Ortner-Roberts Duo / A trip to America

A bit cluttered

Ortner-Roberts Duo / A Trip to America:
A Yiddish/Creole Fusion, 2008
Web: myspace.com/ ortner roberts duo

To purchase CDs, send a check for $20+$2 shipping to:
Tom Roberts, 1217 Veto Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15212
or email Tom Roberts for paypal instructions.

This is just the CD to be listening to on July 4th weekend. There is a delightful mix of Yiddish and Jazz from the early '20s and '30s. Susanne Ortner-Roberts' clarinet is masterful, playful; Tom Roberts stride piano a real treat. Indeed, had this duo been down at the bandshell instead of the pointless country band that spelled the Boston Pops this year, I would have been much happier, and the music would even have fit with the evening's Americana, especially as they weave bits and pieces of everything from Sephardic folksong to dixieland into these songs.

The Roberts use a poem by Langston Hughes to help illustrate how intertwined the aspirations of Jewish and Black musicians were during this period:

Little dark baby,
Little jew baby,
Little outcast,
America is seeking the stars,
America is seeking tomorrow.
You are America.
I am America
America—the dream
America—the vision
America—the star seeking I.
Out of yesterday
The chains of slavery;
Out of yesterday,
The ghettoes of Europe;
Out of yesterday,
The poverty and the pain of the old, old world,
The building and struggle of this new one,
We come
You and I,
Seeking the stars.

Although this is a CD that will fit in well with those looking for comfortably jazzy versions of old Yiddish tunes, I would argue that by going deeper into less-often-heard repertoire, and by the elegant interplay between clarinet and piano, this CD also makes a much more interesting listen than usual fare. The piano solo on "Terkisher" that turns it into an almost Sousa-esque march, without seeming to change the melody's basic character illustrates my point. The abundance of Bechet and Brandwein, with nice dollops of ragtime, rembetica ("I plighés") and New Orleans jazz support the proposition of intermixing and fusion, too. It's a proposition first advanced (in my hearing) by the klezmer-revival band, The Klezmorim, but seldom prosecuted this well. In many ways, this CD makes for a "Jewish" bookend to the lovely Harlem Experiment released last fall.

Maybe it's the weekend on which I am first hearing this. More likely it is the skill of the entertainers and their choice of repertoire, but I find this an interesting and pleasurable CD where I had lesser expectations. Quite a delight.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 6 July 2008.


Susanne Ortner-Roberts: clarinet
Tom Roberts: piano


  1. Cotton Club Sher 6:09
  2. Venezuela 3:46
  3. A Trip to America 4:03
  4. Egyptian Fantasy 3:02
  5. Nigun di Savannah 8:39
  6. Sher/A Galitsianer Tentzl 3:45
  7. Wild Cat Blues 3:40
  8. Terkisher 5:32
  9. I Plighés 3:36
  10. Miranda 3:11
  11. Doina/Gasn Nign/Freylekh 5:16
  12. Sidney's Blumele 4:40
  13. Meschuggene Mekhutonim 5:25
  14. Fihren Naftule far dem Rebin 11:20

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