he is impressed.

As Sokolow writes in his intro, this isn't early revival imitation of those early American klezmer 78s. Rather, this is the smooth, jazzy, very American Jewish dance music of the 1950s, just updated. The musicians fit together seamlessly and play to die for. Except for the paucity of vocals, and the new compositions (including a piece from the relatively new-to-the-US repertoire of German Goldenshteyn that the band takes from traditional klezmer into a bit of the avant garde, or the full-bore jazz interpretation of "Der Heyser Bulgar"), this could almost be an Epstein Brothers album, or fit with those classics of the era, such as "Tanz!" the collaboration between Sam Musiker and Dave Tarras.

Part of the reason that the band is so tight may be that it is the rare college klezmer band that stayed together. Original formed at Princeton many years ago, the Klez Dispensers have since graduated, and in fact, another klezmer band has taken their place in Princeton. But they keep playing together and get tighter as they go. Whether they are channeling traditional tunes (as on the "Yismekhu Khosid'l" or featuring their own material (say, Ben Holmes incredibly smooth "Doina"), this band plays with incredible skill and maturity, as though they've been doing it all of their lives—all of their very long lives. (This should also come to pass!)

I have to especially note everyone. Audrey Betsy Wright's incredibly smooth sax, Ben Holmes equally well-oiled and tight trumpet, Amy Zakar's violin (or her mandolin on "Zefki") or Alex Kontorovich's clarinet. Adrian Banner's piano is perfect (take note of the solos in "freylekh Nushiele", the bass players have a perfect groove, and Gregg Mervine is one of the few klez drummers who really seems to get it. Having Inna Barmash show up for a delightful "Abi Gezunt", or Philly's klezmer-about-the-world Susan Watts show up for the "Goldenshteyn Freylekh" don't hurt, either.

On the other hand, the wealth of Klez Dispensers originals also demonstrates that this band has thoroughly absorbed the material and is entirely comfortable creating not just new arrangements, but new music. Holmes' "New Jersey Freylekhs" for instance, is likely to become de rigueur each and every time we find ourselves crawling along on the New Jersey Turnpike. It's also fun the way the band divides some pieces, as on separating the introductory clarinet doina on "Freymilekh" into its own track from the traditional band bash-up that concludes the piece (or the similarly divided, by also very different take on "Heyser Bulgar").

The Klez Dispensers new album is indispensible. That's all there is to it. This is klezmer played by incredibly talented musicians who really love and get the music. Here's what's scary. If they're this good now, what will they sound like when they're 64?

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 7/2/04

Personnel this recording:

Alex Kontorovich: clarinet (1-14), baritone sax (tracks 15, 16)
Ben Holmes: trumpet
Amy Zakar: violin, mandolin
Audrey Betsy Wright: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone
Adrian Banner: piano
Julian Rosse: bass (all tracks except 5, 12, 15, 16)
Ed Brown: bass (track 5), electric bass (tracks 12, 16)
Greg Mervine: drums
Inna Barmash: vocals (track 9)

Susan Watts: trumpet (track 14)


  1. Russiche Tzigane (A. Kontorovich) 3:32
  2. Dave's Freylekhs (D. Tarras, arr. Banner/Kontorovich/Holmes/TKD) 2:40
  3. Doina (B. Holmes) 3:16
  4. Karnofsky Tanz (B. Holmes) 3:55
  5. Yismekhu Khosid'l (trad., arr. Zakar/TKD) 3:54
  6. Tanz Istanbul (trad., arr. A. Banner) 3:29
  7. Freylekh Nushiele (D. Tarras, arr. B. Holmes) 3:16
  8. Hora (A. Banner) 4:13
  9. Abi Gezunt (Picon/Ellstein, arr. A. Banner) 3:41
  10. New Jersey Freylekhs (B. Holmes) 3:55
  11. Freymilekh (A. Banner) 4:57
  12. "
  13. Zefki (D. Tarras; arr. Banner/Holmes/TKD) 3:43
  14. Goldenshteyn Freylekh (trad.) 5:06
  15. Der Heyser Bulgar (trad., arr. A. Banner) 5:33
  16. "

to top of page To top of page

the KlezmerShack Ari's home page
to About the Jewish-music mailing list
to The Klezmer Shack main page
to Ari Davidow's home page