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Odessa Klezmer Band
Izsák Száraz Fája / Isaac's Dry Tree
Etnofon (

cd cover Isaac's Dry Tree exemplifies musical fusion, in this case the natural interpenetration of Gypsy and klezmer traditions, distinct enough to identify but immersed in continual mutual allusion. What little the core quintet lacks is supplied by a bevy of guest artists, contributing male and female vocals, a full brass section, and cymbalom. The thematic design of the recording echoes a crucial aspect of its dual musical tradition: tension and suspense generated by juxtaposition of diverse yet complementary textures, speeds, and topics.

"Grandad's Dance"
"A Rabbi Tánca" (The Rabbi's Dance) typifies a common, and accurate, perception of klezmer: a pulsing, swaggering beat quickened by full brass jacket, reggae-like in its confident strut, a ponderous tuba-tooted bottom, coyote clarinet relieving the long, serious melodic figures with wild barks, dips, and swerves. Cartoon music! "A Klezmer Sóbaja" (The Sigh of Klezmer) reveals another side. The quiet drone behind Zsigmond Lázár's sinuous fiddle arabesque develops a deliberate rhythm near the end, the fiddle carefully navigating between maudlin and exuberant. It is a study in musical suspense. In "A Fidulás Zsidó" (Yidl with the Fiddle), László Fekete's operatic baritone keeps up with the variable speed of the sax and clarinet-led instrumentation to uproarious effect. Who is chasing whom? The stuttery cymbalom in "Hora" sounds like a prepared piano, rubbing sparks off the smooth, impassioned fiddle lead in a tango-like study in musical tension, then resolves into a quick, care-free two-step.

A skipping beat, coyly percussive strings, and a playful melody carried alternately by high sax and low clarinet signal "Nagyapa Tánca" (Granddad's Dance), immediately followed by "Ifjak Tánca" (Youth's Dance), a tightly-wound gallop, the fiddle double-timing a wailing sax lead, the key transformations giving the illusion of acceleration. Another contrasting pair begins with "Kárpáti Menyasszony" (Fiancée from the Carpathians). Its trancy, oud-like picked tambura adds a Turkish edge to tenor sax and Kati Szvorák's pretty vocal. Ferenc Kiss' playful harmonica introduces a festive, fiddle-led two-step celebration in the complementary "Kárpáti Volegény" (Fiancé from the Carpathians). This pair of pairs is in turn bracketed by "Hajnali Dojna" (Doina at Dawn)with its delicate cymbalom behind the fiddle, the melody simple and pretty, and "Alkonyi Dojna" (Doina at Dusk) with a keyboard drone and hints of frogs and crickets hosting meditations on trumpet and trombone. It's a melancholy but dramatic effect.

The Odessa Klezmer Band complements its merged musical traditions and excellent musicianship with clever and evocative song selection and sequencing, yielding a whole that continues to both entice and satisfy. - Jim Foley

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Audio ©2000 Ethnofon Records, used by permission

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