La Kumpania Zelwer - Daissa (Tziganes Imaginaries)
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La Kumpania Zelwer
Daissa (Tziganes Imaginaries)
La Chant du Monde (

cd cover Kumpania Zelwer is the brainchild of composer and multi-multi-instrumentalist Jean-Marc Zelwer. Zelwer plays everything from nyckelharpa to santur to glass xylophone. His eight-piece band plays everything from washboard to toy piano to singing saw. This eclectic assortment of household appliances would yields a colorful pastiche of sound. Zelwer and company use these and more conventional weapons of mass construction such as accordion, cello, trumpet, violin, and tuba to create a sound that mixes elements of klezmer, cabaret, and street theater, with touches of Gypsy and Breton music for good measure. Daissa is a wild ride and one well worth taking.

The album kicks off with the dramatic traditional Yiddish song "Birobidjan" (Listen!), about an autonomous Jewish region of the Soviet Union founded by Stalin. The optimistic lyrics belie the dire minor key of the melody. Vocalist Francesca Lattuada's powerful alto gives the piece the theatricality it deserves. Another highlight is the loopy instrumental "C'est pas tour les jours Shabbat," with its circus-like oom-pah tuba and clashing tonalities on piano, clarinet, and trumpet. The vaguely nightmarish "Balagan" (Listen!) features glass bottle xylophone and trumpet with a gouache of spooky organ and altered voices in the background. Particularly beautiful is the "Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs)," with its droning violin and santour accompaniment. "Polvere" a Corsican cante jondo (usually performed a cappella) gets a chamber music treatment with violin, cello, and nyckelharpa.

Zelwer has created street shows using dozens of musicians and has made a career of writing music for the stage. The theatre that is in his blood translates quite successfully to disc. He uses the sounds at his disposal as an impressionist painter might have used various brush strokes and combinations of color. The result is a richly textured canvas with all of the emotional impact of the best art. - Peggy Latkovich

Sound samples and CD available at cdRoots

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