Ben Brussell's KLEZMANIA! / the Wailing Wall

Ugly painting of the kotelKlezmania!
the Wailing Wall

Benny Be Music, 1992
Available from

I confess that I started off prepared not to find this album authentic or very good. The idea of a Jew using the term "Wailing Wall"—a derogatory term the British invented to refer to the Western Wall of the Temple—already bothers me. Not that the patriarchial "kotel" is such a big deal in my personal spiritual life, but the self-oppression inherent in adopting as our own such a term as "wailing wall" is already inauthentic and removed. In some funny ways, this faux pas (or, ta-'oot, in the ancient tongue), exemplifies San Francisco Bay Area Jewish life—diverse, wonderful, warm, and often not very Jewish.

And as much as I love the Jewish-derived music on this album, it certainly isn't authentic. It feels other. It is very good music. It is excellent jazz-inflected, Jewish-inspired something, but the minute I start thinking "klez," this album feels alien. In fact, "Sirba" was a one-time name adopted for reasons I have never caught for the purposes of this recording. The usual name of Brussell's fine ensemble is "KLEZMANIA!"—which implies that the band plays klez, instead of Jewish-derived music, similar to klez, but something else.

That's the trick to enjoying this album. Forget klez or Jewish. Instead, listen to the wail of Brussell's voice on the opening number, or the lovely moves the band puts on a variety of Jewish-derived songs, and you'll be transported. It's lovely. I have also enjoyed them often in concert, thinking of them as a sort of Jewish jazz—maybe Benny Goodman (they are good) transposed to the Nineties by a Benny coming, not directly from a cauldron of Jewish culture, but from people who picked it up by listening to records of klez revival bands. So what if it's inauthentic. It tastes good!

Reviewed by Ari Davidow 11/23/95

Personnel, this recording

Ben Brussell: vocals, mandolin, Rhodes chroma organ, percussion
Dave Barrows: soprano and tenor saxophones, flute
Craig Fry: violin
Mika Knapp: bass, cello
Andy Lewis: drum set, marimba, tambourine, castanets
Kevin Mummey: dumbeq, bongos, hand claps
Johnny Staton: background vocals on "Tumbalalaika"


  1. The Wailing Wall (medley) (B. Brussell) 11:06
  2. Kineahora/Klezmer Fantasy (B. Brussell/trad.) 6:23
  3. Mayn Yidishe Meydele (A. Schorr/S. Secunda) 2:22
  4. Bidele/The Shmidel Freylach (B. Brussell) 3:33
  5. Prayer in the Reeds (D. arrows) 1:49
  6. the Bulgarish (trad.) 3:50
  7. Tumblalaika (trad.) 4:27
  8. Sirba (D. Tarras) 6:00
  9. Mandolin Offering (B. Brussell) 2:09

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