Budapest Klezmer Band
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Budapest Klezmer Band
The Train 7.40

Budapest Klezmer Band
Yiddishe Blues
Both titles Klezmer Music Ltd, Hungary

cd cover The Budapest Klezmer Band (BKB) is rooted in the musical heartland where klezmer and Roma influences have acted upon one another for centuries. For this reason, perhaps, they approach the traditional repertoire with the relaxed attitude of people who have grown up immersed in the music, and thus never exoticize it. Openly inspired by the US klezmer revival, they have performed all over Europe and in Israel. For their first album, The Train 7.40, composer, pianist and bandleader Ferenc Jávori, who studied with survivors of the Hungarian Holocaust, wrote the arrangements for the Budapest production of the musical Fiddler on the Roof. Excerpts heard here include the theme-setting "Overture" and a sublime rendition of "Shabbat Prayer." BKB plays with a sense of precise restraint that reflects the confidence and spirit wanting in the work of those less well grounded in Eastern European folk music. When they play fast (and they can turn on a rhythmic dime), BKB does so to make a point, not to show off or get sloppy, as with the brief coda to "Mazel Tov," the short but rousing "Hassid-tants," and the soaring title tune.

Another example of BKB'S effortless swing is the woven tapestry of "Papirossen," which allows singer-violinst Katica Illényi to coax every bit of feeling from this familiar, wistful melody, against a minimalist entwining of accordion, violin, clarinet and trombone. Jávori turns in a haunting, eerie solo piano improvisation upon composer Sholom Secunda's familiar "Donna, Donna," remaking this Yiddish chestnut in the process. Jávori's composition skills are also manifest on "Skotchna," which reveals a wry sense of humor and absolute instrumental control, forging the ensemble into living body of sound greater than the sum of its parts. The stately piano-clarinet duet of "Firen Di Mehetonem Ahyem" captures the bittersweet sense of joy and loss manifest in the Yiddish wedding ceremony to which the tune refers. Illényi steps out on vocals and fiddle with the send-up of "Roman'ye," a show piece for each musician that reveals BKB's astonishing range and expressiveness. It constitutes a joyous Romanian romp to the close of a splendid album whose understated musicianship unleashes all the pathos and fervor of the Eastern European Jewish, Roma and Middle Eastern cultural convergence.

cd cover BKB's new Yiddische Blues offers further confirmation of the band's consummate musicianship, lyrical joy and paradoxically controlled abandon. Drummer-percussionist Balázs Végh sets a scalpel-like rhythmic figure to open on "Tartar Dance," a showpiece built on a fine interplay between clarinetist István Kohán and each of the instrumentalists in successive solo turns. Végh's drumming also gives a menacing drive to the traditional "Sirba," punctuating the soaring lines of Kohán's clarinet. The group also has a reflective side, as on the first half of "Jewish Dance," a medley and instructive essay on Eastern European styles, with a bluesy tinge percolating through in the second half of solo exchanges. Jávori's mark as a composer gives the album its coherence, whether reinterpreting wedding dances from Fiddler on the Roof (as on his "Fantasie") or on the traditional "Hora." Likewise his other compositions, "Emancipated Klezmer" (with some exquisite accordion-fiddle-piano interplay) and the title track, whose blues flavoring is more ornamental than structural, a bit of New Orleans hot cayenne in an unmistakably Hungarian goulash. Jávori's bright, precise keyboard attack is also manifest throughout, lending a ringing tone that owes as much to cymbalom style as to classical piano.

Even when they tackle standard repertoire like Abraham Ellstein's "Jidl Mit'n Fidl," or Secunda's "Donna Donna" (a tender clarinet-piano accompaniment to Illényi's restrained vocal interpretation) and "Bei Mir Bist Du Schein", BKB brings something new and vital to the music. For full savor, BKB demands close listening, but rewards with a sense of diversity, nuance and sentiment from which klezmer wannabes and hangers-on have much to learn. Every piece on Yiddische Blues reconstitutes the traditional repertoire by way of innovative revelation, and there's no other reason to play the music or pay any heed. - Michael Stone

Both recordings are available from cdRoots

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