Klezmer: The Next Generation—One set list among many
Last night I participated in a Havdalah/Melaveh Malkah at my synagogue. After Havdalah, some snacking, some singing, I presented some music that I called "Klezmer: The Next Generation." The idea was one to which I return often in these pages: that there is more to klezmer than reviving the wonderful Dave Tarras and Naftule Brandwine tracks of yesteryear, and more to Jewish music than klezmer. Unlike radio DJs, I was doing only one show, so it had to try to be representative. Yet, like a radio DJ, I was also presenting the tracks that were on hand for this particular presentation, such that I could easily have done a show using 30 different tracks from entirely different recordings, or even bands, to equal effect. I'll mention a few of the bigger lapses at the bottom of this playlist.
Set 1: Back in mid-1990s I was working for a book publisher based in the Boston area and living in Oakland, CA (where I worked for a locally-based division of the company). For a period, I was commuting between the two coasts. At brunch one Sunday, friends told me that there was a klezmer concert at a local club, Passim, that week. We looked in the paper and sure enough, Klezamir were performing that night. "No," they insisted, "it was another band." And, upon further research, we discovered that Shirim was playing a few nights later. "Wow," I said to myself, "Boston is the happening klezmer place—two klezmer concerts in one week in one club! I should move here!"
- Shirim Klezmer Orchestra, "Yiddish Blue," from Mayse (Tales), 2002
- I wanted to start with a few favorite Boston bands (and there will be more, later in the program). This most recent release captures how good the band is musically, and also a crisp, jazz-inflected klezmer for this evening. It is also from my latest favorite Shirim album.
- Klezmer Conservatory Band, "Dance me to the End of Love", from Dance me to the end of love, 2000
- This band's first recording was the first Klezmer Revival recording that made me understand that klezmer was dance music. The first time I saw them in concert remains one of my favorite concert memories, complete with dancing in the aisles. This particular cut was, among other things, part of the soundtrack to my wedding and honeymoon.
- di bostoner klezmorim, "Goldshteyner Freylekhs" from nakhes fun klezmer, 2004
- Dobe Ressler at a dance party and I am so there. This particular cut also let me pay tribute to the late, much-missed German Goldenshteyn
- Klezperanto, "Diddley Shmiddley/Kleine Princessin" from Klezperanto, 2000
- KCB's amazing Ilene Stahl and friends take klezmer on a visit with other world music and come up with delightful high-energy fusion music.
Set 2: The Klezmatics won a Grammy award for "Wonder Wheel" just a couple of weeks ago. It is the first time that a Klezmer band, or a band known for playing Jewish music, has won a Grammy (why can't an academy that can give an award for "best polka band" recognize Jewish music?). The fact that the award was for the band's Americana album, given in the "world music" category would upset me but for the fact that it is, in fact, a truly astounding and wonderful album. (Okay, name me a Klezmatics release that isn't. But even so, this is even better than that.) Seth Rogovoy has written an excellent summary of the project and how it came about.
- Klezmatics, "Mermaid Avenue", from Wonder Wheel, 2006
- An obvious choice, for its description of the street on which Woody and Marjorie (Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt's daughter) lived.
- Klezmatics, "Shnirele Pirele" from Brother Moses Smote the Water
- This live version of one of the band's signature songs, a Hassidic nign about the coming of the Messiah, coupled with Jewish Black gospel singer Josh Nelson's harmonizing counter-melody of "Ani Ma'amin", is one of my favorite tracks. One day I'd love to do a set preceding it with the Flying Bulgars amazing "Vus Vet Zein," (Agada, 1994?) featuring the stunning post-Messianic vision of Michael Wex, in Hebrew and Yiddish. But that will be another show.
- Frank London, "Sanctification," from Hazónes, 2005.
- How else to follow up Shnirele Pirele and digress into nusach, the next generation, than this wonderful recording by Frank London featuring the voice of Cantor Jack Mendelson. Some of this music was also featured in the recent film, A Cantor's Tale, about Cantor Mendelson. While I'm thinking of sets I didn't do, but would love to do, it would be easy to do a whole show just on Frank London and the breadth of his recorded musical imagination.
