Naftule's Dream
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Naftule's Dream
Live in Florence
Innova (www.innovarecordings.com)

cd cover There's a good reason why this provocative band from Boston called one of its albums Smash, Clap! Sometimes, their compositions are so edgy and adventuresome that you're given a jolt and might think you're listening to an unusual version of John Coltrane or the Art Ensemble of Chicago. At other times, the melodic strains of legendary klezmer Naftule Brandwein, the once-upon-a-time "King of Jewish Music," appear to leap out unexpectedly and force you to move in time to the music.

The dichotomy is deliberate.

Listen!
"Industrial Bulgar"
Formed a decade ago as an offshoot from a conventional klezmer revival act, Naftule's Dream functions as an avant garde club, a modernist effort that's part jazz and part brass brand, but one that is laced with fluid rock guitar lines and punchy accordion notes. The Yiddish word for such a stew is cholent, and Naftule's Dream bubbles over.

The idea, as this superb live album makes clear, is to take the klezmer roots heard in Brandwein's traditionalist approach and expand on them. But the Dream - a six-man noisemaker - tries to give the impression that Brandwein suddenly woke in the middle of the night with a discordant vision of what his music might sound like somewhere off in the distant future, a dream where klezmer intermingled so easily with the progressive that it finds a wider audience than he ever imagined.

This explains the free-form jazz that characterizes the opening track, "Free Klez, I-IV." At nearly 9 minutes, the composition veers about as far away from traditional klezmer as anyone has ever gotten, while still infusing the music with klezmer flourishes. Slightly more structured approaches are heard on the album's other tracks, although "Dirge Sirba," a mesmerizing rave-up, begins with some raucous electric guitar that is reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix. The most accessible tune is called "A Friend of Kafka," with a sweet melody that gradually evolves into something that sounds slightly disturbing; a fitting outcome, given the title.

Several of these numbers have appeared on previous releases. But what makes this collection so compelling is the way Naftule's Dream so thoroughly performs its compositions, wringing every possible emotion out of their instruments, before a live audience. That's often the best way to enjoy klezmer, or whatever you may be tempted to call Naftule's Dream; sizzling, provocative, imaginative playing that keeps a crowd fixated. Brandwein would have been captivated. - Ed Silverman

"Industrial Bulgar" (p(c)2002 Innova / Michael McLaughlin, used by permission

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