Michael Winograd / Storm Game

Album cover: dreary artwork. Type is nicely done, if minor element.

Michael Winograd
2012, Golden Horn Records GHP 037

CD and MP3s available from Golden Horn Records

This record was so unexpected in look and sound (and pleasure) that I ended up calling Mr. Winograd and asking to talk with him at length. It's not a klezmer record. But, then again, it's isn't not a klezmer record, it just isn't a klezmer dance music record. What I'm trying to say is that even as the essential klezmer soul of Winograd's clarinet dominates the overall sound, that overall sound is as informed by modern classical traditions, hazonos (Ashkenazic Cantorial traditionals) and everything else that is part of the music sphere today. It's modern klezmer with context—or something like that. It's also a remarkable and remarkably listenable collection of music, following in the tradition (if it follows anything) of, say, Veretski Pass's recent Klezmer Shul or Frank London's cantorial experiments.

Opening with an old '78 recording of a cantorial recording, melding into the voice of Cantor Judith Berkson, we start off knowing that this isn't going to be bubbe's Jewish music record. That mimesis also recalls the final recording of Adrienne Cooper, which featured her voice as a child captured in the background as her grandfather, a cantor, sang. There are other surprises. The smooth entry of "Interruption" that features the musing of Israeli Jazz musician Anat Fort, for instance. The continued presentation of new Yiddish poetry—here, by Josh Waletzky and Sarah Mina Gordon, both deeply present and timely songs.

I tried to find meaning in the names of the songs and gradually accepted that Winograd has gone traditional. The names of the songs have nothing to do with the music, per se. The names are inspired by a series of dark panels drawn by artist Pepa Chan that illustrate the album cover and sleeve. In this he follows the tradition of early klezmer artists who attached relatively random phrases to their music a century ago ("Where were you during prohibition?" "A Yiddish soldier in the trenches"). The focus needs to be on the music, not the label on the music, nor the box into which one attempts to fit the music.

And the music? It is probably as much, even more influenced by Minimalism--Steve Reich's work—"Tehilim," for instance, than even klezmer. Think of it as a sort of "chamber klezmer," not as pretentious (or as boring) as "concert klezmer." Sort of, Tom Waits meets Dave Tarras as they explore the textures of sound.

What is certainly true is that this is the sort of CD that gets even better the more than one listens to it. I love it more today than I did when I first started listening last fall, and even more than when I first heard some of the nascent compositions in concert a few years ago.

This is also a CD that speaks to a broad audience. I first thought of it as an avantgarde piece, and was immediately surprised when dear friends in the midwest, the sort of people for whom that term would be a loud "stay away" sign wrote to tell me that they had discovered this new CD and loved it—surely I would be reviewing it soon.

It has taken longer than that, but we are all in agreement. Winograd's compositions are deeply moving. The musicians playing the arrangements are among my favorites, ranging from Deborah Strauss on violin to long-time Winograd partners Patrick Farrell (accordion), Richie Barshay (percussion), and Benjy Fox-Rosen (bass), whose work on Geburtig songs can be heard in these melodies. There are also old friends such as Josh Horowitz (tsimbl) and Stu Brothman (percussion), and worth special mention, Judith Berkson, whose voice would make the recording extraordinary by itself.

Recordings like Storm Game represent the next generation of the klezmer revival in the best sense: new music, not for dancing, but for listening, sensing, that redefines how we hear Jewish music, making it again part of our time.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 26 July 2013

Personnel this recording:
Michael Winograd: clarinet
Deborah Strauss: violin
Patrick Farrell: accordion
Joshua Horowitz: tsimbl
Anat Fort: piano
Benjy Fox-Rosen: bass
Judith Berkson: vocals (7, 13)
Stuart Brotman: percussion (5, 6)
Richie Barshay: percussion (12)

Song Titles

  1. Introduction (trad, Michael Winograd) 3:38
  2. Passsages (Michael Winograd) 2:12
  3. Prospect (Michael Winograd) 5:25
  4. Interruption (Michael Winograd) 3:43
  5. Murder (Michael Winograd) 2:56
  6. Storm (Michael Winograd) 1:29
  7. Who (trad, Josh Waltezky, Michael Winograd) 4:05
  8. Unison (Michael Winograd) 3:29
  9. Fantasy (Michael Winograd) 9:13
  10. Accordion (Patrick Farrell) 1:45
  11. Skotshne (traditional) 4:07
  12. Game (Michael Winograd) 4:26
  13. Specter (words: Sara Mina Gordon; music: Michael Winograd) 4:09

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