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cd cover This self-titled recording by female quintet Mikveh builds on the increasing popularity and familiarity of Klezmer, the musical tradition of Ashkenazic Jewry. Jazzy, cartoony brass is de-emphasized in favor of a more intimate sound, secured by Lauren Brody's accordion and Nicki Parrott's bass, foundation for Margot Leverett's festive clarinet. The spires of Mikveh are the sinuous, demonic fiddle of Alicia Svigals, and the passionate, contrasting vocals of Brody and Adrienne Cooper, one deep and full-bodied, the other light and winged. Lyrics, translated to English in the booklet as appropriate, unfailingly avoid tedium and cliché, the entire production benefiting from a live feel, immediate and direct.

"A gutn ovnt Brayne"
The record begins with "Royz Royz," slow and contemplative, quiet clarinet behind solo vocal, lyrics a multi-level allegory: personal desire for reunion implying diasporic exile, and that implying separation from the divine, all suffused by a hopeful longing. On "Heart of the World," soulful, gradually accelerating accordion and clarinet, joined midway by fiddle, support vocal harmonies and alternating vocal leads, intriguing lyrics both a reassuringly mystical description of the world and a prayer of supplication. "A Gutn Ovnt Brayne," a dramatic if indirect Yiddish tale of wife abuse, proceeds in a characteristic stalking common time, but the harrowing verses are forcefully amplified by dissonant and angelic instrumental effects; a staggering instrumental waltz bridge, emphasis on beats 3 and 1 tying measures tightly together, provides a sort of relief.

The wonders of the post-salvation world recounted in "Vos Vet Zaym" invite comparison with Lou and Peter Berryman's "Glorious Prediction," the accordion-based waltz waxing hypnotic as many voices and Svigals' fiddle join in a round, resolving into an accelerating two-step. "Di Arbuzn's" bouncy accordion two-step, with three-voice harmony vocals declaiming harvest and fertility, keeps spirits high.

Mikveh leads you through plenty of emotional ups and downs, but with a pleasingly expressive authenticity and a complete absence of maudlin manipulation. - Jim Foley

Audio: "A gutn ovnt Brayne" trad/arr Mikveh
©2001 Traditional Crossroads /Tcrossing, used by permission

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