Brave Old World / Royte Pomarantsn (Blood Oranges)
"Impressions" by Dave Dalle
Brave Old World
Royte Pomarantsn (Blood Oranges)
Pinorrekk Records PRCD 3405027, 1997
Red House Records,
RHR CD 134.
Brave Old World's new album "Blood Oranges" is by far one of the most original and imaginative Klezmer albums available. It is conceived as a Klezmer suite--individuals pieces which show many diverse musical influences and ideas, yet they create a unified whole. The suite does seem to have two clear halves to it. The first half comprises tracks 1 through 7, while the second half includes tracks 8 through 14 (note that the "halves" are not equal in length, about 42 minutes for the first half and 29 for the second) . Propulsive rhythms and loud, dense textures are the emphasis of the first part, while the second part is in a quieter, more reflective mood.
Wailing World, 6.42
This prelude to the album sets the tone of the 1st half. Fading in is the propulsive rhythm which dominates the first half. Here it is mostly the piano which is driving the music forward. A very rhythmic and incisive melody enters forcefully on the violin. This is the Klezmer ride which will take the listener straight through till the end. The movement builds steadily, until the sound suddenly drops and were left with just the piano; it continues the rhythmic motif. However, played lightly in the upper register with only some soft and dry percussion accompanying. This only lasts a brief moment before all the instruments enter with a surprisingly loud and dense sound for a quartet. They build quickly and powerfully until...
The voice of Michael Alpert enters for the first time "Ay! Ay! Ay!" welcoming one and all aboard this Klezmer ride.
The Band, 4.37
Similar to "Bukovina 212" with Itzhak Perlman on the "Live in the Fiddler's House" album, Alpert takes the role of the master of ceremonies, introducing the band and asking Kurt Bjorling for a clarinet solo, which he aptly provides.
The Tune, 6.23
The propulsive rhythm comes back here in full force with Stuart Brotmann's electric bass providing the driving force. The bass is just sawed back and forth vigorously, similar to Hungarian folk music. The accordion comes in with a restrained solo, more emphasizing the rhythm than melody. The violin joins the accordion and then the clarinet and violin play a duet for a while, until Stuart's bass gets its first real solo. The bass is actually a custom made electric bass, and this is the first BOW album that it appears. The timbre of the electric bass in this solo sounds almost exactly like L. Shankar's custom double-necked electric violin (I admit, an odd observation due to the amount of music references my audio memory have access to). Still the most noticeable aspect of this piece is its propulsive forward motion.
Uncle Elye, 6.59
The first real musical pause so far. Solo piano enters in a reflective mood, impressionistic or jazzy (whichever your preference). There is this very graceful, delicate dancing motif played by the piano several times, which I would say owe more to impressionistic piano than jazz. Alpert sings a quiet song. After a truly quiet section with deep bass notes and a very high and distant flute which leads into a middle section which shows a bit more turmoil, with a rising tremolando in the piano's bass, Alpert sings the third verse and then the piano returns to the delicate first section.
The Tsadik, 6.58
This piece starts off with a beautiful duet between the clarinet and accordion, but this piece is a showcase primarily for the clarinet. Pizzicato violin enters and the piece moves along with the two melodic instruments interweaving delicately. The piece begins to speed up and become more dance like and it becomes a solo for clarinet with the other instruments accompanying.
The Heretic, 10.05
The most eclectic piece on the album. This piece is all over the musical map, yet the musical transitions are done effectively and successfully. This piece is very much akin to Alfred Schnittke's "polystylism". Perhaps the choice of title is because the piece amounts to being "heretical" for Klezmer purists? The piece starts off with jazz figuration and harmonies. The solo bass is predominant at the beginning, and here even more so, it sounds like L. Shankar playing. The electric bass works so much better than an electric violin, of which I tend to have difficulties with in the Klezmatics for example. The piano enters hesitantly, with the rhythmic motif of "Wailing World" (which is important in this piece, and which grants tracks 1-7 a unity which I find makes for the division into two halves for this album I mentioned). After touching upon this motif, the piano begins to play this melody which keeps being interrupted by a drum blow. Rhythmically, and melodically, it sounds like the music is trying to become a tango. In this way, it reminds me a lot of Giya Kancheli's "Almost a Tango" played on Gidon Kremer's new Piazzolla album. The clarinet, bass, and piano continue along in this manner, until the music (surprise!) finally breaks out into full-scale Latin music. I would guess a merengue. introduced with a great sax solo and the Latin piano, Alpert comes in singing Ladino, his voice is completely changed by it, with a growl and Latin inflection. He just sings a couple of phrases, while the piano becomes more active and is definitely a merengue by this point, some great flute comes in as well. This Latin section stops fairly abruptly with a couple of runs on the piano taking us to this (doubly surprised!!) soft and exquisite choral section. Which the piano ends abruptly as well with runs, and arpeggios, which have a Sephardic sound buried deep within. The rhythmic motif enters again, on the piano, this time it really takes off, the other instruments join and it builds very quickly and it suddenly becomes a very fast jazz tune which takes us to the end.