Set 3: From here I moved rapidly into remixes, and then move on into new music that excites me. In many ways, this is the long set of music that is far from klezmer and Yiddish music, derives some (sometimes much) from klezmer, but wouldn't be categorized as "klezmer" on most people's shelves.
- David Krakauer, "Bubbemeises," from Bubbemeises, 2006
- Very near the top of my "review it now you fool!" pile (along with Hazónes and a distressing number of other CDs featured here—and CDs that I didn't have time to feature here), this former Klezmatics clarinetist records a second outing with accordionist/singer/sampler SoCalled and Krakauer's "Klezmer Madness" ensemble. This is the "hot hot." Pay attention. You can hear another side of Krakauer next month in Brooklyn, NY, where the Brooklyn Philharmonic will present Grammy Award winner (and Temple Beth Zion member) Osvaldo Golijov's "Dreams & Prayers of Isaac the Blind".
- Hank Sapoznik & the Youngers of Zion, "Ikh bin a border bay mayn vayb" from "Protocols, 2004"
- Okay, so this was a sneaky way to insert KlezKamp founder Henry Sapoznik and friends into a perfect rendition of the Yiddish comedy hit describing a unique solution to marital stress. The song not only stands on its own, but provides grounding for the version of this song that follows.
- SoCalled, "Ikh bin a border", from "Ghettoblaster" (to be released in US spring 2007)
- SoCalled has taken the world of Jewish music by storm. First he deconstructed the seder, with his "SoCalled Seder." Then, teaming up with British violinist Sophie Solomon, the two entirely took apart Jewish weddings in the HipHopHasene. He has also recorded as a more traditional vocalist with the Montreal band, Shtreiml and sings with the Toronto-based accoustic world music ensemble, Beyond the Pale. The new album takes his hip hop talents deeper, farther, and into even more interesting places.
- The KlezX, "Harbst," from "The KlezX Remixes"
- The band once known as the "San Francisco Klezmer Experience" offered their tracks to a series of local hip hop artists for remixing—taking the original recordings and transforming them with new beats. Here we listen to the artist "Alias" as he remixes a traditional Yiddish song as sung by the amazing Jeanette Lewicki.
- Balkan Beat Box, "Cha Cha" from Balkan Beat Box, 2005
- In my mind, anything from this band would have served. Don't be surprised if by next year this website is the "hip hop shack."
- Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars, "Echad mi yodea" from Carnival Conspiracy
- How about a taste of the Klezmer Brass Allstars complete with a women's chorus. Sing this version next Passover—big fun!
- Rashanim, "Cracow Niggun" from "Shalosh," 2006
- Guitarist Jon Madof has assembled a wonderful jazz group, drawing inspiration from klezmer, jazz, and John Zorn's avant garde Jewish compositions.
- Talat, "Hasidic Monk" from "The Growl," 2006
- More straight-ahead jazz than Madof's band, dig this exploration of nign as influenced by Thelonious Monk.
- Golem, "Grine Kuzine" from Homesick Songs 2004
- Golem rocks back and forth between punk and lounge, bringing both to bear on this remake of an American Yiddish standard. Note the inclusion of English, here and other other recent Yiddish recordings, for an audience that no longer knows Yiddish.
- Hip Hop Hoodíos, "Ocho Kandelikos", from Agua Pa'la Gente, 2005
- This remake of a Ladino Chanuka classic by Flory Jagoda is a bit outside the usual Hoodíos rap sound and range, but I love it, anyway.
- Khevre, "Oyfn Shedveg" from Oyfn Sheydveg, 2004
- The title track from a lovely album fusing jazz and klezmer and lovely Yiddish vocals. The text here is from Itzik Manger. The album also features a couple of new Yiddish poems by Sara Gordon. The band was originally based in Boston, but last year several key players, including band leader Michael Winograd, moved to New York. We wish them well.
