AMN Reviews: The Klezmatics – Live at Town Hall (Klezmatics Disc)

An inspirational, double-disc retrospective, an embarassment of riches in celebration of The Klezmatics´ twentieth anniversary. Matt Darriau, Lisa Gutkin, Frank London, Paul Morrisett, Lorin Sklamberg and drummers David Licht and Richie Barshay are joined by over twenty singers and players at a concert held half a dozen years ago and filmed for the documentary “On Holy Ground”, but only now available in an audio version.

Bounding out of the gate with the novelty tune “Man in a Hat”, its off-the-wall tribute to New York City, the band plays Eastern European and East Village classics, surprising crossovers (the drum circle “Morrocan Game”, Frank London´s Salvation Army band setting for Woody Guthrie´s lyric, “Holy Ground”), originals penned by plumb wine-voiced singer Sklamberg and kapelmeister London. Clarinet legend David Krakauer squeals to the front on the medley ‘”Rhythm + Jews with Horns”. A condensed version of London and Tony Kushner´s adaptation of “A Dybbuk” is stirring when a somber men´s quorom is succeeded by a piano, flute, tsimbl and muted trumpet interlude, itself followed by the fateful graveyard wedding. After a tip to the gentiles with Sklamberg´s wordless, celebratory “St. John´s Nign”, the first disc closes with the Jewish gospel phenom Joshua Nelson raising the roof with “Elijah Rock”, Lisa Gutkin absolutely rocking her violin solo.

The second disc opens with the sanctified whirlwind of “Davenen”, complemented with Holly Near´s snook cock at religious zealotry, “I Ain´t Afraid”, half of which is translated into Yiddish and co-sung by innovative Yiddish vocal star, the late Adrienne Cooper. Woody Guthrie – a secret klezmer – is adapted through a non-consecutive string of tunes on the second disc, featuring an appearance by Irish folksinger Susan McKeown. The Latin-tinged “Hanukah Gelt” is a much better song than perennial seasonal default tune “I Have a Little Dreidel”. The show culminates in a “NY Psycho Freylekh” before the band is called back to encore with the messianic Hasidic “Schnirele, Perele” and messianic historical-materialistic “Ale Brider”, the Yiddish labour unionist´s anthem.

Remarkable clarity for a live recording – when London plays intimately with the mute on, it tickles your ear. You´ll laugh, you´ll cry, then you´ll feel like having a little nosh probably.

May the Klezmatics live to be one hundred and twenty years!


Stephen Fruitman