A quiet and beautiful duet between the cymbalon and piano. The cymbalon enters first, and it sounds more like a Persian santur rather than a European cymbalon.
Another beautiful and quiet duet, this time for clarinet and piano. Very melancholy at first, but the clarinet gains strength near the end and is perhaps even hopeful. Truly gorgeous clarinet playing by Kurt Bjorling is a feature of this album.
The Dance, 4.11
The most (the only?) traditional-sounding Klezmer tune on the album
This song reminds me a bit of the Klezmatic's "An Undoing World", (Possessed) not least because of the singing in English, and that they are both ballads with similar lyrical content. Alpert's voice in English is perhaps not as strong as it is in Yiddish and Ladino. This wistful, almost tired ballad for voice and piano, suddenly gains tremendous power, as suddenly a very full texture created by two violins enter. Though they sound slightly Hungarian, they remind me of other music that I just can't quite put my finger on. With powerful chordal accompaniment by the piano, both violins play these exquisite, aching ornamented figures, Alpert's voice becomes a lot stronger as he sings the last verse. The effect of this song is quite dramatic by the end. It sounds like a song sung at the end of a long and tiring party, when only a few exhausted stragglers are left, listening to an equally exhausted band. The music has exhausted itself, which makes the next piece all the more powerful and joyful...
Royte Pomarantsn, 4.23
Ay happiness! The title-track of the album, which is quite appropriate as this is truly the moment the journey has been heading to. A wild, thrilling song and dance of exultation. You can just hear Alpert dancing and throwing himself about as he sings. The accompaniment is explosive, everyone is playing at their fullest. I love this song!
The end. A return to the music of track 2 & 3, but here Alpert bids thanks and farewell to everyone who has been a part of the ride.
Daybreak, 2.09reviewed this album
The coda. It's set apart from the rest of the album, a very soft accompaniment on the cymbalon, as Alpert announces the dawn. One has awaken, blurry-eyed and exhausted, from a strange and beautiful, half-remembered Klezmer dream. So much has happened and you are left with a sense of peace and fulfilment. One has the sense that they were just part of something important and very, very good.
Personnel, this recording
Alan Bern: musical director, piano, accordion
Michael Alpert: vocals, violin, drum, accordion
Kurt Bjorling: clarinet, bass clarinet, fluier, ocarina, alto saxophone
Stuart Brotman: Jensen CelloBass, cymbalom
- Wailing World (music: trad/Bern/Bjorling) 6:42
- Welcome (text: Alpert/Bern; music: Alpert) 0:48
- The Band (text: Alpert/Bern; music: trad/Bern) 4:37
- The Tune (music: trad/Bern) 6:23
- Uncle Elye (text: trad/Alpert; music: trad/Bern) 6:59
- The Tsadik (music: Bjorling; arr: Bern/Bjorling) 3:17
- The Heretic (Hebre Libre) (music: Brotman; arr: Bern/Brotman; text: trad/Alpert) 10:05
- Night (music: Brotman/Bern) 3:28
- Prayer (music: trad/Bjorling/Bern) 5:22
- The Dance (music: Bjorling) 4:11
- Homeland (text and music: Alpert; arr: Bern/Alpert) 6:43
- Royte Pomarantsn--Blood Oranges (text: Alpert; music: Alpert/Brotman/Bern/Bjorling) 4:32
- Farewell (text: Alpert/Bern; music: trad/Bern) 1:33
- Daybreak (text: trad/Alpert; music: trad/Alpert/Brotman) 2:09