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New and old klezmer CDs vie for limited time on the CD player. The surprising hit of the week is a new CD by a Vancouver, British Columbian band original introduced on thse pages as Macedonian Mazl Tov. Now known as "Olam," there is a CD recently sent to these pages, called "Foreign Dreams" (1998). It is not a klezmer album, per se, but a very slick, rather fun Jewish party album with some wonderful balkan influences. So, you have two versions of "Hava Nagila:" the '98 mix, and the '98 party mix. Both feature a rapper labeled "Boogie Night." Other Jewish songs range from a version of the Israeli "Ba-shana Ha-ba'a" ("Come Next Year") to Yiddish former shlaggers like "Papirosn" (with a good contextual translation) and "Raisins and Almonds." One thing the band does that I value highly is that the sources also a nice sprinkling of balkan stuff--a lovely Ivo Papisov riff to a Turkish dance piece. All of this is dressed up in a very lively, very tight, very well done modern dance style. This is the wrong album to put on for nostalgia's sake. On the other hand, the kids, including the 14-year-old who refuses to like klezmer, both began dancing immediately and enjoyed listening over and over and over. I also very much love the lead singer's voice. Hell. I like this album. It makes up for the slick, never very authentic sounding albums I get every so often from bands that have abandoned klezmer for a sort of partyish anonymously Jewish mush. This is Jewish. It's current dance music. It's tight,and it's exciting enough to be heard on it's own terms. For more information, check out the band's website, www.olam.ca.
Earlier in the week we get a disk, "Introducing the Rabbinical School Dropouts," based in San Diego. This, too, is something post-klezmer, in the style of Hasidic New Wave or my Philadelphia faves, Benny and the VildaChayas or Klingon Klezmer. Certainly, the CD describes itself as "esoteric space klezmer," that is, to say, something jazz-ish, improv-ish, with a klezmer base. Definitely worth checking out if that sounds like your scene.
But, the time on the turntable has been competing also with "Klezmer en Buenos Aires." This is a duo from Argentina, whose first album I loved very much. Then I saw them at the Ashkenaz music festival this past summer and loved them even more for the South American jazz take that informs their very wonderfully, very skillfully played klezmer. At the festival, they had to add performances--word of mouth drew people to hear this amazing duo play their hearts and souls out. Here, on "Basavilbaso" they continue down the path first articulated on their first album by playing what seems both traditional klezmer, and at the same time, extremely energetic jazz. The way the piano strides and frames a frantic freilach in "Freilach enre menor" is a perfect case in point. Instrumentally, over the course of the album, the two musicians start off with keyboard and clarinet. But then, the keyboard ranges from piano to accordion, used in a variety of melodic and percussive ways, and thence to drums. The clarinet moves to a variety of south American woodwinds, and to voice, davenning soulfully with hasidic nign, accompanied by piano jazz that seems perfectly in tune with the soul of the song, and back to clarinet. These are two extraordinary musicians that I hope we hear from more and more. Besides, we don't hear enough Argentinian jazz and popular music--to hear how those inform klezmer music, when done this soulfully, is special. And I hope they come north again, soon. For more information, see their website, www.klezmerbuenosaires.com
Speaking of duos, just in this week, so new we've only had an evening to listen to it (and you can hear that there's been competition) is a duo from Germany called "Khupe". This album, "Mit der Kale tantsn" (1999) also features accordion and clarinet, like Klezmer En Buenos Aires, but focuses less on jazz than on traditional klezmer. It's an entirely likeable and very-well played traditional album, with nice liner notes by Brave Old World accordion-player Alan Bern (who should note also my Argentinian compañeros, above). This is probably the album we'd give to traditionalists, this week, especially those we like. It will go well with Margot Leverett's album, to which we still listen, and will probably always listen. In the case of Khupe, I like them for playing a traditional repertoire, but doing so in a way that places them in our time and place (although I am not sure how much being a German band informs this particular playing). This is also a live recording (which helps me segue to the album I talk about next), and one that features the warmth that a live recording can offer, and which proves that the skill in the playing is not a studio fluke.
Another older album that I keep pulling out is Rubinchik's Orkestryr's first offering, "Flipnotics Freilachs" (1998). I guess it's been a freilachs kind of time for me, personally. Frantic, if not freilach :-). This is a Texas klezmer album, and like my favorite Tex-Mex and blues, I'd have to say that any good music put together in Texas is likely to be somewhat special. Here, the band is not so tight--both parts of this album were recorded live--but the spirit is right on, and the vocalist has a perfect Texas swing klezmer voice--the same vocalist I loved on another Texas klezmer recording by the Austin Klezmorim. This CD has been one of the "almost got reviewed" albums for longer than I can remember--maybe since summer of 1998, and it's time people know about this album. It doesn't get reviewed because I love listening to it and never feel like doing the work of writing about it when I'm listening. In some nice ways, this album reminds me of the second Shirim album, the one where they stretch out a bit. In any event, both feature "Zhankoye," a favorite for singing here whenever we get people together, as well, and not a bad way to put a happy face on sending people off to Stalin's labor camps. (I wish I knew more about the history of the song--good macho, could easily be sung by Kinky Friedman, with or without the Texas Jewboys, lyrics. But the time in which it was written, under Stalin, suggests illusion on the part of the songwriter, or something more ominous.) Oh, yes, back to the band. Bandleader is Mark Rubin, also of one of my favorite kick ass country/bluegrass/bad attitude bands, the Bad Livers. So, yeah, put some good musicians together, let them wail, and listen to what they do with "Mark went to Klez Kamp and all we got were these lousy Khosidls." The band's website is at www.markrubin.com/rubinchik. You can read the whole liner notes there. And thanks, Mark.
Notes by Ari Davidow, 01/15/00