The Lithuanian Empire
Review by Eric Zaidins
The Lithuanian Empire, 2006
available from the band's website,
www.the lithuanian empire.com
I feel fortunate when I buy an album or CD that has one, maybe two exceptional tracks. Often I'm not even that lucky. So it's a particular joy for me when I get totally blown away by an entire album.
The Lithuanian Empire's debut CD, 'The Lithuanian Empire', has managed to keep things fresh, interesting, and engaging, line after line, section after section, song after song, making it totally impossible to become bored. The scoring is sophisticated and mature, and the playing tight and energetic. The song order is thoughtful, giving the CD a sensual tone, evocative of the rollercoaster ride of a long afternoon of lovemaking. The band tips its hat to the past but it's apparent that these folks are firmly rooted in contemporary influences. One is reminded of Frank London's Klezmer Brass All Stars and the Klez Dispensers. While those influences are apparent they never become subsuming.
Like many klezmer artists who are exploring liturgically anchored melodies, the CD opens with a very Hassidic sounding a cappella Nign. Becky Wexler's, 'Tisch Nign,' starts things off simply, beautifully, and slowly. Female vocals only. The next track, 'Ol' Daddy Sizzlegut,' begins traditionally but quickly becomes whimsical and jazzy, building in intensity with a big band sound and a swinging Bulgar rhythm. Track 3's 'Balkan Balebusteh,' continues to build the jazz inspired energy. Its great syncopated rhythms, rounds, and fugues are captivating.
After Track 3, when the music's intensity is almost at its peak, the group pulls back and slows down the pace in Andy John's original 'Cherry Blossom Hora.' It features his fantastic chromatic harmonica playing. Stylistically, think 'Toots Thielemans plays klezmer.' Andy's that good and I look forward to hearing more of his playing in the near future.
With an opening drum solo, big brass band sound, and beautiful and pensive hard-bop style jazz piano and accordion solos in the middle, the bulgar, 'Eva's Tune' (Track 5) begins a kind of soft intensity that returns us, in Track 6, to 'Tisch Nign,' now transformed into a sophisticated arrangement for piano. Fern Lindzon's solo performance begins with a short and subtle doina followed by a lovely classical style arrangement with hints of Shostakovich's innovative harmonic chord pairing.
The album's crescendo is reached two thirds of the way into Track 7's 'Yismekhusidl,' which is arranged as a kind of triptych. The first run through is as a traditional khosidl, oompah accordian included. Slowly, deliberately, and thoughtfully it opens up in the second go-around to creative funky harmonies, moving into hard driving, full on marching band-meets-jazz/funk. The third chorus is lead by an electric sitar (that's right, sitar... it's not a typo!) and a hard driving rock-the-house jazz-rock beat. (When I mentioned to Kenny Green, the Westchester Klezmer Program's music director that I was reviewing the CD, he hinted that I needed to let you in on the homage to Led Zeppelin: "Just in case you're not familiar with the Zeppelin canon, it's 3 minutes and 40 seconds into the recording, exactly where the electric sitar comes in. The horn/bass line behind the solo is completely from Zep's 1st album. The song is called 'How Many More Times.' They even nailed Page's chord punches at 3:51!") Yismekhusidl's last third is psychedelic, exotic, and leaves you a little breathless. A fitting segue into Track 8. Andy's sher, 'aSHERville,' is a fast moving, heart pumping duet with him again on harmonica, accompanied by Lorie Wolf on her drum set. aSHERville finished, it's time to regroup with 'Devorah Nign.' Kinneret Sagee, Ryan Purchase, and Fern play Ryan's original melody played in traditional Nign style, and its a welcome juxtaposition to the craziness of 'Yismekhusidl' and intensity of 'aSHERville.' After the cool of 'Devorah Nign', batteries recharged, comes 'Sushi for Shabbes,' a Turkisher with attitude. Andy's creative composition, with great solos by Becky, Fern, and Randel Pierce, has sassy brass accompaniments, and great segund from Ryan on trombone and Fern on piano. It's perfect.
The final track brings us back to the quiet and thoughtfulness of the beginning. But instead of the quiet solitude elicited in Track 1, this reprise of 'Tisch Nign's' a cappella performance is communal and complete, with the full sound of alto, soprano, tenor and bass vocals. It has all the the table banging, utensil rattling accompaniment one would expect when a family or group of friends comes together in celebration at the end of an evening. The Lithuanian Empire's debut is spiritually moving and leaves you wanting more.
Reviewed by Eric Zaidins, 16 Oct, 2007.
Personnel this recording:
Kinneret Sagee: clarinet (Tracks 1-5,7,9-11)
Becky Wexler: clarinet (Tracks 1-5,7,10,11)
Lorie Wolf: drums and percussion (Tracks 1-5,7,8,10,11)
Ryan Purchase: trombone (Tracks 2-5,7,9,10,11)
Fern Lindzon: piano, keyboard (Tracks 1-5,7,9,10,11)
Andy John: bass, guitar, harmonica, electric sitar (Tracks 2-5,7,8,10,11)
Eva Boodman: trumpet (Tracks 1-5,7,10,11)
Randel Pierce: accordian, piano (Tracks 2,3,5,7,10,11)
Moti Ludmer: accordian (track 4)
- Tisch Nign (R. Wexler) 1:17
- Ol' Daddy Sizzlegut (Trad) 3:26
- Balkan Balebusteh (Trad) 3:33
- Cherry Blossom Hora (A. John) 5:39
- Eva's Tune (Trad) 4:22
- Tisch Nign II (R. Wexler) 2:47
- Yismekhusidl (Trad) 4:56
- aSHERville (A. John) 1:19
- Devorah Nign (R. Purchase) 3:32
- Sushi for Shabbes (A. John) 5:28
- Tisch Nign III (R. Wexler) 2:15