Metropolitan Klezmer / Surprising Finds
Rhythm Media Records RMR003, 2003
Long one of New York City's tightest klezmer dance bands, the band uses its new CD to explore more deeply into Yiddish and (especially) Jewish Socialist roots, and to emphasize their own continuity with tradition. I call special attention to the album's title, "Surprising Finds," which is also the album's theme. There are other old recordings, including a couple of songs by Philip Karpel, the grandfather of Metropolitan Klezmer vocalist Debra.
Opening with a clip from the movie "Uncle Moses" to which they append their own modern version of the same, the band mixes lovely Yiddish theatre vocals, incredible instrumentals, both thoughtful and dynamic, and even manages an incredible balkan brass rearrangement of "Pick a Pocket or Two." The liner notes are especially illuminating in this case, as we learn a bit of closeted Jews and gays (or both, as one person in this case) in the entertainment industry in the '60s.
Metropolitan Klezmer has achieved something very special with this album. They can't get much better musically. Instead, they have dug more deeply into history, bringing back live fragments, recreating others, and even, as with Pam Fleming's lovely "Dreaming Wizard," creating their own tradition. In the process, the band makes us more aware of the cultural struggles and diversity of Jews (especially labor struggles of migrants to the United States and England, but not limited to then, and not limited to labor issues) in the last century. Despite the focus on the West, there is a lovely suite here in tribute to the Soviet Yiddish Theatre. Not many realize that in the decades following the Soviet revolution there existed a vibrant avant garde Yiddish Theatre, until destroyed by Stalin's paranoia. The point isn't just to present older music (and some new tunes) that we might not yet know, but to use that as an excuse to make us aware of our own history. That the band can do this and still strengthen their reputation as one of the premier Klezmer bands performing today, is an additional testament as to the skill and excitement they bring to their music. Indeed, several tracks here were recorded live, in a small club in NYC--one even features Howie Leess, member of the original band, now retired to Rochester, NY, but here recorded in 1994.
Special mention should also be given to careful and copious liner notes, and to excellent typography in integrating the Yiddish with transliteration and English. This is the way to do it.
This is my favorite Metropolitan Klezmer album yet, something I have said about each of the earlier albums, but here say even louder. If you are new to the band's sound, start here. Then work your way back. You'll enjoy.
Reviewed by Ari Davidow 6/8/03
Personnel this recording:
Ismail Butera: accordion
Rick Faulkner: trombone
Pam Fleming: trumpet, flugelhorn
Michael Hess: violin, kanun, ney flute
Dave Hofstra: bass, tuba
Deborah Karpel: vocals
Debra Kreisberg: clarinet, alto sax
Eve Sicular: drumset, dumbeq
Howie Leess: clarinet (track 15 suite)
Phillip Karpel: vocals (tracks 6, 10, 14, 17)
- Uncle Moses' Wedding Dance (trad., arr. MK) 2:12
- Terkisher Navratilova (trad., arr. Michael Hess and MK) 4:52
- Ot Azoy Neyt a Shnayder--That's the way a tailor sews (trad., doyna arr. Ismail Butera, rest arr. Eve Sicular, Rick Faulkner, and MK) 4:07
- Pick a Pocket or Two (words and music: Lionel Bart; arr. Eve Sicular & MK) 2:35
- Shpil du fidl, shpil--Play, you Fiddle; aka "Lonely Hearts Tango" (words: Molly Picon, music: Abe Ellstein; arr. Eve Sicular, Debra Kerisberg & MK) 3:20
- Harei At--the Wedding Vow (trad.) 1:16
- Soothsayer Taxim (Michael Hess) 1:13
- Tailor's Sher (Lev Pulver; arr. Debra Kreisberg w/ Rick Faulkner & Eve Sicular) 3:09
- Striver's Sher (Lev Pulver; arr. Debra Kreisberg w/Rick Faulkner & Eve Sicular) 1:32
- Der Dish-Washer (Herman Yablokoff) 1:08
- Szól a Kakas Már--the rooster's crow (trad., arr. MK/Isle of Klezbos) 3:59
- Dreaming Wizard (Pam Fleming) 2:55
- Dray Shvester--Three Sisters (M. Winchevsky; arr. MK) 3:21
- Kinder Yorn--Childhood years (Mordecai Gebirtig) 0:32
- Howie's Doyna & Hora / No. 2 Freylekh (Howie Leess / trad., arr. MK) 4:35
- Northern Doyna / An Alter Nigun / Abi Gezunt (Ismail Butera / trad., arr. MK, IoK / words: Molly Picon, music: Abraham Ellstein) 7:58
- Der Milner's Trern--the miller's tears (M. M. Warshawsky) 0:54
- Blue Doyna Reprise (Ismail Butera) 1:07
- Shadkhn Tango / Rumanian Medley 11:34
- Moses' Morning After 0:19
Soviet Yiddish Theatre Suite