Klezroym / --, (1998)
Full Metal Klezmer, (2000)
Meshuge Klezmer Band / Dreidel, (2000)
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On another front, I have recently gotten new shelves and drawers so that my entire CD collection is accessible for the first time since August 1996. It was initially quite nice not to be burdened by all of that "stuff." But, since settling here in Boston, I have slowely, without wanting it to get in the way of whatever I'm doing now, been trying to get things out of boxes and into places where it is easily accessible. This afternoon, I purchased one last shelf unit and the folk albums are up. (Need I note that the first shelf unit accomodated klezmer, now years ago?) Tonight, I am renewing my acquaintance with one of my favorite "Celtic revival" bands of the Sixties, Britain's "Pentangle." As I listen to Jacqui McShee's exquisite voice once again, and imagine Bert Jansch and John Renbourn playing together back when they were recording as friends, and listen to the solid jazz rhythm section, I wonder what it was like to be playing "traditional" English folks songs in their jazz-folk style, mixing in a few ringers like, "Sally 'Round the Roses" or "Will the Circle be Unbroken," never once losing the ability to render them as the specific fruits of the various streams of music that defined the band at its peak. (I am not among those who has any need to waste time with the post-Sixties re-formed band.)
These days, as I often say, klezmer is not the edge. There are Jewish wedding bands around the world playing klezmer and Israeli and pop tunes just as badly and in a manner lacking soul such that my generation was eager to listen to anything but. But that doesn't change the need for exploring new sounds, or make it illegitimate (or even, suspect) the desire to have a simkha in which the band plays well-known and beloved tunes in predictable ways. But the edges are elsewhere.
Here are three interesting "elsewheres" from Italy that have arrived recently. Well, two arrived recently, one has been sitting here, on the changer more often than off, for far too long. Klezroym's debut CD, an eponymous CD from 1998, is wonderful, almost psychedelic klez at times. At its best, it reminds me of the Shirim/Naftule's Dream album, with a near-perfect mix of traditional klezmer and the rest of the musician's rivers, now fused into something new and expressive of our time. The opening New York/Sirba slowly reveals a psychedelic doina, seguing into a folky introduction to singer, Eva Coen (whose voice adds considerable credibility to the already interesting musical mix) and then the band takes off in a langorous speed klez/scat sirba. The album only gets better from there, with a gentle first waltz and more traditional (and untraditional!) klezmer fare. And then there is the Jewish music that doesn't happen to be klezmer, Sephardic songs such as "Fel Shara", or the wonderful improv of "Al-Andalus" to the Spanish guitary "Eléna Tantz." This is one of the first bands to do a cover of the Klezmatics version of "Shnirele Perele," and while the band would suffer from the comparison, the wonderful six minute improv is quite a good, and appropriate, album closer on its own merits. (Actually, there is a surprise remix at the very, very end of the album, but this is the official end. That's an encore.) This is the sort of album I expect to be pulling off the shelf 20 years from now, just as tonight I listened to my favorite Pentangle disk.
I've had less time to spend with two brand new Italian Klezmer projects, but I suspect that people will be angry if I sit on word of their arrival or of their attractions. I should note, by the way, that the pressing plant, or the record labels, don't believe in printing such confusing ephemera as the name of the band on the CD. Thus, when I first opened both CDs and stuck them in the changer, and then tried to figure out which was which, I was initially stumped. Meshuge Klezmer Band's "Dreidel" - (Love 3) could have been the heavy metal album. But there are bluegrass elements, and other, more traditional Jewish klezmer elements. We quite liked it, but were confused by the "heavy metal side." This is an interesting, well-done traditional klezmer album, even despite the cover of John Zorn's "Mahshav." The answer became quite clear a few minutes later when Full Metal Klezmer's album took it's place on the changer. Ahhh, klezmer reminiscent of the first Black Sabbath album. Clearly, now I have the albums correctly identified. The music is balanced by a very interesting collection of images by Alessandra Spranzi. Although neither the images, nor the text (Italian w/English translation) have a direct Jewish connection, there is a mystical sense which is also implied by the kabalistic imagery on the cover. And the music? As the publicity agency writes, "A cd which won't disappoint the John Zorn's Radical Jewish Culture disciples." Or, for that matter, people such as myself who really, really liked that first Black Sabbath album.
For further information about Meshuge Klezmer Band/Dreidel, or Full Metal Klezmer, contact Alessandro Raina/Giacomo Spazio at: Air Studio - via teodosio 85 - 20131 - Milano - Italy. Tel. +39 02 26824083 / Fax +39 02 26827972. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope that these are just the first two releases in what promises to be a most interesting and musically rewarding series.