Huljet! / Meschugge
The popularity of klezmer music in Germany has resulted in some extraordinary mainstream klezmorim. It has also sparked some fascinating fusions of klezmer with various folk musics and new music. This latest release by Huljet certainly belongs in the latter category: While there is no denying the album's klezmer roots, the album's subtitle, "that new kind of klezmer" might be overstating the case. This is new music, but not klezmer. "Klezmer" is apparently still a powerful marketing term in Germany (here in the US, already that has largely reversed) in reaching a demographic of people interested in unusual world-folk-derived music.
The first hint that parts are more "inspired by" klezmer than klezmer, of course, lies in the abundant use of marimba. I wish I had translations of the German liner notes; be aware that my grasp of the language is incomplete and may be leading to some wrong impressions. Nevertheless, one of the album's most interesting moments comes in the gentle rock ballad, "In Jerusalem", with hints of Israeli folksong, about the band's two week visit to Israel in 2000. Like many similar songs, the lyrics seem to note the three thousand years of history with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian roots all coming together in this one place. Some songs, like "In Jerusalem," seem to have little to do with Jewish music roots. "Nachtbus," for instance, is a quiet, jazzy interlude with some Middle Eastern motifs. That shouldn't be taken to imply that the music isn't interesting, just emphasizes my opening point this music it has little to do with klezmer.
I emphasize these differences because I really like this album for the music that is here, and want to make sure that people are listening with open ears. Songs such as "Seraphim" are very much a delightful, quiet jazz-Middle Eastern fusion with interesting scat vocal harmonies in the background. Even pieces that appear to have klezmer roots, as the "Provo Horo" are transformed by the same jazz-Middle Eastern cast. "A vikhtikes geseis" is much more clearly grounded in klezmer, but again, transformed by rock beats and rhythms. The result, especially with the wild marimba and clarinet squeezes, is much fun. The exquisite closing number "Bay mire bistu sheyn", sung as an a capella doo wop piece, owes much more to local Germany bands such as Aufwind than to Molly Picon. Klezmer is not the only folk tradition that makes up this assemblage. On "Elindultam", which appears to have roots in traditional Hungarian folk-music, I hear both the Hungarian and rock elements. The guitar picking is lovely and deliberate. The voice, however, harks straight back to traditional Hungarian folksong. And then, the title track, "Meschugge" is a gem of a quiet jazz-rock piece, with small moments that could come from various folk traditions, including a bit of klezmer dance rhythm. But heard over the radio, it would attract the ear without accompanying ethnic attribution.
Personnel this recording:
Tobias Kalisch: contrabass, e-bass, vocals
Martin Zels: marimbaphone, glockenspiel, vocals
Bettina Ostermeier: clarinet, accordion, vocals
Sandor Toth: drums, percussion, vocals
Robert Hofmann: guitars, oud, darabouka
- Radio Mazor (Sandor Toth) 4:20
- In Jerusalem (Martin Zels) 6:13
- Nachtbus (Tobias Kalisch) 4:43
- Seraphim (Martin Zels) 6:52
- Provo Horo (trad., arr. Robert Hofmann) 6:36
- Elindultam trad., arr. Sandor Toth) 5:22
- Dancing at the wailing wall (Sandor Toth) 4:57
- A vikhtikes geseis (Martin Zels) 1:55
- Meschugge (Martin Zels) 6:23
- Bay mir bistu sheyn (words: Jacobs; Music: Secunda; arr. Zels/Braun) 2:06