Dire Gelt- Sevastopol
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Dire Gelt
Forrest Hill Music, Italy

cd cover A quarter of a century into the klezmer revival, it's become apparent that klezmer is no longer just a type of music, but a state of mind as well. Dire Gelt, an earnest group of musicians from Italy, is the latest in a series of bands from such places as Germany, Austria, Poland and elsewhere that devotes itself to reaching into the Jewish past. And they do so for two very distinct reasons.

The first is because they like the music that was part of the culture of Jews from Eastern Europe - before the Holocaust obliterated most of the population. The other reason is due to the Holocaust; some of these bands decry the persecution that nearly silenced those sounds.

And so, for more than two decades, music lovers have been treated to a plethora of European groups that have embraced klezmer in order to revive, and most importantly preserve, the fiddles, accordions and clarinets that once helped enliven and mark Jewish life across Europe.

"To play klezmer music is a means to establish a connection between past and present," the group from Bologna, Italy, writes in their liner notes. "The memory of the past seems indispensable to us in order to oppose the injustice of the present time."

Presumably, Dire Gelt is referring to recent events in such places as Bosnia and Rwanda, for instance. It's a weighty and admirable approach to making music. It still happens that klezmer is portrayed or packaged as a nostalgic trip down memory lane, not a tool for promoting human rights. But philosophy aside, Dire Gelt recently released this engaging album in which they've demonstrated, once again, that klezmer remains an earthy, raucous music - and that you needn't be Jewish to effectively play klezmer.

Of course, most klezmer fans already knew this, but it's worth repeating, especially since some of the klezmer albums released by groups in Europe are hard to find and are rarely publicized in the U.S., where a loyal population of listeners can be found.

The music on Sevastopol is a heady mix of bulgars, traditional melodies and a few original flashes. Dire Gelt is offering some of the same fare that can be found elsewhere, but they do so unabashedly, with aplomb and conviction.

Take the opening number, "Dzhankoye," a defiant ballad if there ever was one. "Who says Jews can only trade, eat fat soups and not create, nor be sturdy workingmen? Enemies can talk like that! Jews! Let's spit right in their eye!"

As you can see, by choosing this traditional number, Dire Gelt is displaying an in-your-face attitude of their own. The rest of the time, though, the group efficiently churns out a familiar wedding tune and the famous song about that "Greenhorn Cousin."

The group coalesces nicely around whatever mood they attempt, deftly capturing these age-old sounds with expert musicianship. And Filippo Plancher's vocals nicely convey the various emotions required of him; although at one point, his brief yodeling is a bit startling.

There's little question that Dire Gelt is truly inspired, and you can feel that throughout the 60 minutes on this album. They rightly quote the famous Hasidic leader, Rabbi Na'ham of Breslev, who said there is an "obligation to choose joy and reject sadness."

In this way, Dire Gelt has accomplished their goal. Even as we hear and feel the sometimes sad strains of a music and people that in some ways did vanish, Sevastopol provides joy. - Edward Silverman

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