This is the second page of reviews of Jewish music from across the world, including numerous klezmer records. I'm not a huge Jewish music maven or anything, but along with all the other "world music" albums I was listening to, a bunch of these albums started floating my way... So I figured, what the heck, let's review these as well... So, what little I know on the topic, I am sharing with you now...
Mickey Katz "Simcha Time: Mickey Katz Plays Music For Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs & Brisses" (World Pacific, 1994)
The one "straight" album from Broadway macher and virtuoso clarinetist Mickey Katz is punctuated by several lively, Yiddish-strewn comedic performances, which were more typical of his ouvre. Katz, who worked with Spike Jones in the late 1940s, soon went solo and recorded a series of Jewish-themed singles and EPs for RCA and Capitol Records in the early 1950s and '60s. This disc collects the best of his Capitol sessions, including the entire Mickey Katz Plays Music For Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs & Brisses album, from 1954, which was showed the the world that Katz had real musical chops and not just a lot of hoo-hah and moxie. With him on these tracks are several top-flight jazz session players, including Sy Zentner, Manny Klein, Billy May and Rafael Mendez. The music gallops and clatters, but it also has authenticity and sticks to your ribs. Some of the ethnic schtick might not stick with modern audiences, but I thought this was a pretty fun disc, at least one that stood out amid the sometimes-repetitive glut of modern Jewish music, which either tends to be too serious or try too hard to be wacky and wild. Seems to me Katz struck just the right note... Plus, if you're a fan of his contemporaries such as Spike Jones or Ernie Kovacs, these recording fit right in with the other songs of that era, mixing in a bit of the swank pop orchestration of the time. This CD also includes material from several singles, and a few tracks from his parodic play, "Hello, Solly!" It's all fun stuff... Recommended...(even with the terrible album art!)
Mickey Katz "Greatest Schticks" (Koch, 2000)
This disc collects the best of Katz's comedic work for the RCA label... Many of the songs are Spike Jones-ish parodies of older tunes, standards and show tunes. Some are moderately faithful to the original material, while most are liberally invested with old-fashioned stage patter, pun-laden Yiddish and plenty of moxie. Might not be for everyone, but for listeners who want a little break from the more solemn offerings of the klezmer crowd, this might just be the ticket.
The Klezmatics "Shvaygn = Toyt" (Piranha, 1989)
The Klezmatics "Rhythm & Jews" (Piranha/Flying Fish, 1992)
A crazed, playful, circus-like fervor permeates this album, which is as inventive as it is manic... One of New York's finest modern ensembles, the 'matics include multi-instrumentalist Frank London, Lorin Sklamberg on keyboards & accordion and David Krakauer on clarinet... Cool jazz suffuses some tunes, a dorky smattering of rock on others, along with the usual Eastern European musical hysteria. All in all, this sounded like "just another" klezmer record to me, but it's also one of the more eclectic and playful I've heard, and fans of the style should find this pretty rewarding. Nice vocals, too.
The Klezmatics "Jews With Horns" (Xenophile, 1995)
Excellent! This is the album that many Klezmatics fans hold up as a benchmark, for the band's other albums as well as for contemporary klezmer in general... And indeed, it is a lively, inventive, musically rich and very rewarding album. One of the best albums in the style.
The Klezmatics "Possessed" (Rounder, 2002)
Kinda seems like more of the same, but they do seem to be having a good time playing together... Then again, if legendary playwright Tony Kushner wrote one of the songs (and contributed the liner notes), how bad could it be? Wide variety of styles, wide tonal range, and some pretty lively performances... Some songs seem a little bit slick, but mostly it's pretty solid.
The Klezmatics "Shteyt Oyf (Rise Up!)" (Rounder, 2003)
These veteran pioneers of the modern klezmer revival open their new album up with a mad, headlong rush into jazzy terrain, letting you know right off the bat that this ain't your grandfather's klezmer music, not by a longshot. Shifting effortlessly on "Kats Un Moyz (Cat And Mouse)" from free jazz into fusion, then to Miles Davis-style cool and salsa-inflected Latin dance riffs (all in the same song!), the Klezmatics start out with a dazzling musical display... This same inventive playfulness is in evidence throughout the rest of the album, although from then on they mainly stick to more standard-sounding Jewish musical themes. Still, playing a rubber squeek toy in the middle of a di-di-di refrain ("Makht Oyf") and covering Holly Near's "I Ain't Afraid" shows an adventurous spirit that keeps this music from getting stale or static. Fans of the genre should be thrilled to hear the 'matics back in action, and their soulful social/political reflections (offered, in part, as a response to the chaos of September 11th, 2001...) will be as much salve for the soul as their much-welcome sense of humor.
