Shirim Klezmer Orchestra / Mayse (Tales)

nice duotone w/understated english and my own Yiddish logotype

Shirim Klezmer Orchestra
Mayse (Tales)

Naftule's Dream Recordings, 2004 NDR 101

CD available from

Shirim Klezmer Orchestra has been making wonderful brassy "old-style" American Klezmer Music for longer than there has been a KlezmerShack. They are also the band that played at my wedding and I provided the Yiddish title graphic for this album. It is going to come as no surprise that I think that this is a great album, maybe my favorite Shirim album since "Naftule's Dream."

What Shirim does better than anyone else is to play traditional, brassy American klezmer with perfect excitement and skill. Selections lean heavily on the repertoire of band muse Naftule Brandwein, but also include the best from that era such as Harry Kandel and Shloimke Beckerman. They bring alive several tunes from the Moshe Beregovski collection. The long wait for a recording of bandleader Glenn Dickson's audience-pleaser, "Tschatchkes" is over. In addition, they have included some wonderful recordings of the Ellis Island tourist experience today and created some wonderful contextual soundscapes. This would seem to be a nostalgia thing, except that the sounds and voices sound current. The mystery was finally explained when I asked David Harris about an intriguing song, a vocal by an older voice with piano. It's the voice of Nyunya Altshtein, a recent Ellis Island graduate:

Nunya is an older gentleman, a Russian emmigré who works in a temple in Newton, that has befriended the local klezmer bands for the last 20 years or so at every bar mitzva and wedding. He helps maintain the temple, but at the end of gigs saunters over to the band and schmoozes and occasionally pulls out a gem to sing. A very kind spirit—sorta of the klezmer mascot—who has quite the life story of escaping russia and singing his way across Europe until he got to America.

So Michael hung out with him one day and had him sing and relate stories of Russian life, and that's what spattered across the album along with sound samples of weddings/bar mitvas there and Ellis Island samples

Even without Nunya, the band sounds like a rolling thunder of infectious dance music occasionally married to circus zaniness or avant garde edginess. Dickson's clarinet is masterful, clearly demonstrating why he is among the world's best. The drumming of Eric Rosenthal is always powerfully compelling. The knock-em-dead brass of Dave Harris on trombone and Jim Gray on tuba is never less than wonderful (but I'll single out Dave's closing arrangement of "Galitsianer Tantz" as one exceptional example). Brandon Seabrook's banjo fits, somehow, and completes places that I hadn't realized needed percussive plucked strings, and Michael McLaughlin's piano and accordion remain among my favorites (hear, for instance, the lovely "Dobriden" or "Yiddish Blues").

It's not just an album of music as it was, but somehow, that time has been captured and played for today's ears. Or, an album of music that continues to be vital, and continues to be immediate not just for those of us who have been here in the US for generations, but for new arrivals, even today. Like rock and roll for a demographic that overlaps with ours, this is European Jewish soul music. The end result is a wild, raucous perfect dance-storm of alive music, sure to cheer the cheerless, comfort the uncomfortable, and move the feet of everyone.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 9/11/04

Personnel this recording:
Glenn Dickson: clarinet
David Harris: trombone
Brandon Seabrook: banjo
James Gray:: tuba
Michael McLaughlin: piano, accordion
Eric Rosenthal: drums

Nyunya Altshtein: guest vocals


  1. Intro (Rosenthal/McLaughlin) 1:01
  2. Lebedig Naftule Bulgar (from Naftule Brandwein) 3:26
  3. Kolomeyka (from Harry Kandel) 4:12
  4. Serba Romaniaska (from Naftule Brandwein) 3:12
  5. Skocne (from Moshe Beregovski) 3:11
  6. Grandfather and Grandmother/Odessa Bulgarish (from Harry Kandel/Abe Schwartz) 5:26
  7. Soundscape 2 (Rosenthal) 1:30
  8. Yontov (from Naftule Brandwein) 5:50
  9. Dobriden (from Moshe Beregovski) 3:18
  10. Tschatches (Glenn Dickson) 2:28
  11. Yiddish Blues (Lt. Frankel) 3:14
  12. Honga Bucarest (from Dave Tarras) 2:49
  13. Galitsianer Tantz (from Shloimke Beckerman; arr. Dave Harris) 5:34

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