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Maxwell Street Klezmer Band
Maxwell Street Klezmer Band has always been a bit different. Although it took me a while to get used to the metamorphosis of the small, original band (which I loved) to the 20-piece klezmer big band of the last album, I'm starting to get it. (I should note that on record, liner notes credit from 3 - 9 musicians, max, on any given number, so I'm not sure whether things just swell at concert-time, or it's just a bunch of friends who make sure that everyone gets a chance to play.)
For starters, this is a traditional band. There is no rock or jazz here. On the other hand, they aren't so traditional as to disdain a hefty sprinkling of Yiddish theatre numbers. This would immediately invite comparisons to the Klezmer Conservatory Band, which they most closely resemble among current recording klezmer bands, but for the fact that the band seems to take itself so much less seriously. Starting off with a medley of dances that veers at times into territory once used by ethnomusicologist Marty Schwartz as proof that Jewish klezmers invented early cartoon music, the band is having too much fun. Far too much fun. It's infectious. Even the choice of material is ideal as band founder Lori Lippitz sings the wacky, "Hopkele" as the immediate follow-up.
Of course, were that the only side of the Maxwell Streeters, that would ensure a pleasant album. The band careful ensures that it touches on a wide selection of the expected standards, and excepting "And the Angels Sing" which is good, but not the stunning "Shirim Klezmer Orchestra" remake of a few years ago (on their first album), and "Tumbalalaika" which I found a bit cloying, does so with panache and ability. But there's more. Somehow in growing up to a klezmer big band, a host of wonderful Russian-Jewish immigrant musicians got sucked in. Most notably Alex Koffman who's singular vocal entry and soulful musicianship and arranging (not to mention madcap violin playing) keep the band from veering too close to a marginalizing "shtick". This shows musically to wonderful advantage on an early medley on the album, "Doina/Chosidl/The Lark," and then is reflected in the wonderful Odessa-meets-Chicago number, "Ach! Odessa", and in the concluding, aptly named, all over the map (and forget what I said earlier about boundaries) "Compote."
Compote. That is, after all, perhaps the best description for this midwestern, Russian, Yiddish Theatre, traditional klezmer band featuring these and everything in between. The band has just done it's first East Coast appearance. With luck, they'll appear soon in a town near you. You should be so lucky!
Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 5/29/96
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