Shtreiml - Spicy Paprikash
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Spicy Paprikash
Self-produced (

cd cover The spirited harmonica blast that opens Spicy Paprikash is your first clue that this group isn't serving up your zaidie's klezmer. Shtreiml, named for the furry hats worn by Chassidic Jewish men, is a group of young and talented musicians from Montreal's perennially fertile Jewish community. The group offers a banquet of old and new klezmer sounds with influences from Moldavia, Romania, Hungary, NYC, the Catskills and even the Mississippi River.

Jason Rosenblatt is the harp player whose musical vision guides the group through a klezmer repertoire equally informed by blues, R&B and jazz. A student of diatonic harmonica innovator Howard Levy (ex of the Flecktones), Rosenblatt also sits on the faculty of KlezKanada, the annual klezmer summer camp in rural Quebec that draws musicians, folklorists, academics and lovers of klezmer (and indeed, all things Yiddish), from around the world. In addition to playing a mean chromatic streak on diatonic harp, Rosenblatt writes solid neo-klez compositions that showcase his harmonica prowess, his respect for the conventions of traditional klezmer, and his desire to shake those foundations.

The core band's sound is rounded out with Rosenblatt's keyboards (including piano and Hammond B3), Rachel Lemisch's soulful trombone, Ariel Harrod's bass and Thierry Arsenault's drums. That's right, there's no clarinet.

In the liner notes Rosenblatt ponders: "would the tough klezmer audiences upon hearing the harmonica in lieu of traditional instrumentation shout 'where's the clarinet?' followed by 'what, $10 for a ticket and no cake?'" He answers: "after a year of performing klezmer music on the diatonic harmonica [now closer to 3 years] I can answer with certainty that there is a greater acceptance of the harmonica as a klezmer instrument than there is of a klezmer concert without coffee and a little Danish.'"

On most tracks, Rosenblatt's harmonica occupies the space normally allotted to the clarinet. However, he refuses to emulate the greats of klezmer clarinet like Naftule Bradwein or Shloimke Beckerman, (whose "Galitzianer Tanz" starts off startlingly like Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy" but is actually given a incendiary blues-rock treatment). Instead, Rosenblatt and the band forge their own path into new musical ground, reminding me in some ways of Margot Leverett's recent forays into klezmer-bluegrass hybrids.

What helps this album to shine is the inclusion of several special guests. They include Josh Dolgin (a.k.a. DJ SoCalled) on accordion, piano and borscht-belt vocals on classics like the schmaltz-laden "Halavai" and Mickey Katz's swinging "Trombonic Tanz" (where Lemisch struts her stuff alongside Dolgin and Madelien Verheij on violin while the rest of the band suddenly morphs into a be-bop jazz combo). Of special interest is the cimbalom playing of Nicolae Margineanu, who is featured on several tracks.

Infused with spirit of playful inventiveness, Spicy Paprikash is an album that continues to offer something new to the listener on each exploration. - Philly Markowitz

CD available from cdRoots

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