Zoë Aqua / In Vald Arayn (Into the forest)

Great photo. Awful type. Isn't that so often how things turn out?

Zoë Aqua / In Vald Arayn (Into the forest), 2022

Available from Bandcamp and better digital and cd shops everywhere.

Fiddler and educator Zoë Aqua is one of the best young klezmer fiddlers around. If you've attended Yiddish New York or KlezKanada you may have already taken classes with her. She is also co-founder of klezmer bands Tsibele and Farnakht.

This recording captures one of the reasons I have gotten so excited about listening to Klezmer again. And, one reason for that excitement is the way that Aqua spent a couple of years in Transylvania doing what klezmorim did for generations (and since the revival, what klezmorim such as Bob Cohen, Josh Horowitz, Yale Strom, Jake Shulman-Ment, and others happily too numerous to mention have done—learning and playing with local musicians who have been playing klezmer for generations, learning klezmer and other local traditions to create a next generation of music for the rest of us.

From the opening "Welcome" I have been captivated. As much as I love American-style, jazzy, brassy klezmer, the Eastern European variant heavy in strings sings to me. These tunes are based on traditional forms, composed and arranged by Aqua. "Welcome" is also a good example of a small dance set, as the band plays through several stitched-together tunes to keep the beat going and the dancers on the floor. She has further designated the (usually) dance style to which they are associated, the better to aid aspiring klezmorim (and dancers, getting a feel for the beat!).

That interweaving of traditional with the new gives the entire effort a freshness. Everything sounds familiar, but then, not. This makes it even more fun. The timing is perfect for the dance, but the melody soar to new places. This becomes especially easy to notice on the doina, with the interplay between cimbalom (hammer dulcimer) and violin. I love how "A kukava fun vald" leads into the stately "Reyna's March / March for Gyula," followed by the equally stately "Terkisher pentru Efta Botoca". If your experiene with Terkisher's is Naftule Brandwein's "Jewish soldier in the trenches" this (and "a fenyő és a szőlő") are a great way to learn different approaches to the dance. A different sequence and tune illustrate the same doina-to-dance idea (intro/doina/then, in this case, batuta?) in the "Wetland Suite." (Did I note that the few song titles that are in English echo own times—witness, "The E-biker’s Legényes" as well—reminiscent of the names of many early recorded klezmer tunes that evoke time and place of a century ago. The names, of course, are markers to claim a tune&emdash;not descriptive of the melody, itself!

This isn't just my favorite klezmer violin album in ages, it's a recording that makes me excited to be listening to traditional klezmer again, and trying to share that excitement. Please check this out on Bandcamp, and if, like me, you are entranced, don't be shy about purchasing Khanike music app stuffers to your favorite family members.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 26 November 2023.

Personnel this recording:
Zoë AQUA: violin, composition
Annie AQUA: violin (tracks 1, 4, 6, 9 and 10)
FENYVESI Attila: 3-string brácsa, 4-string brácsa (track 8)
RÉMAN Gergely: cimbalom (tracks 1, 3, 4, 5 and 10)
ZSIKAI László: bass
Esther WRATSCHKO: vocals (track 8)

Song Titles

  1. Welcome to the Welcome (Bulgars) 5:22
  2. Grodner Gan-Eydn (Zhok) 2:57
  3. A kukave fun vald (Doina) 2:40
  4. Reina's March—March for Gyula 3:29
  5. Terkisher pentru Efta Botoca 2:23
  6. Noon in Bonchida (Zhok) 4:31
  7. Wetland Suite (Intro/ Doina/ Batuta) 5:40
  8. Epitaf 3:36
  9. Dos Eybiker Yidene (Nign) / The E-biker’s Legényes 5:36
  10. A fenyő és a szőlő (Terkisher) 4:02
  11. A bányász dala—The Miner’s Nign 2:11

Original string compositions by Zoë Aqua, inspired by klezmer and Transylvanian sources.

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