- Shtreiml, "Fenci's Blues," from Fenci's Blues
- Propelled by Jason Rosenblatt's klezmer harmonica and Rachel Lemish's klezmer trombone, Shtreiml are one of the very interesting young klezmer bands. On this cut, in particular, from a CD they created with Turkish musician Ismail Fencioglu highlights their ability to work with different folk traditions and make wonderful fusion music.
- Deep Minor, "Tzitzit Tanz", from forthcoming album
- Not only a lovely tune, but Deep Minor features Alex Kontorovich, along with drummer Aaron Alexander and a host of other favorite musicians whosemusic I didn't get a chance to feature tonight.
Set 4: As I transition from new avant garde music to new roots klezmer and Yiddish, I wanted to highlight the extraordinary work of Adrienne Cooper and Marilyn Lerner. In the last couple of years they have worked together on some wonderful new Yiddish artsong (featured at this past year's Ashkenaz Festival, among other venues) appearing at venues such as the National Yiddish Book Center (often with klezmer violin superstar Alicia Svigals).
- Adrienne Cooper, "In der finster", not released, from a program featuring Cooper's translations of the Yiddish poetry of Anna Margolin set to music by Lerner
- When I was writing about this past year's Ashkenaz Festival (see link, above), I wrote how moved I was by this music. Lerner's piano and musical unboundedness, paired with Cooper's voice, is one of the most fortuitous of combinations.
- Marilyn Lerner, "Rumshinsky's Bulgar" from Romanian Fantasy, 2006
- Not jazz. A klezmer tune taken to new places. Music for this year.
- Mikveh, "Yosemame (Orphan Mama)," from Mikveh, 2001
- I wish I had chosen "Sorele's Bas Mitzvah" instead—in wanting to highlight poetry and music written on subjects that are part of women's lives but about which we seem to have no songs to sing, that would have made the point, and featured Sarah Gordon's new Yiddish poetry, as this one does. But, it is a haunting song, in English and Yiddish, and I chose it, instead.
Set 5: As I get to the end of the evening, a chance to play homage to new traditional music, and especially, klezmer in the older European "village style" tradition, without drum kit, featuring violin and tsimbl and accordion and clarinet, but especially violin and tsimbl.
- Khupe, "Rumeynish," from Heymisher, 2003
- Christian Dawid (clarinet) and Sänne Moricke (accordion) are extraordinary musicians and are most often seen in other bands. They are among the cream of the young German klezmorim. Here, they play for themselves with intimacy and skill.
- Veretski Pass, "Horowitz Forspiel" from Veretski Pass, 2004
- The band plays "village klezmer" that violinist Cookie Segelstein learned from her parents, Holocaust survivors, originally from the Carpathian Mountains. This piece primarily features tsimbl player Josh Horowitz. In part I chose it in homage to an extraordinary afternoon, after an all-night bus ride from Sarajevo to the train in Zagreb to Graz, Austria, when I worked on my travel notes while listening to Josh practice tsimbl.
- Budowitz, "Gramester vun der khupe" from Budowitz Live
- This is Cookie's and Josh's other band. It features Christian Dawid, as well as several incredible players from Hungary. Along with Veretski Pass, Budowitz represents the corner of traditional klezmer that most excites me these days. Alongside the Strauss-Warschauer music I'll get to in a few minutes, these are the revolutionaries in traditional Jewish music.
- Di Naye Kapelye, "Mazeldiker Yid" from A Mazeldiker Yid, 2001
- Bob Cohen, leader of Di Naye Kapelye, along with Josh Horowitz (often together, back in earlier times) spent years wandering Eastern Europe talking with musicians and gathering traditional material. What separates him (and Josh) from the ethnographers is that he is also a great band leader. If I could have afforded to bring them over from Hungary, where they are based, I would have been thrilled to have them play at my wedding.
Set 6: I ended the set with new Yiddish music. Not that there hasn't been lots of that scattered throughout the evening, but this is music that I especially wanted people to leave humming.
