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Recordings for the Solstice Season

Shirim Klezmer Orchestra / Klezmer Nutcracker
Klezmonauts / Oy to the World
Alexandria Kleztet / Y2Klezmer
Oy Vey! Chanukah

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nice naif jews with skillcapsOne of the reasons that I am in Boston is because I am infatuated with Shirim Klezmer Orchestra, as well as with their avant gardeish side, Naftule's Dream. I forget how good they are, and how delightful in concert, and how tight. This past weekend I got to listen to their annual "Klezmer Nutcracker," in Brookline (7th annual, no less!) and was reminded of all these good things all over again. For Bostonites, the band will be performing live as Naftule's Dream, at the Milky Way, in Jamaica Plain. on Sunday, Jan. 3rd, but further details have I not. What I can testify to is that the band has taken a leaf from the book of former KCB clarinet player and moved on from the classics to movie soundtracks, including such important Klezmer milestones as the theme from "Psycho." A good time was had by all, although fewer kids danced the "Dance of the Maccabees" this year. So be it.

Kozatsky 'till You Dropsky (Trepak, arr. David Harris) 1:45

magen david christmas ornamentAlso in time for that other American solstice holiday comes a new-to-me CD, "Oy to the World" (1998) by the Chicago studio band, The Klezmonauts. It occurs to me that I don't actually know much about Christmas Carols. As someone who doesn't watch TV, doesn't listen to commercial radio, and doesn't hang out in malls, I miss a lot of dreck. I'm really fond of carols sung at Christian friends' homes, around a piano, with sincerity and joyous human voice, but that isn't something that I have done as often as I might have liked--there are Jewish holidays of this season that tend to be distracting, except on years such as this one when Chanuka comes early, and there is nothing to do but kick back and watch the commercial frenzy, comfortably unaffected.

Indeed, the idea of "A Klezmer Christmas" sounds very "only in America," but I mean that in the sense that Abe Cahan wrote about America--that place where we lose our traditions and become part of some different, homogenous, commercial goyishe culture. (Abe came too early to see the full-featured commercial version of all of this new American culture, but I don't think he would have changed his mind.)

Still, as someone who still loves the blues and other "only in America" music, I'm not entirely sure why I should feel the part of the grinch about this particular fun recording. So far, my favorite is the surf rock break on "Little Drummer Boy," which is honorary klezmer. (Surf rock, after all, comes from Dick Dale, a good Armenian-American, and if Armenian surf rockers can't be honorary klezmorim, who can be?) Well, that song, and the yiddish tango version of "Jingle Bells," or even the very Yiddish theatrical "Santa, Gey Gesunderheit" are pretty neat. Actually, this is an entirely fun album, and one of the few klezmer-ish CDs you can give people who lack those critical "freilach" genes when you are honoring the commercial version of their solstice holiday. I guess I'd better listen to it again, just to consider the full klezmericized "Deck the Halls" and think about this American-Jewish life. 'Tis the season. That other critic of American-Jewish life, Mickey Katz, would be damn proud. For more information, check out the website, The CD doesn't give me any other contact info.

Notes by Ari Davidow, 12/28/99

As I move these notes off the main klezmershack page into an archive, I cannot help but note three amazing Chanuka tunes, done in a manner appropriate to the season, on the most worthy CD by the Alexandria Kleztet, "Y2Klezmer". Worth considering when you make your holiday plans. Absolutely!

Another link worth noting: Sruli and Lisa, the duo who always seem to be the ones running the kids workshops at KlezKamp, or KlezKanada, or wherever folks gather to play klezmer, released their second Oy Vey! recording last year (in 1999, or 5760 to the rest of us). If anything, Oy Vey! Chanukah is even better than the original Young Person's Klezmer Workshop recording. Best of all, this is the recording to keep your kids happy and get yourself in that chanukah, latke-chomping, dreidel-spinning spirit!

A Chanike Tantz

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