New Orleans Klezmer Allstars / Borvis
New Orleans Klezmer Allstars
Stretchy Records, SR-182, 2003
The New Orleans Klezmer Allstars aren't always as loud as they once were. The hardest-working Jewish bar band in the world has gotten more subtle, more versatile, more tuneful on this latest release. Indeed, for the first time I feel like I am listening to an album instead of being hit over the head by rock guitar slammed into klezmer riffs and rhythms. It's a real pleasure. And, of course, when the band does rock out, it counts.
The trademark shrill clarinet and high energy funk don't start to appear until the album's fourth song, "Borvis." Instead, the album opens with the meditative "Goodbye Big Homey" and "The Jew Blues"--the later fusing a bit of doina with a nicely due bluesy bit jazz guitar. This is followed by a mood-changing accordion piece, "Bucharesti," that is as lovely an upbeat exemplar of the good life as I've heard in a long time (compare with the equally lively and delightful "Panogiotis," a few tracks later). And by the time we get to Borvis, the band is nicely wound up and flexible. I think that's the word I want. Versatile. Moving in lots of high energy directions. Prepared to use Freilach's fuzz guitar on an old Tarras tune. Prepared to almost rock out on "Freilich's Phoenix Doina," but able, instead, to turn it into something more contemplative, doina-like, before exploding into a lively anarchic frenzy. Compare and contrast that to Wagner's lovely doina on "The Owl."
The band hasn't given up on its trademark fusion of New Orleans funk with klezmer. The fusion has simply gotten smoother and more versatile. In a sense "No More Freilach" says goodbye to the clunkier stuff and introduces a new wild beat. And the beat returns in a tribute to the great Mardi Gras brass bands, "Naftuna Melt." Naftule would be proud. Switching to acoustic guitar for the lead in the often-done "Fun Tashlich" and "Nikolaev Bulgar", Jonathan Freilich restores the fun and end the tsar(is). When the album ends with a relatively traditional "Oy Tate S'iz Gut," you're probably ready, as I have been for weeks, to start from the beginning all over again. This is just a great album, and for the first time in years, I really, really sense how much fun funky klez can be.
The New Orleans Klezmer Allstars have been through several record companies. They're back to making records for themselves. I don't think it's any accident that this is my favorite album since their first, also independently released. And it doesn't matter. It's been years since we saw a new album by the band at all. This one makes up for a lot of waiting, and for a lot of years. It's the album to get. Better, I'm excited again about the possibility of seeing the band in concert. This is, after all, the hardest-working Jewish band, around. If they have gotten so much better than a bar band since they began, that's great. I'm ready to move up. Take a listen. You'll be ready to do some klezmer dancing, New Orleans funky style, yourself.
Reviewed by Ari Davidow 7/27/03
Personnel this recording:
Robert Wagner: clarinet
David Rebeck: violin, viola, mandocello
Glenn Hartman: accordion
Jonathan Freilich: guitar
Arthur Kastler: bass
David Sobel: drums
- Goodbye Big Homey (Wagner, Hartman, Sobel) 1:13
- Bucharesti (trad.) 2:15
- The Jew Blues (Wagner) 5:26
- Borvis (Freilich) 5:43
- A Heimesher Sher (Tarras) 3:35
- Freilich's Phoenix Doina (Freilich) 6:05
- The Owl (Wagner) 5:38
- No More Freilach (Wagner) 7:40
- Panogiotis (trad., arr. Hartman) 4:48
- Naftuna Melt (Hartman) 3:12
- Fun Tashlich (trad.) 2:01
- Nikolaev Bulgar (trad.) 3:05
- Le Coucou (trad.) 6:21
- Oy Tate S'iz Gut (trad.) 3:33