Kugel / Simcha!
Popover Productions, PP-D5000, 1998
2012 Third Ave., N.,
About a year ago, when I sat down and tried to find the time to write one of those "state of klezmer" articles, I decided that, hell, the klezmer revival is over. It's revived. We can move on. This news impressed absolutely no one. But if I were looking for an example of what I meant by that, I could do no better than point to this recent release by a band fronted by Seattle reed player Shawn Weaver (also of the Mazeltones). Rather than do yet another album of Nineties interpretations of klezmer classics (and perhaps classics of other traditions), Weaver has written a bunch of his own to mix in with the classics. He has written well.
Back when "klezmer revival" was a big deal*, Klezmer Revival bands took great pains to resurrect as many of the old bulgars from the 20s and 30s, as they heard them off old 78s. Some of those bands were damn good, but such modern recordings always left me wondering, "is this what they really play at weddings? Are we imprisoned in the past?" I mean, what would a wedding be without "Firn di Mekhutonim Aheym," but, by the same token, for my generation there might also be a bit of Grateful Dead, or the Stones, or maybe even "Bruce." And for our parents, lots of smoky jazz and American and Jewish standards. And maybe some of the tunes would even be new! Danceable and familiar sounding, but new!
If you put that all together, you've got a rough idea of what Shawn's Kugel sounds like. Lots of great jazz and klezmer sliding in and out of each other as though they always belonged--a sentiment with which Ziggy Elman would have agreed, I'm sure. A few traditional tunes. A lot of new tunes that sound traditional, but also sound "Nineties." Nice. Some great jazz. A couple of vocals, including a standout number, "Nice Evening with Moon" (inspired somewhere by "Sheyn vi di levone?") sung by Desera Charat, a somewhat trippy "Shalom Aleichem/Sei Yona" sung by Shawn with a nice Chasidic beat, a traditional, and gentle, "Los Bilbilicos" and, capping it off, just to remind us of the world outside the revival whence so many of us came, the album is capped by a very tasteful "Paint it Black." Weaver may not have the voice of an Eric Burdon, or even Mick Jagger, but it's nice. Damn nice. In a lot of ways, this album reminds me of the Mike Curtis Klezmer Band album of last year, but this is more diverse, more eclectic.
Weaver's playing throughout the album is excellent, regardless of reed or other instrument. The jazz piano and drumming are likewise spotless. What you really need to go along with an album like this is a good simcha. Wedding, anyone? If not, put it on the CD changer and dance anyway.
Reviewed by Ari Davidow 5/29/98
Personnel this recording:
Shawn Weaver: woodwinds, guitar, mandolin, kalimba, vocals
Steve Rice: keyboards, accordion
Spencer Hoveskeland: accoustic and electric bass
Will Dowd: drums, percussion
Desera Charat: vocal on "Nice Evening with Moon"
Dave Nolet: Guitar on "Paint it Black"
- Baba Blues (Shawn Weaver) 4:17
- Shalom Aleichem/Sei Yona (trad., arr. Shawn Weaver) 4:56
- Purim Medley (Shawn Weaver) 4:41
- Nice Evening with Moon (words: David Hirsch; music: Shawn Weaver) 5:16
- Freylakh for Adrianne (Shawn Weaver) 1:40
- Zemer Atik (trad.) 5:00
- Firn Di Mekhutonim Aheym (trad., arrangement by Henry Sapoznik, "The Compleat Klezmer") 5:38
- Brothers Dance (Shawn Weaver) 4:20
- Oatmeal & Bananas/Odessa Bulgar (Shawn Weaver/trad.) 4:12
- Los Bilbilicos--the nightingales (trad.) 5:03
- Freylakh for Sasha (Shawn Weaver) 2:28
- Paint it Black (Mick Jagger/Keith Richards) 3:34
*For some, it will always be "klezmer revival" time, which is part of what I enjoy. Last weekend I was wandering through Harvard Square, in my adopted new fair city, and I chanced upon a young group of klezmorim, earnestly blowing away at some of my favorites, stopping before each song to explain it to the audience, none of whom seemed to mind. [Back to the review]