The Klezmatics with Joshua Nelson & Katheryn Farmer "Brother Moses Smote The Water" (Piranha, 2005)
A dicey crossover effort featuring one of the world's premiere klezmer bands and a couple of contemporary African-American gospel singers in a live mash-up concert that mixes their two traditions. The key word here is "contemporary": those who enjoy poppy modern gospel music, with it's showy, soul-drenched vocal acrobatics and emotive drama may find this Judeo-Christian musical fusion a fascinating, energizing effort. Folks who prefer the older, rawer, blues-based gospel style may simply find this album vexing and awkward. The musician's attempts to summon an ecstatic presence are clearly sincere, but this may be rough going for all but the truest true believers.
The Klezmatics "Wonder Wheel" (Jewish Music Group, 2006)
The Klezmatics "Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah" (Jewish Music Group, 2006)
The Klezmatics "Tuml = Lebn: The Best Of The First 20 Years" (Piranha, 2008)
The Klezmer Conservatory Band "Yiddische Renaissance" (Vanguard, 1981)
The debut album of one of the most influential bands of the klezmer revival... The group at this point featured pianist Hankus Metsky, jazz clarinetist Don Byron (who was a devotee of '50s performer Mickey Katz), and trumpeter Frank London, who went on the found the Klezmatics and spearheaded several other projects... The Band's website gives more information about the group and its history...
The Klezmer Conservatory Band "Oy, Channukah" (Rounder, 1987)
Based on a radio special made for WGBH, this features safe, clean-sounding, somewhat generic musical performances interspersed with soft-pedalled, didactic spoken interludes that explain the meaning and rituals of the Channukah holiday... I suppose this is the kind of thing a well-meaning aunt might send as a gift, but it didn't really wow me as a musical album.
The Klezmer Conservatory Band "Klez!" (Vanguard, 1992)
The Klezmer Conservatory Band "A Touch Of Klez!" (Vanguard, 1987)
The Klezmer Conservatory Band "A Jumpin' Night In The Garden Of Eden" (Rounder, 1988)
The Klezmer Conservatory Band "Old World Beat" (Rounder, 1992)
The Klezmer Conservatory Band "Live: The Thirteenth Anniversary Album" (Rounder, 1993)
The Klezmer Conservatory Band "Dancing In The Aisles" (Rounder, 1997)
The Klezmer Conservatory Band "Dance Me To The End Of Love" (Rounder, 2000)
The Klezmer Conservatory Band "A Taste Of Paradise" (Rounder, 2003)
Klezmer Juice "Klezmer Juice" (Arc Music, 2005)
A melodically rich klezmer set, centered around the deft, playful clarinet work of Gustavo Bulgach, an Argentinian now living in Los Angeles. This is a numble, youthful band, more fluid, perhaps, than some better-known, more traditional groups... They don't stray too far off the path, though, and this will sound familiar as well as fun. More of the same, but definitely worth checking out if you're into the style.
Klezmer Juice "Klezmer Juice 2: Yiddish Lidele" (Arc Music, 2009)
(Produced by Gustavo Bulgach)
Modern Jewish klezmer music with some interesting crosscultural touches. The tango makes an appearance on several tunes, including "Librescu Tango," "Gedenk" and "Happy Nigun" (which is probably my favorite track on the album). Meanwhile, Dick Dale's surf classic, "Miserlu," is brought back to its Jewish roots while being given a new, Asian twist with the addition of a sitar to play counterpoint to the ecstatic melody, while that other wedding-band warhorse, "Hava Nagila," absorbs a dark, reverby electric guitar, half Eddie Cochran, half Tom Waits. Clarinetist Gustavo Bulgach leads throughout, exuding a soaring, emphatic presence... Like all klezmer albums, you kinda have to be in the right mood, but if you're into it, this certainly has a lot of innovative, original arrangements. Worth checking out.
The Klezmorim "First Recordings: 1976-78" (Arhoolie, 1989)
One of the key bands in the early klezmer revival, Berkeley, California's Klezmorim brought a wild West Coast sensibility to the already-manic musical style, as well as a literal treasure trove of old information (in the form of a cache of old klezmer 78s, discovered in the archive of a local Jewish history museum, which the band used as templates for their explorations of the Old World sounds...) Founder Lev Liberman and his various cohorts were mainstays of the local folk scene for many years, and these playful sessions reveal a strong cross-pollination with the Bay Area's folk scene... This CD reissue includes eighteen songs taken from their first two albums, East Side Wedding and Streets Of Gold, as fine an example of the New World reclaiming the old as ever you're likely to find. Recommended!
The Klezmorim "Metropolis" (Flying Fish, 1983)
The Klezmorim "Notes From Underground" (Flying Fish, 1984)
The Klezmorim "Jazz Babies Of The Ukraine" (Flying Fish, 1988)
A live concert, recorded in Amsterdam in 1986...
The Klezmorim "Variety Stomp" (MW, 1990)
World Music Index