Klezmer Conservatory Band
Since its early 1990s rediscovery by hipsters of every stripe, klezmer music, the raucous secular music of Eastern Europe's Yiddish diaspora, has suffered some severe indignities at the hands of avant-gardists determined to bring the music, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. While some of these klezmer fusion projects, like John Zorn's Masada or Steve Bernstein's Diaspora Soul, have yielded up some wonderful new musical insights, they're generally too cerebral and bloodless to do justice to klezmer's vivid and vibrant tradition. That's where Klezmer Conservatory Band comes in, playing traditional klezmer, fast, loud, and joyous.
This time the 11-piece ensemble is taking on Yiddish wedding music from the early 20th century.The Klezmer Conservatory Band combs through the rich recorded history of this music to come up with an album full of forgotten standards and lost gems.
There's a blue, Manny Klein/Mickey Katz swing-era classic ("Bublitchki"); a lovely lullaby from composer Solomon Gulub; a silly, Catskills-style novelty-number by Max Wilner ("Freylekh Zayn"); a Yiddish take on a popular Turkish tune ("Der Terk in America"); and a favorite from the legendary Epstein Brothers Orchestra ("Beresh Katz Bulgar"), learned directly from the late, great Max Epstein. The Russians get their due here, too, with a rousing Russian rave-up learned from British clarenetist Merlin Shepard ("Skotshne #60"); a Russian waltz originally set in Yiddish by actor/singer Chaim Towber ("Nokh Eyn Tabtz); and a beautiful hora learned from Bessarabian emigree German Goldenshteyn. There's even a personal connection -- three of the songs included here ("Bulgar from Bucharest," "Khasene Tantz/Khaikele," "Dobrantosh") were part of the repertoire of music director Hanus Netsky's grandfather's Philadelphia-based wedding band.
Musically, the band is at the top of its game. On the fast numbers the flutes, piccolos, and clarinets wail, and the violins zing, while the rhythm section chugs away like a locomotive bound for Zion. On the slower tunes, the accordions, strings, and piano join the violins in a stately dance. The album balances the vocal and instrumental tracks nicely, with strong Yiddish-language vocals from the wonderful Judy Bressler.
Of course, not everything is sung in Yiddish or strictly traditional here. The title track is adapted from legendary Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and is sung in English. But somehow it fits, and that's just one of the many small pleasures of this excellent, rollicking recording. - Thomas Pryor
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