Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Metropolitan Klezmer – Traveling Show

It’s a mystery why more bands don’t make live albums. They’re infinitely cheaper to record, and if the band is really cooking, they make a great inducement to get fans to come out to shows. Of all the bands who really ought to make a live album, it’s especially exciting to see one from Metropolitan Klezmer. This is a terrific recording: happily, there’s very little audience noise. The performance is pretty much what you would expect from a Met Klez show, great fun and a mix of deliriously danceable tunes along with some quieter, more haunting material. For the most part, the songs are a well-chosen representation of the group’s previous recorded material from the last five years.

As befits New York’s best klezmer band, the musicianship is breathtakingly good. Accordionist Ismael Butera (who also plays in the excellent African/Arab band Sounds of Taarab) is a sensationally fast, powerful player. Violinist Michael Hess (who also plays with Butera in that band) makes a good sparring partner, as do trumpeter Pam Fleming (who plays with her own excellent jazz band, Fearless Dreamer, Hazmat Modine and a million other A-list groups), bassist Dave Hofstra (also of Rachelle Garniez’ band) and astonishingly inventive, instantly recognizable drummer Eve Sicular (who also founded the all-female Isle of Klezbos). Clarinetist Debra Kreisberg, also a terrific songwriter, essentially functions as the lead player here although her bandmates get their share. On this album, singer Deborah Karpel (who has since left the group for a solo career) slinks, seduces and soars with the best of them. Incisively nonconformist Eastern European Jewish party music has seldom sounded this good.

The cd kicks off on a predictably boisterous note with Uncle Moses’ Wedding Dance, from the 1932 Yiddish film, followed by the sultry, swinging Ot Azoy Neyt a Shnayder (That’s the Way a Tailor Sews). The gorgeous, crescendoing Miracle Medley includes a Hasidic Nigunim (chant) about an argumentative Jew who chose God as his sparring partner, with surprising results. Perhaps the single best song on the album is a Kreisberg original, Baltic Blue, a darkly reflective number inspired by her Brooklyn neighborhood. The show concludes with a long, exhilarating romp through a series of Romanian themes and then an equally scorching take on the famous Molly Picon Abi Gezunt theme (from the film Yidl Mitn Fidl), segueing into a captivating, genre-bending original, Klezmerengue. As a bonus, this album ends not with another encore but a darkly beautiful, richly complex vocal number from Isle of Klezbos’ debut album. Most of the 19 tracks on this cd clock in at five minutes or more: is that a bargain or what?

Ironically, Met Klez’s strongest suit is also sometimes their Achilles heel. Since day one this band has been on a ceaseless quest to be Everything Klezmer, and as this album proves, they’ve pretty much succeeded. Frenzied freilachs and langorous laments? Check. Film music? Got it. Cantorial songs? Ja. Antique pop hits? Yes indeedy. But once in awhile Met Klez overreaches, with cringe-inducing results. As blissfully fun as this album is, there was absolutely no need to include that nursery rhyme about the dreydl, or the Broadway song. As hard as the band tries to give them some substance, it doesn’t work because they have nothing to work with. That stuff belongs on a children’s record, if it belongs anywhere at all. Certainly, there’s a klezmer influence in showtunes: for that matter, there are elements of klezmer in practically every pop song written in the first decade of the last century, whether or not those song were written by Jews. That doesn’t mean that all of them deserve to be recorded. Be that as it may, this album is truth in advertising. This is what you get when you buy a Met Klez ticket: a pretty sensational time guaranteed for all. What Met Klez really ought to do is get on a tour with Gogol Bordello or some other popular gypsy rock act, which would win them the young, enthusiastic audience they deserve. Metropolitan Klezmer play a free lunchtime show on May 15 at 1 at Trinity Church, and after that at the 92nd St. Y on May 21 and 22.

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May 13, 2008 - Posted by | Music, Reviews, Uncategorized

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