This is real New York klezmer with attitude: tight, loud, driving, and delightfu
This is real New York klezmer with attitude: tight, loud, driving, and delightful. From the opening "Nifty's Freilach", "Russian Sher", and Mike Cohen original, "Another bottle of vodka," the band takes no guff as it makes the songs new and perfect for New York's not so safe, more than a little bit jazzy streets. Their take on the traditional "Russian Sher" also features a bit of New Orleans, something they do without resorting to rock 'n' roll. This is also very New York klezmer in another way: the "Yeshivish" cut of the music, and especially the singing on "Tziganoff Freilach", the lyrics allegedly going back to the death of the Vilna Gaon, the Misnagid who excommunicated the Hasidim in an early round of modern Jewish cultural ferment. This is the sound I have been hearing at recent Orthodox weddings in this second-most important among the Jewish holy cities.
The band's slight deconstruction of "Ot Azoi" and "Freilach 1" reinforces that sense of New York attitude. The playing is so tight, like an Elgin watch, even as bass clarinet and horn stride slowly through some changes together, then switch back into frenetic "speed klez" time. Rich Huntley's drumming is awesome, as are Mike Cohen's woodwinds and Jordan Hirsch's brass. Ron Caswell's tuba is the best klezmer tuba—maybe the only notable klezmer tuba I have heard—outside of Shirim Klezmer Orchestra. Psachya Septimus' accordion is excellent. No wonder they wail so tightly together.
Letting the tuba take the lead on the intro to the "Seder Nigun" works perfectly. As the accordion and muted trumpet take over the lead one gets a visceral sense of trance by singing, dancing, and that other bottle of vodka. When the voice takes up the nigun, the music is perfectly intense, and then becomes moreso as the whole band joins in singing. There is an odd American accent—I don't know how else to explain it—that makes this sound just a bit different, a bit influenced by doo wop or other harmonies. I love the result. The fluid "Jovanne Jovanke" with its wonderful balkan meter makes an excellent counter; even better is the way the tuba brings back the second line. The beat on their "Second Ave. Square Dance" is so precise it goes beyond Elgin to an atomic clock. It's edgier than the Dave Tarras version, but otherwise, the best I've heard since. Then, the "Rusishe Sher" takes that precision and makes it fluid and jazzy again, if only to prepare us for the delightful chaos of "Seven wise men of Chelm," strongly reminiscent of the "Schneider-Swiefacher" played on the first Klezmatics album. Despite the name, the closing "Debka Medley" has less of the Arabic music feel implied by the name (although that rhythm does frame some of the melody), than the more hasidic klezmer joyfulness implied by its content: traditional wedding tunes brought to Israel by 18th century Hasidim, now known as the "Meron tunes".
This is an excellent, edgy, exciting album. Along with Metropolitan Klezmer and Klezmerfest, the band is defining an exciting, driving sound that makes New York the place to listen to klezmer. These bands aren't just skilled at entertaining at traditional simkhas, but have found a way to make klezmer exciting in a dance club setting. With this CD, the Kleztraphobix show that they are the band to hear.
Personnel this recording:
Michael Cohen: clarinet, bass clarinet, alto sax, vocals
Jordan Hirsch: trumpet, flugelhorn, cornet, lead vocals
Psachya Septimus: accordion, vocals
Ron Caswell: tuba
Rich Meinikoff Huntley: drums, percussion, vocals
Nifty's Freilach (N. Brandwein) 2:50
Russian Sher (trad.) 6:20
Another bottle of vodka (Michael Cohen) 4:11
Tziganoff Freilach (trad.) 4:10
Ot Azoi (Sid Beckerman) 4:26
Freilach 1 (trad.) 3:47
Seder Nigun (trad.) 5:58
Jovanne Jovanke (trad. Macedonian) 4:26
Second Ave. Square Dance (Ellstein/Tarras) 3:19
Mike's New Tune (Michael Cohen) 5:58
Bukoviner Freilach (trad.) 3:29
Rusishe Sher (trad.) 4:21
Seven wise men of Chelm (Psachya Septimus) 2:27
Debka Medley (trad.) 10:21