Khevre / Oyfn Sheydveg
Khevre / Oyfn Sheydveg
CD available from cdbaby.com
I have been following Khevre locally for a couple of years now. When I see them in concert there is a palpable sense of something new, something special happening. On its first recording, the band succeeds in capturing that special excitement. The opening drum roll plays and Dana Sandler's heimish, warm voice begins singing and I find myself entranced all over again. The album begins with "Vikhtig" (what is 'important' ... what is 'good'), a Yiddish song new to me by Efroyim Vaksman, who is also new to me, and continues to feel sheyn all the way through. (It turns out that I have several recordings of "Vikhtig" - this is the first one I've noticed.) In some cases the songs are new settings to Yiddish standards. In others, bandleader Winograd has crafted melodies that fit the tunes, and fit the 5760th decade of Jewish existence (2000s for those in the common era) just right: crisply, jazzily, but also clearly anchored to familiar Eastern European Jewish melodies of the preceding century. Most exciting to me are the two poems by Sarah Mina Gordon, a young Yiddish poet, also recently graduated from college. (Another Gordon poem was set to music by the all-star band, Mikveh.) With material this exciting being newly written and performed in Yiddish one begins to get a sense of the degree to which Yiddish language and culture are alive and renewed.
What I find most fascinating is the way that Winograd has soaked up influences. There is something about the album's title track or "Si'z a Lign" (and to a lesser extent, "Reyzele," despite a wonderful, well-modulated, screaming guitar where needed) that never fails to make me wonder if Wayfaring Strangers have begun singing in Yiddish. Yet, there is no bluegrass here, nor does any tune here resemble any specific 'Strangers song. Maybe it is just that match of well-grounded traditional music married to exquisite jazz improvisation. Maybe it's the way that the vocals seem to arrive gently out of a folk-jazzy opening, lifting the spirits and caressing the words.
There are also tunes such as "Elyohu" that exemplify that feeling that this is "echte" Yiddish roots music, even as I listen deeper and deeper and hear newer and newer influences of everything. Isn't that, after all, what writing good music is about—writing songs that feel familiar, that immediately become comfortable and hummable, even as the band plays with intense virtuosity in the background and makes clear how much the familiarity of the tune was as much a function of the playing as of the writing. Sometimes, as on the "Bulgars #2" when I find myself entirely entranced by the band, and then Sandler suddenly, unexpectedly begins singing (in this case, the Yiddish folk tune, "Yoshke fort avek") I am blown away the way I am sometimes by instrumentals by Brave Old World when suddenly Michael Alpert breaks into song.
The amazing craft and talent of the band is most apparent on the instrumentals (until I manage to listen to everything happening musically as the band backs up Sandler's voice and realize how much is going on there, as well). Some tunes, such as the "Sirba on the Rocks" are clearly more modern—this one in particular, the band's tribute to speed klez. On the other hand, violinist Eylem's "Hora" or lead on "Bulgars #1" capture the feel of old time klezmer exceptionally well. Drummer Barshay is phenomenal, something I rarely say about drummers. Young as he is, he's already in a class with David Licht or Aaron Alexander. Keyboardist Carmen Staaf is so good that I found myself writing an old friend, also an amazing accordion player, and insisting that she come to Boston to hear for herself. Bassist Roeder is the Paul McCartney of klezmer bass, revealing, occasionally, his South American music roots. (Interestingly, the entire rhythm section seems to have come from South American music: Staaf, Barshay, Roeder. Hit us with "Havana Nagila," I say, and "L'chaim!") Bandleader Winograd is especially skilled and soulful on clarinet, as well.
The album is generally very straight. For some reason, there is some gimicky vocal distancing on the bridge (?) in "Siz a Lign", as Sandler beings to sing, in a breathy whisper, that does nothing for me, but doesn't get in the way of extraordinary music (or Staaf's lovely piano intertwining with Winograd's clarinet and that perfect bass) either. It is the gentle, skilful musical interplay I remember most. Even as the band takes off bringing "Bulgars #2 into the 21st century, they never stop being tight, and one never loses the sense of how much fun the band is having playing together.
Then Sandler begins singing the closing lullaby "Friling Himlen", one of the new Gordon/Winograd tunes, and I realize that I need to put this on again, immediately. If this CD represented food, I would never stand a chance of dieting. I don't know how I would stop eating at all.
Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 1/31/05
Personnel this recording:
Dana Sandler: lead vocals
Eylem Basaldi: violin
Jorge Roeder: bass
Carmen Staaf: piano, accordion
Richie Barshay: drums, percussion
Michael Winograd: clarinets, flutes, musical director
Jonathan Singer: marimba (4), tabla (7)
Patrick Hay: guitar (5, 7, 11)
Tanya Jacobs addit'l vocals (1, 6, 7, 9)
- Vikhtik (Efroyim Vaksman) 3:03
- Sirba on the Rocks (Michael Winograd) 2:02
- Libe un Toyt (music: Winograd; words: Sarah Mina Gordon) 4:46
- Oyfn Sheydveg (music: Winograd; words: Itzach Manger) 6:33
- Elyohu (music: Winograd; words: Mani Leib) 4:30
- Bulgars #2 (Winograd/trad.) 5:20
- Reyzele (Mordechai Gebirtig) 3:48
- Hora (Eylem Basaldi) 4:05
- S'iz a Lign (Morris Rosenfeld/Folk/Winograd) 4:45
- Bulgars #1 (Winograd/trad.) 4:57
- Friling Himlen (music: Winograd; words: Sarah Mina Gordon) 4:13