- Josh Waletzky, "Shabbes Koydesk," from Crossing Shadows, 2001
- Better known as a film-maker ("Partisans of Vilna," "Image before my eyes," "Fiddler's House"), Waletzky also wrote one of the first new tunes of the klezmer revival ("Wisotzky Tea," recorded by KCB). But the album from which this song is drawn is one of the high points of this decade and the only solo recording by Waletzky, so far. One of the exciting aspects of hearing new Yiddish poetry (only Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman writes more—but she writes more good poetry in Yiddish than everyone else, combined) is the opportunity to address new subjects: Rabin's assassination, the Irish peace accord, along with the familiar, as in this song.
- Rebecca Kaplan & Pete Rushefsky, "Tayerer rebenyu" from On the paths: Yiddish songs with tsimbl, 2004
- I wanted to include Kaplan's Yiddish song, "Shoyn fir yor," but was unable to resist this tale of woe and wonderful Rabbinic advice. A recent concert by Kaplan & Rushefsky at the Newton public library was SRO. They are that good.
- Wholesale Klezmer, "Prayer for a broken world" from Prayer for a broken world, 1997
- I originally included this with the bands that opened the evening, since Yosl Kurland and his wife Peggy Davis (also a calligrapher of renown) were among my first friends in the area, and I spent many wonderful shabbes evenings at their home in Western Massachusetts. But Yosl's lament, written in response the the war in Bosnia and other tragedies, seemed to belong here, instead.
- The Strauss-Warschauer Duo, "In a mazldiker Sho," from Rejoicing, 2005
- Strauss and Warschauer don't just play traditional Yiddish and Klezmer music. They are the bridge between the Yiddish culture of earlier generations, and the Hasidic culture of today. This recording captures some of the excitement of their live performances and lets them showcase Jeff's singing, as well as Deborah's wild fiddle playing
- Brave Old World, "Vayl ikh bin a yidile," Songs of the Lodz Ghetto
- I don't have words to describe this music. This is the crowning achievement of one of the premiere klezmer revival bands. This song features primarily just Alan Bern's accordion and Michael Alpert's singing, but that is enough. The band is appearing here in the Boston area next month. See you there!
Among the CDs and artists that were on my mind that didn't make it into the presentation, but were very much on my mind, I note recent releases by Klezmer revival pioneers Andy Statman and Joel Rubin. Long-time musicians with recent, compelling new releases that epitomize that balance between tradition and music of this time include Art Bailey, and Merlin Shepherd, and the recent CD by Elaine Hoffman Watts and her daughter, Susan (Susan, a member of Mikveh, Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars and numerous other bands, has recently stepped out with her own solo recording, featuring how incredible voice and, of course, trumpet playing). If I hadn't misplaced the CD at the last moment, Margot Leverett and her Klezmer Mountain Boys would have had to be part of this, as well as something, really, anything, by klezmer violin virtuoso and teacher Alicia Svigals. (To be fair to myself, Hoffman-Watts, Leverett, and Svigals are all current or former members of Mikveh, which was featured tonight.)
I meant to do a women's non-klezmer set, which would also have given me an opportunity to showcase recent material by Judith Cohen, as well as the very exciting work by Pharoah's Daughter and Divahn. The set would also have let me digress further into new Yiddish music, starting with Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman's latest, a new CD paying tribute Beyle's song-writing by Toronto Yiddish star Theresa Tova, and an exciting new set of Yiddish poet Simcha Simchovitch's poetry set to music by Lenka Lichtenberg.
Some of these artists are represented on an amazing compilation, the KlezKanada Faculty Anthology, Vol. 1, which I highly recommend as one document demonstrating the breadth and wonder of current Yiddish music and klezmer. For those who want to see this music, as well as hear it, I mention local concerts coming up in the next month (Klezmatics, Mar 11, MFA, Brave Old World, LSJCC, Mar 17-18), and especially commend the first ever Klezmer concert DVD, by Brave Old World, recently reviewed on these pages.
And at this point, I shut up, lest I attempt to repeat the entire KlezmerShack. I am still scratching the surface. There is much, much more, documented on these pages (and the pages to which I link) and on the Jewish-Music mailing list. And, of course, I welcome information, new writers, and new suggestions. Email me.